University could benefit from nearly $2 billion surplus

Logan Wroge

Gov. Mark Dayton said Friday that he plans to fully fund the University of Minnesota’s proposed tuition freeze for resident students after an updated economic forecast projected a nearly $2 billion budget surplus.

“The tuition freezes have been very important for both the University and the MnSCU program for the last two years,” Dayton said at a press conference Friday. “The ability to continue them for the next two years is a significant incentive for me to be willing to take a leap of faith with them.”

The Minnesota Management and Budget office projected the state to have a $1.87 billion surplus for 2016 and 2017 in its February budget forecast — an $832 million increase from what the November forecast predicted.

State economists attribute the higher surplus projections to the United States dollar’s stronger global position, as well as lower gas prices over the past few months.

Dayton and DFLers said at the press conference that they hope to spend the additional revenue on education and transportation initiatives. Republican lawmakers said they would like to see the money returned to taxpayers.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, told reporters he wasn’t sure whether his party will pursue tax credits, direct refund checks or a combination of both.

In January, Dayton proposed funding half of the University’s requested amount needed to freeze tuition rates for resident undergraduate, graduate and professional students at their current levels.

“We’re thrilled the governor did what he did. We understand that there’s, you know, literally thousands of competing interests for state support, but for him to fund what really was a key feature of [President Eric Kaler’s] request, the tuition freeze, is a great thing,” said Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer.

Dayton’s plan to freeze University tuition, combined with the $30 million he proposed for the Medical School, would amount to $95 million in new funding for the University next biennium.

Pfutzenreuter said the University is requesting $148.2 million from the state this session. While Dayton’s proposal doesn’t include funding for initiatives like Healthy Minnesota and Vibrant Communities, he said the University will continue pursuing support for these projects.