Senators reject higher ed budget plan

The committee’s Democratic chairwoman questioned the wisdom of Pawlenty’s plan.

Libby George

Saying a $60 million increase to financial aid is insufficient – and higher education cuts are too drastic – senators on the Higher Education Budget Division rejected the governor’s higher education budget plan on a partisan vote Thursday.

“Even with the budget shortfall, I don’t think it’s wise to undercut higher education,” said committee Chairwoman Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul.

She added that Pawlenty’s $60 million Higher Education Services Office increase was insignificant compared to tuition increases and said $58 million would be used to cover the current deficiency in the Minnesota state grant program.

Committee Republicans were less concerned about increasing tuition.

Sen. Cal Larson, R-Fergus Falls, said students should be able to shoulder the tuition increases.

“Low tuition is welfare for the rich,” Larson said. He cited students taking spring break trips to Florida and driving nice cars as evidence the increases would not put a college education out of students’ reach.

“There’s all kinds of scholarships out there,” he said.

Finance Commissioner Dan McElroy appealed to the committee to encourage efficiency in the University and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities systems, no matter which bill legislators pass – even if that means cutting jobs.

“It’s often difficult to reduce jobs Ö but it’s better than reducing the core of the facilities,” McElroy said.

He said while the University has made strides in consolidating administrative offices, there is still room for improvement.

He added that budget shortfalls provide an opportunity to increase efficiency and shift money to classrooms.

DFL Sen. Larry Pogemiller, who represents the University’s Minneapolis campus, voted against the bill but said he doubted the committee would pass any higher education budget bill.

“I think Senator Pappas is trying to find a way to put a bill together, but that’s unlikely,” Pogemiller said. “The governor is saying we can’t have any more revenue. I feel very strongly that the governor is taking us in the wrong direction with higher education.”

Renewed projects

The committee also gave new hope to bonding projects that former Gov. Jesse Ventura vetoed last year.

The committee approved a new bonding bill that would restore the projects’ funding to the Translational Research Facility and the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in St. Paul, as well as funding for statewide outreach centers.

“We’re hopeful that the governor will approve the projects,” Pogemiller said. He added that he was certain the Senate would approve the bonding bill.

Last week, the House Capital Investment Committee was not as receptive to the bonding projects.

Although the committee took no vote, Chairman Phil Krinkie, R-Shoreview, encouraged the University to make its own bonding arrangements to pay for projects such as the Translational Research Facility.

The Senate committee also approved a measure that would increase the University’s bonding limit – currently $650 million – to $800 million.

University representatives testified the institution will exceed the $650 million limit by June 2004.

Libby George covers politics and

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