Legislature passes bills to cut higher ed funds


The Minnesota House and Senate passed different versions of a higher education finance bill Tuesday that would cut $306 million from current state aid levels.

The Senate bill would cut $176 million from the University of Minnesota over the next budget cycle, about $16 million more than the House measure, but both include provisions that would prohibit state and federal funding for human cloning.

These cuts represent the largest reductions to higher education in Minnesota’s history and would roll state aid to the University back to 1998 levels.

The Senate bill allocates about $50 million more funding for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system than the University, while the House bill cuts both systems equally by about 13 percent.

The bills face opposition from MnSCU, the University and Gov. Mark Dayton. Both systems and the executive branch have testified against what they consider incredibly damaging cuts.

“If the Legislature chooses to solve a decade’s worth of state financial mismanagement by pulling the rug out from under the University, the damage will be statewide and permanent,” University President Bob Bruininks said in a statement last week.

Dayton’s budget cuts to higher education are half of what lawmakers proposed — a dissonance in keeping with a session filled with clashes over state spending targets.

Dayton and University administrators say tax increases are necessary to balance the state budget, and the governor’s proposal includes $3.2 billion in new revenue.

Both branches of government aim to fill the state’s $5 billion projected shortfall by May 23, but without some compromise from each side, that deadline could remain elusive.

“I don’t see any movement on the part of the Republican; I don’t see any movement on the part of Dayton, and unless something really earth shattering happens, I think they’re going to move through May, … and we’re going to get awfully close to July 1st and a partial [government] shutdown,” said David Schultz, a policy expert and law professor at Hamline University.

Dayton and DFLers have put up a strong front against the finance bills that began pouring through the Legislature this week. Democratic lawmakers strongly opposed the “slash and burn” cuts included in the bills, but Republicans argued that difficult cuts had to be made and have stuck to their “no new taxes” mantra.

They pointed to funding increases in the state grant program and tuition caps included in the bills as measures that will protect students.

“Here we go again, blaming the people that have to clean up the mess,” said Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud. “We’ve got to make tough decisions, and we can’t throw money around that we don’t have.”

Dayton issued a letter to Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-St. Michael, and House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, Monday that outlined the criteria he would use when considering a veto of the incoming legislation.

In the House and Senate, heated protests and warnings from Democrats did little to divert the GOP from jamming its higher education bills through.

“This bill stinks to high heaven,” said Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia. “This bill isn’t going anywhere.”

Dayton spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci wrote in an email that the anti-human cloning provision included in both bills “would be an example of policy that the governor was referring to” when he outlined instances where legislation would face his veto.

“If I reject those items, and therefore the bills containing them have to be returned for separate passage, those delays will be the Legislature’s responsibility, not mine,” Dayton wrote in the letter.