House, Senate negotiate U funding

Megan Boldt

A House offer in the omnibus bonding bill conference committee meeting was met with little enthusiasm Tuesday night by some Senate members.
The House’s offer followed a Senate offer several days ago that dropped funding for University projects from $122.7 million to $108.7 million.
Committee member Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, said the House’s offer merely agreed with areas of the bill the House and Senate already agreed upon.
“We recognize we have to be compromising,” Berglin said. “It doesn’t look like you are trying to move toward us.”
Before Tuesday night’s meeting, the Senate offered the House a reduced-funding bonding bill that was closer to the House’s recommendations. The offer also negotiated funding for each specific project in the bill, which includes numerous projects for the University.
Until an overall target spending amount is set for the bill, House members say they cannot make additional negotiations on specific projects.
The target amount will be decided by Gov. Jesse Ventura, House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, and Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine.
Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, said the House was surprised the Senate offered specific negotiations because that is usually not done until the target amount is set for bonding bills.
“Our offer is something we can agree on right now and get out of the way,” Knoblach said,
He added negotiations for projects differing in funding between the House and the Senate can be worked out after the target is set by legislative leaders.
“In my mind, they just need to come to an agreement,” Knoblach said of the leadership.
In the Senate’s current offer, the University’s funding would be reduced by almost $14 million. The original proposal was $122.7 million in funding and loans, whereas the negotiation on the table is now $108.7.
The House funding for the University still stands at about $66.7 million.
“Fundamentally, there wasn’t too much movement in funding yet,” said Richard Pfutzenreuter, University chief financial officer.
Knoblach could not predict how University funding would be affected until a target for overall bonding is approved.
But University officials are upset because the Senate is still not looking at any of the fund raising the University has done, Pfutzenreuter said.
Knoblach said the Legislature can stay in session until May 22, but can only meet for legislative business for 10 more days in that period.
He doesn’t anticipate the Legislature would go past that date into a special session.
University officials are scared about any possibility of a bonding bill not being passed.
“If they don’t reach an agreement, it will be tragic,” Pfutzenreuter said. “We want and need a capital bonding bill to pass. We don’t want kids in the Art Building for another two years.”

Megan Boldt covers state government and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3212.