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Walz proposes $2.7 billion budget with $214 million for UMN

If approved, the University of Minnesota would receive $142 million for building upgrades and $72 million for a renovated chemistry laboratory.
Image by Mary Ellen Ritter

Gov. Tim Walz proposed a $2.7 billion budget proposal on Jan. 18, which includes roughly $214 million for the University of Minnesota.

The $214 million proposed for the University includes $142 million for University’s Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement (HEAPR) fund and $72 million for a new undergraduate teaching laboratory on the Twin Cities campus. Walz’s budget is a reaction to the $7.7 billion surplus the legislature will put to use after the start of their session on Jan. 31.

In December, the Board of Regents requested $936 million from the state’s expected surplus. This proposal was one of many Walz considered when designing the budget proposal. Walz’s current plan would give the University just over 20% of what Regents requested.

In this legislative session, the governor and caucuses in both chambers will look at how to spend the expected surplus. Party leaders have detailed their partisan priorities, but no bill has been introduced since the start of the session on Monday.

Walz’s nearly $3 billion budget proposal is aimed at helping the residents of Minnesota. By supporting higher education, the state will help support the life-long needs of Minnesotans, Walz said.

“The budget is to serve people and serve communities,” Walz said on Jan. 20 during an event at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

The U could see building upgrades in the next couple of years

Of the requests the University made, Walz suggested appropriations for renovations to Fraser Hall and money for the HEAPR fund.

If the budget is approved, obsolete portions of Fraser Hall will be demolished while the historical parts of the building will be renovated. The renovations will make room for a new undergraduate teaching laboratory.

The undergraduate chemistry program is intended to be held in Fraser, but is currently operating in Smith Hall, putting both graduate and undergraduate programs in the same space. Dr. Philippe Buhlmann, a chemistry professor, said having the extra space will be different, but welcomed.

Buhlman said undergraduate students, in a usual week, typically have group work and currently have to “sit in the hallway along the walls because there’s no chairs” to do group work.

The new space will have a collaborative space that puts students close to the labs they will be working in, according to the University. Buhlmann said the new communication and collaboration aspect of the building will prepare students for work after college.

Walz also proposed $142 million for the HEAPR project fund, which is a general reserve set aside for upgrading existing buildings.

Brian Swanson, assistant vice president of finance and systems, said the University’s annual HEAPR request helps to keep the current buildings intact and well-functioning. Swanson said they planned to put in elevators, redo a roof and complete other projects.

“They aren’t glamorous improvements, but they’re essential to keeping the University working,” Swanson said.

According to Swanson, the University has a formula to distribute the total funding across all five campuses and estimated the Twin Cities campus would receive roughly 80% of the total HEAPR funding approved. The University currently has roughly 240 projects underway using HEAPR money.

Swanson said in the past, 90% of the funds appropriated are put towards a project within two years.

Shashank Murali, the Minnesota Student Association (MSA) infrastructure committee director, said he was pleased with the proposal but felt there could be more areas — such as transportation and public safety — that could have been funded in the proposal.

MSA wants to see more money set aside specifically for green transportation, Murali said. The group is working to get better lighting on campus and in the University neighborhoods, as more street lighting can be a successful crime prevention measure.

“We like [that] the University’s investing more into the buildings that our everyday students use a lot, but we feel like there are a lot of other investments that can be made to our campus infrastructure that is much more needed right now,” Murali said.

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