Lawmakers begin debating Pawlenty’s higher ed budget

The budget would use some stimulus money to support the U.

A Senate higher education committee discussed Gov. Tim Pawlenty âÄôs higher education budget recommendations Tuesday, and Senate DFLers say they will release theirs next week. PawlentyâÄôs budget uses federal stimulus money to make up for cuts to the UniversityâÄôs budget from the state. It includes back-to-back years of $591.1 million in state funding and more than $115.7 million in stimulus funding for the University. The stimulus money is one-time money and can only be used during the 2010-11 biennium. During the 2012-13 biennium, funding for the University would drop to more than $553.6 million per year, which Sen. Claire Robling , R-Jordan, who presented the bill, said is a âÄúfrighteningâÄù cliff effect. âÄúIt does pose a problem,âÄù Robling said. âÄúWe should use the federal money, though. It would be foolish not to use it, but it does set us up for a difficult situation in two years.âÄù Robling told the committee Tuesday that the higher education budget proposal contained $392 million in federal stimulus funds âÄî 59 percent of the total amount the state received for education. The committeeâÄôs chair, Sen. Sandra Pappas , DFL-St. Paul, said DFLers in the committee will present their version of a higher education funding bill as early as next week. While the committee has voted directly on the governorâÄôs proposal in the past, Pappas said this time around the DFL will take sections of PawlentyâÄôs proposals and combine them with their own changes. âÄúOur budget, we are talking about some additional revenues in both the House and Senate,âÄù she said of the overall budget problem beyond just higher education. âÄúIf the governor doesnâÄôt agree to that, then the cuts are going to be worse.âÄù The state faces a $4.6 billion shortfall for the 2010-11 biennium. The Governor and the Legislature must balance the budget by the end of the session in mid-May.

Grant increases

The stimulus money in the bill also boosts funding for the State Grant program in PawlenyâÄôs bill. A variety of bills proposed before the committee Tuesday featured proposals to bump up funding by 7.5 percent for two- and four-year students using the grant, and one would increase the State GrantâÄôs Living and Miscellaneous Allowance funds 6 percent per student. Robling said she is hopeful the federal government may keep the increased funding for the Federal Pell Grant program at its current post-stimulus levels in the future. -Devin Henry is a senior staff reporter