U officials express funding concerns

Megan Boldt

University President Mark Yudof said he is concerned the legislative session will end without a bonding bill, leaving many University projects on the back burner.
“It’s troublesome if they don’t get a bonding bill passed,” said Richard Pfutzenreuter, University chief financial officer. “If they don’t get it done now, I’m afraid they won’t get it done next year.”
The state bonding bill includes funding for a new art building, the second half of the Molecular and Cellular Biology Building and general upkeep of University facilities among other projects.
House Republicans, Senate Democrats and Gov. Jesse Ventura are at odds over how much the overall bonding bill should spend. Until it is decided, legislators cannot determine how much to appropriate University projects.
Donna Peterson, associate vice president of institutional relations, said neither chamber will reconvene until Thursday. Officials are assuming legislative leadership will meet to negotiate the overall bonding target and other underlying issues before then.
She also said the bonding bill conference committee will not meet until the targets are set.
University officials said there will be obvious negative implications on University projects if a bonding bill is not passed.
Yudof said the Art Building is a major health hazard to all students and faculty members who use the building. He said he could not be a studio arts major because he has asthma.
“I was there for the Iron Pour, and I had to leave after about a half hour or so,” Yudof said. “I literally could not breathe.”
If a bonding bill is not passed, Yudof said only half of the Molecular and Cellular Biology Building will be funded.
“That would not be good for the researchers,” Yudof said. “It gets a little rainy and windy” without a roof.
He also said the University will not have access to the $10 million Cargill donated for the Microbial and Plant Genomics Building if the Legislature does not allocate the other half.
“To me, these are really pressing issues,” Yudof said. “I’m hopeful the Legislature will enact a bonding bill that includes these high-priority projects.”
The University’s capital request totals $134.3 million. Ventura proposed allocating $54 million, the House $66 million and the Senate suggested $122.7 million.
Pfutzenreuter pointed out if the projects are delayed, they will go up in price because of material and labor increases.
“When you’re talking a 2 to 3 percent increase on a $44 million project, that’s not pocket change,” Pfutzenreuter said.
This session proves to be unique, especially in comparison to the 1998 bonding year.
“Despite having more money in the system, the political realities were different in 1998,” Yudof said.
In 1998, the overall bonding bill totaled almost $1 billion. This year, the bonding bill will probably be in the $500 million to $600 million range.
Yudof said historically, the University receives about 15 percent of the bonding bill.
Even with the bigger surplus, legislators are focused on tax cuts and reforms, leaving a smaller amount of money aside for the bonding bill.
“It is also different because, in effect, we have three parties instead of two,” Yudof said. “It creates more complexity within the system. But we do have great leadership within both houses.”
The reality is all the projects will not be funded, given the projected size of the bonding bill. Yudof said the University will build the buildings the Legislature authorizes.
“We’ll sob a little bit and lick our wounds,” said Yudof about the projects that will not be fully funded this session. “Then we’ll prepare for the bonding session two years from now.”
Megan Boldt covers state government and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3212.