Governor supports U’s financial needs

Tracy Ellingson

Although he kept children home from school due to the cold weather, Gov. Arne Carlson made it to the State Capitol Thursday to deliver his last major State of the State address.
“The state of the state is cold,” Carlson joked to the state representatives, senators, Supreme Court justices and commissioners who assembled in full for the speech.
As he addressed issues such as lowering property taxes, funding a new baseball stadium and supporting K-12 education, Carlson noted the programs the University will find itself competing with for funding in the Legislative session.
“We must provide the University of Minnesota, the state’s only research university,” Carlson said, “with the resources to foster new technologies that drive our state’s economic engine.”
State Representative and chairman of the Higher Education Finance Division, Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, agreed with Carlson that the school must maintain and develop a high level of technology. He also said Carlson’s speech seemed to indicate the governor’s increasing support for the University’s financial needs.
“It’s the most positive speech he’s given on higher education to date,” Pelowski said, “which I think is an indication that we’re going to see some support for higher education.”
Pelowski said legislators on his committee are going to stress the importance of holding university and college administrations accountable, especially in terms of how efficiently they use state funds. Pelowski acknowledged that the University has had problems with its financial management.
“At the University of Minnesota, they have had a number of problems,” Pelowski said. “Those problems shouldn’t deter us from doing what’s good for students.”
Not all legislators were as convinced that the governor’s speech reflected a commitment to higher education. Representative Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, said although Carlson expressed a positive attitude toward higher education and the University, she was concerned when the governor touted some of the vetoes he made in previous sessions that saved money at the expense of schools.
“He ran roughshod through the University budget for any kind of basic research issue,” Kahn recalled from the 1993-94 legislative sessions.
Kahn said Carlson showed he understood that cutting University funding was a mistake when he restored the financing in the next session.
“I’m very pleased that he’s come along to see that all of these things are wrong and that we need to spend money on these issues,” Kahn said. “I’m just a little cynical about how he started his speech applauding the fiscal restraints of his vetoes and then went on to a speech which essentially should have been an apology for his vetoes.”
The governor led a standing ovation to thank University President Nils Hasselmo, who was in attendance, and welcomed President-elect Mark Yudof, who was also present, with the same enthusiasm.
“I applaud the University’s selection of Mark Yudof,” Carlson said, “and am excited about a close working relationship to help him achieve his goal of making the University of Minnesota a leader in digital technology and one of the top five public institutions in America.”
Carlson, who plans to present his budget recommendations for the University next Thursday in an open forum at the World Trade Center, kept his plans for the University non-specific. However, he spent much of his time reviewing his ideas for the rest of his agenda.
“Two areas where I hope we can agree, are the need for property tax reform and pay raises for our state agency commissioners,” Carlson said.
The governor said he believes commercial and industrial property taxes are too high and would like to see the Legislature work with Revenue Commissioner Jim Girard to begin property tax reforms. In addition, the governor rallied for the commissioners’ pay raises, which they haven’t received in more than 10 years.
One of the most controversial issues Carlson finds himself dealing with is the funding for a new baseball stadium for the Minnesota Twins.
“On this issue, I urge you to look at outcomes,” Carlson said. “If we do not support the stadium, we will lose the Twins. I do not want our families to lose the opportunity to take their kids to a Twins game.”
Carlson noted that the state has aided other private organizations, such as Northwest Airlines, a new potato plant in Park Rapids and a manufacturing company in Benson. He said this funding has helped the entire state by sustaining jobs.
The governor also revisited his plans for K-12 education, in which he proposes tax credits for parents sending their children to private schools. He has also proposed a system of standardized testing to be implemented throughout the state.