House, Senate to iron out University funding differences


Both the state Senate and House of Representatives have voted to increase funding to the University of Minnesota, but key differences in their bills still need to be ironed out.

After an hour-long debate, representatives passed a bill Thursday, which, like the Senate, would freeze tuition for in-state undergraduates at the University until 2015.

The House version of the bill spends $18.2 million less on the University over the biennium than the Senate’s, only partially funding research money requested by the University and including less legislative oversight language. Overall, the House allocated $113 million less overall to higher education in the state.

Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said the bill passed with bipartisan support.

“It’s hard to be opposed to education,” he said. “Nobody wants to vote against the kids.”

Fourteen House Republicans voted in favor of the tuition freeze, despite concerns of raised taxes to meet those costs.

The House bill includes brief language detailing increased University administrative accountability and legislative oversight but less than in the Senate’s. Legislators argued to increase oversight in response to a late 2012 Wall Street Journal article, which highlighted alleged administrative bloat at the University.

Legislators praised Higher Education Finance Committee Chair Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL- Winona, for his critical approach to the University’s request.

“Higher education has to report to us differently,” Pelowski said. “There has to be some accountability in administrative costs.”

Several House legislators proposed additional amendments to Pelowski’s bill aimed at creating more legislative oversight in University spending during the floor debate, but most failed, with Pelowski urging members not to vote on anything yet. He said more work would be done to ensure administrative oversight in conference committee.

Unlike the Senate version of the bill, the House version doesn’t include any performance goals the University would have to meet to gain full funding in 2015, although a few failed amendments would have had similar effects. The Senate bill outlines five performance goals requiring the University to meet at least three of the goals or it will lose 5 percent of its 2015 budget. Pelowski said he wasn’t convinced performance goals were effective.

Rep. Bob Barrett, R- Lindstrom, proposed an amendment to the bill that would raise out-of-state tuition to $29,000 so the $42.6 million being allocated to the tuition freeze for in-state students could be used elsewhere.

“There’s a lot of information to support the fact that what’s not needed is more money, what is needed is a change in policy,” said Barrett, referring to expensive administrative costs.

In the 2012-13 academic year, resident and non-resident tuition rates differed by about $2,600, which Barrett said was unusual in the Big Ten.

“Taxpayers are supposed to subsidize resident kids, not non-residents,” he said. “That’s wrong.”

University President Eric Kaler told the Daily last week that with the growing fraction of out-of-state students, it is time to look at the difference in in-state and out-of-state tuition.

The House and Senate will come together in upcoming weeks to hash out the details and differences in their bills before a final, unified bill reaches the governor’s desk.