U gives sales pitch for budget request

Sarah Hallonquist

and Nancy Ngo

Using a human brain, a culture of flesh-eating bacteria virus and a bag of beer barley, University officials on Monday made their $249 million budget request look attractive.
University President Mark Yudof invited leaders of the school’s medical, agricultural and biological sciences programs to the Legislature to help pitch a plan to restructure departments and renovate campus buildings.
Leaders of the academic areas passed the items around to illustrate to House Higher Education and Finance Division representatives the wide range of the University’s studies. The portion of the budget request presented Monday would provide:
ù $70 million to replace Owre Hall, Millard Hall and Lyon Laboratory with a new structure that supports research and education in microbiology;
ù $18.9 million in improvements to Ford and Murphy halls to complement plans to develop a center for new media studies;
ù $14.6 million for an addition and classroom make overs in the Architecture building on the East Bank campus;
ù $4.4 million for an agricultural experiment station and enhancements in agricultural research;
ù $53.6 million to overhaul Walter Library to support new programs in digital technology.
Legislators were pleased with the specifics of the presentation, but had expressed concerns over endorsing such a bold request, which is the largest in the school’s history. With the state’s $1.3 billion surplus, lawmakers said it’s likely they will honor significant portions of the request.
“Certainly we’d love to give higher education all that they request,” said Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona. He noted, however, that even with the surplus, there are several competitors vying for limited state bonding money.
Also, because legislators seldom give full endorsements, they asked that components within the University’s proposal be ranked. School officials submitted an unranked request.
Yudof urged the Legislature to support the entire package instead of picking and choosing. “The governor and I have talked about this and I would continue to support the whole $249 million package,” Yudof said.
It’s unusual for a governor to endorse a whole package this early in the process, said Michael Berthelsen, a representative in the University’s Office of Budget and Finance.
But Pelowski said if the University doesn’t give the committee a rank order by Friday, lawmakers could decide to do it themselves. Yudof agreed to return Friday after talking to his staff.
His top administrators are bold in keeping the areas of the request unranked.
“Right now the University is taking the position — and will continue to take the position — that all the items on the capital request are necessary for the University,” said Tonya Moten-Brown, Yudof’s chief of staff.
“We’re really reluctant to provide a rank order at the time,” echoed Bob Bruininks, executive vice president and provost. “At this point we really believe this is a strong, integrated proposal.”
Legislators were also concerned how the University would come up with its part of the building upgrade proposal. Because the University would pick up a third of the tab for its overall plan, Rep. Lyndon R. Carlson, DFL-Crystal, questioned whether student tuition would go up to foot the bill.
“We think we can make this work without gouging our students,” Yudof said.
Other legislative concerns surrounded the University’s poor track record in facilities maintenance. The school’s maintenance backlog now exceeds $1 billion. Some asked if they would be rewarding bad behavior by granting more money for construction.
“We can go back and make moral judgements … but the truth is that will have consequences for the University in the 21st century,” Yudof responded.