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Proposed state funding bills would give UMN much less than requested

Following the University’s request for nearly $1 billion, the House proposed just over $32 million and the Senate $2.5 million.
Proposed state funding bills would give UMN much less than requested
Image by Jane Borstad

The House and Senate Higher Education Committees both approved versions of their higher education omnibus packages on April 6 and March 31, respectively. The bills released the main appropriations for the University of Minnesota, both of which offer significantly less than the $936 million the University requested.

The two committees both had different caps on what they were allowed to spend, leading to vastly different proposed amounts. The House appropriated roughly $32.5 million by the end of 2023, whereas the Senate appropriated nearly $2.5 million for the University. Neither bill includes HEAPR funds, which would go toward University renovations and building upkeep, something the University requested. 

The legislature is projected to receive a roughly $9.3 billion surplus during the 2022 tax season and is currently in the process of appropriating their supplemental budget. Every odd year, the state gives state-run entities their main operating budgets, and supplemental budgets give the state a chance to fund extra areas that would not otherwise be included in regular operating budgets.

Omnibus bills are a way for legislators to pass many smaller bills on a broad topic at once, according to the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library.

The legislature is currently on break, but when it returns April 19, committees in both chambers will hear their respective bills and likely have full chamber votes soon.

House bill includes sustainability, safety initiatives and amends Regent selection process

House party leaders gave the Higher Education Committee a limit of $100 million to spend on higher education purposes, of which $32.5 million will go towards the University. 

Of the $32.5 million, roughly $10 million will go to public safety, $9.65 million for three campus sustainability initiatives and $6 million for scholarship programs at the University, among a few other funding areas. The bill also proposes amending the Regent selection process

“The bill opens doors for Minnesota students,” said Rep. Connie Bernardy, DFL-New Brighton, chair of the House Higher Education Committee and the main author of the House bill. “It focuses on affordability, equity, student well-being and safety. It also has sustainability measures in it.”

During testimony that unveiled the funding, J.D. Burton, the University’s chief government relations officer, said he was supportive but felt more could have been taken from a sustainability program to instead fund scholarships more robustly.

During public testimony, Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake criticized the bill saying it will spend money education systems did not ask for and does not appropriate money for tuition decreases.

“[The bill] is about misplaced intents,” said Rep. Tony Albright, R-Prior Lake, in an interview with the Minnesota Daily. “There’s a couple of programs in here that the governor and [the Office of Higher Education] did not spell out as a priority, but yet this bill funds them and gives them more money. Who are we listening to? Are we listening to the people that are putting the programs in place and actually administering them?”

On April 6, the committee voted 11-7 along partisan lines to advance the bill to the House Ways and Means Committee for a hearing. Bernardy said the bill will likely be voted on by the full House in the coming weeks.

Senate bill focused on police training, with lower overall limit to provide tax relief 

The Senate bill proposed $2.5 million for the University, nearly $30 million less than the House. The bill funds two programs: the Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) and public safety. 

The NRRI was proposed to receive $2 million. The Senate proposed $454,000 for public safety programs, despite the University asking for nearly $100 million in their initial request.

The Senate had a roughly $46 million cap to spend on higher education, as arranged by party leaders.

“This is a supplemental year, we did our budget last year and a lot of people want to see the surplus go back,” said Sen. Jason Rarick, R-Pine City, co-chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee. “What we’ve figured is doing tax cuts, [it] sends the money back and then it sends it to everybody. Instead of putting a big number in the higher education bill, students are going to be able to pay less on their Minnesota income taxes.

The committee approved the budget March 31 on a 5-1 vote to advance the bill to the Senate Finance Committee for hearing. Rarick expected the bill to be voted on by the full chamber in the coming weeks, once the Senate returns from their break.

Sen. Aric Putnam, DFL-St. Cloud, the only member of the committee to vote against the bill, said the bill “just doesn’t meet the moment. That’s the simplest way to think about it. We’ve got some really big problems and a whole lot going on. And this bill is just inadequate.”

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