University denied additional funding despite budget surplus

Erin Ghere

Although the state will benefit from a projected $1.6 billion budget surplus, University officials are still waiting to hear if benefits will extend to the University.
So far, it isn’t looking good, said Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer.
Unless the governor’s office or a legislative committee asks for additional funding requests, the University will not receive a penny of the surplus.
To date, Gov. Jesse Ventura’s office has given University officials a firm “no,” Pfutzenreuter said. Ventura has supported more individual tax rebates.
The “boatload of money,” as characterized by state Finance Commissioner Pam Wheelock at a news conference Thursday, was a bigger surplus than even lawmakers were expecting. The projected $1.6 billion will be available after June 30, 2001, if current revenue and spending continue.
“We’re certainly in a life raft looking for a way to get onto that boat,” Pfutzenreuter said.
But the University’s capital request, filed earlier this year, has already passed the Legislature and been forwarded to the governor for approval.
Similar capital requests, funding construction and infrastructure, are filed in the fall of every odd-numbered year. In even-numbered falls, the University submits an additional biennial budget request, funding educational initiatives, faculty pay and student development.
No word has yet been issued on how the surplus could affect financial aid, said Phil Lewenstein, communications director at the Higher Education Services Office, which handles the state’s financial aid.
But Lewenstein said Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls and chair of the Senate higher-education committee, was not opposed to exploring more funding for higher education or financial aid.
Although some legislators might be open to giving the University a share of the surplus, Ventura and legislative leaders are already drumming up support for more tax rebates.
Ventura has said he wouldn’t issue more rebates until the surplus is in hand, July 2001, but House Republican leaders have said they would push for rebates sooner.
In addition, Republican leaders have said they would like to spend a portion of the surplus on road and bridge repairs.
On the other hand, Senate Democrats will push for tax relief but also would like to cut car-license fees, increase property-tax relief and increase spending for K-12 education and transportation.
House DFL leader Tom Pugh, DFL-South St. Paul, released a statement Thursday supporting tax relief, assistance to rural families, and investments in education and infrastructure.
“Many of the state’s higher education institutions are … stretched for resources,” Pugh said. “Our public colleges and universities are cutting classes and services and raising tuition — all throwing roadblocks in the efforts to provide skilled employees.”
The University’s 2000 capital budget request includes funding for the second half of the Molecular and Cellular Biology building on the East Bank, a new Art building on the West Bank and a renovation of Plant Growth Facilities on the St. Paul campus.
— The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Erin Ghere covers faculty and state government and welcomes comments at [email protected]