Bonding bills differ on University project funding

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Three different versions of a state bonding bill are now floating around the Capitol. All three proposals allocate at least $75 million for University of Minnesota projects. One has already passed its first legislative hurdle.

And the University isn’t satisfied with any of them.

In the first day of the 2010 Legislature session, Minnesota legislators wasted no time putting forth bonding bill proposals to stand next to the governor’s, released nearly three weeks ago.

The House and Senate proposed separate bonding bills on Thursday, both with significantly higher price tags and including different items than Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s. The bills both came in just under $1 billion, while Pawlenty’s total was $685 million.

The biggest discrepancy between the bills’ higher education proposals was over support for a new physics and nanotechnology building at the University. While the governor included full funding for the facility, the House bill didn’t include any funding for it, and the Senate only included $5 million in planning money for the project.

Both the House and Senate bill supported some level of funding for all of the University’s bonding project requests, including the renovation of Folwell Hall, a new Itasca biological research station and an American Indian learning center in Duluth – three items that were not included in the governor’s.

University funding in the DFL-majority House bill was significantly less than the governor’s – $77 million compared to the governor’s proposed $100 million – in large part because of the exclusion of the physics building.

The Senate bill was the most generous to the University, allotting $111 million of the $240 million it requested. On Thursday, the Senate Capital Investment committee approved the bill, a step that wasn’t taken until early March last session.

“We’re disappointed,” University CFO Richard Pfutzenreuter said of the bills.

With bills significantly larger than the governor’s, Pfutzenreuter expected much higher amounts for the University, he said.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis , said while she was mostly satisfied with the House’s bill, she was upset that it didn’t include the physics and nanotechnology building and said it was the “most shortsighted” part of the bill.

Kahn received a Bachelor’s degree in physics from Cornell University, and a Ph.D. in biophysics from Yale University.

“When we’re trying to talk about advancing the country’s intellectual infrastructure and moving forward and taking a lead in subjects that are really important to the country, I think to totally omit that from the bonding bill is a travesty,” Kahn said.

Kahn supported including planning money for the facility in the bill to move the project ahead, as included in the Senate bill.

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, the chairwoman of the House committee that deals with the bonding bill, said proposals aren’t necessarily dead if they aren’t included in Thursday’s initial bills.

“I’m totally open to arguments the Senate might make relative to the bonding bill,” she said.

Also different between the bills was the amount of University Higher Education Assets Preservation and Replacement (HEAPR) funding in the bill. The House’s and governor’s bill both support $40 million of the $100 million the University requested, while the Senate version was higher at $65 million.

“We’re just going to continue to make our case and fight for the projects on our list,” Pfutzenreuter said. “It’s not over. We’ll continue to go at ’em.”