Lawmakers reduce higher education budget

Nornes

Minnesota lawmakers voted to cut $300 million from college and university spending as they craft a state budget while plugging a $5 billion deficit.

Opponents of the Republican-written bill said that some campuses are threatened and up to 1,500 higher education workers could lose their jobs if the bill becomes law.

Bills passing the House and Senate Tuesday set a $2.5 billion two-year budget for state-run colleges and universities. That is down from $2.8 billion in the current budget.

Senators passed their bill 37-27; representatives passed it 69-60. Republicans control both chambers.

Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said his higher education bill allows schools to make up a third of their lost money by raising tuitions, while also capping those increases.

“We did preserve a lot for the students,” Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, said.

Cuts made were not so deep that any campus should close, she said.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said the cuts are the deepest he has seen to higher education.

The cuts come at a time when the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system serves 40,000 more students than a decade ago, with less state money than it received then. The University of Minnesota, with 12,000 more students, also would get less money than 10 years ago.

The two systems lose 13 percent of their funding under the House bill. The Senate bill cuts 14 percent from the University of Minnesota, while MnSCU loses 10 percent.

Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, joined a failed effort to raise income taxes on the richest Minnesotans to allow higher education funding to rise. Students used to pay a third of school costs through tuition, but by 2013 would pay two-thirds, he said, and higher taxes would help stem that trend.

Both the House and Senate bills place a limit on how much colleges and universities may raise tuition, ranging from 2 percent to 5 percent.

Both bills increase funds for grants available to students attending public and private schools.

University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks was especially unhappy with the Senate bill, which cut more out of his budget than the House plan.

“The proposed cut rolls our state support back to levels not seen since before 1998,” Bruininks said. “Think about that: This fall’s incoming freshmen were just starting kindergarten the last time state funding was at the level proposed today.”

Representatives added an amendment that would limit the MnSCU chancellor pay to that received by the governor, about $120,000. The pay is $360,000 annually.

Both bills contain provisions to limit human cloning at the University of Minnesota.

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