Officials say budget request could go down to wire

Erin Ghere

After six months of exhaustive lobbying efforts, University officials will soon find out how big an allowance the Legislature is willing to give them.
Legislators from the state House of Representatives and Senate got together Tuesday to hammer out the differences in their allocations to the state’s higher education institutions. Deliberations must be completed by May 17.
Before the final bill can be sent to Gov. Jesse Ventura for consideration, the two chambers must agree on the amount of funding to give the University — and higher education, in general.
The Senate has proposed $82 million for University funding, which is $39 million short of the House’s $121 million recommendation.
But the University will not see a penny of the money until the discrepancy is resolved by the chambers.
A spokeswoman for Rep. Peggy Leppik, R-Cottage Grove, a co-chair of the conference committee, said committee members expect discussions of the bill might last until May 17, the Legislature’s final working day this session.
Legislators met in the early morning hours Tuesday to go over the differences between the two bills.
The Senate chose to allocate $261 million for the state’s higher education institutions, while the House recommended $250 million.
The $11 million gap in total funding is one of the smaller details, as the inner workings of the budgets hold the most differences.
“Clearly the major difference is in the relative amounts of money that go into the Higher Education Services Office and financial aid and the universities,” Leppik said.
The Higher Education Services Office oversees the financial aid funds for all Minnesota secondary schools.
The Senate is looking to put $57 million into that pot while the House is only recommending $8 million.
Instead, the House put more funding toward higher education institutions. Along with $39 million more for the University, the House also allocated $24 million more for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.
Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, chairman for the Senate higher education finance committee and co-chair of the conference committee, was not available for comment Tuesday. However, in an editorial printed in The Minnesota Daily earlier this week, Stumpf said that by giving more funding to financial aid, the Senate felt it was focusing on the students.
The House’s proposal is more in-line with Ventura’s recommendation, although not completely.
Neither the House nor the Senate has incorporated an endowment recommended by the governor into their respective budgets, although the Senate as a whole supports the idea.
Ventura suggested creating an endowment from the funds the state acquired in the tobacco settlement, which would allow the University to reap the benefits of its interest — a total of $30 million in two years.
Instead, funding for the health education initiative will be included in the Senate’s health and human services omnibus bill, said Jim McGreevy, spokesman for Senate majority leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine. That bill is expected to reach the conference committee later this week.
The next meeting of the higher education conference committee is scheduled for Thursday.