Pawlenty proposes $151 million cut to U

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In a move that would cut $151 million from the University of Minnesota’s state aid over the next two years, Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposed a cut Tuesday of more than 8 percent from state higher education for the upcoming 2010-11 biennium.

The state faces a nearly $5 billion budget deficit due to falling revenues, a number that is expected to grow in the coming months.

At $33.6 billion, Pawlenty’s projected budget would be 2.2 percent smaller than that of the current biennium.

Pawlenty would reduce the deficit by cutting more than $2.5 billion in spending. He would round out the remainder of the deficit through almost $3.2 billion in revenue increases, including a projected $920 million in federal stimulus money and delayed payments to K-12 education.

There has been speculation that the state could receive more than $3 billion in federal money, a sum that Pawlenty said would contain some money for higher education.

Pawlenty said he would continue to push for a cap on tuition increases at state schools at a rate close to inflation, but beyond that would let the University’s Board of Regents and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system Board of Trustees determine how to deal with their share of the cut.

University President Bob Bruininks said he was disappointed Pawlenty didn’t make higher education a priority in his budget.

“I don’t believe you can have a strong, vibrant economy if you don’t make higher education a priority,” he said.

While voicing his opposition to the proposed tuition increase cap, Bruininks said students would not face a large tuition increase.

“We have no intention of putting these reductions on the back of students,” he said.

In 2003, the state cut more than $198 million from the University’s budget. Tuition increased more than 14 percent each of the two subsequent school years.

Bruininks said to avoid similar increases, the University would first look to cut costs and delay investments before raising tuition.

Higher education currently makes up more than $3 billion in state expenditures. At 8.5 percent, it would be the fourth largest share of the state’s general fund in Pawlenty’s proposed budget.

In announcing his budget, Pawlenty was kicking off a battle with the DFL-controlled state Legislature that is certain to last the duration of the session.

Rep. Tom Rukavina , DFL-Virginia and chairman of the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Finance and Policy Division , said the state would need to find additional revenue sources to close out the deficit.

“It’s shortsighted on his part,” he said of Pawlenty’s higher education cuts. “I’m not going to sit here and nod my head and agree that all of this could be solved with budget cuts.”

Sen. Sandy Pappas , chairwoman of the Senate’s higher education finance committee , called the deficit “unprecedented.”

While meeting with Bruininks on campus Tuesday, Pappas said the state needs to remain committed to supporting students.

“We don’t want to impact their quality [of education], and we don’t want to make them pay more,” she said.

Echoing Rukavina, Pappas said Pawlenty is not “putting everything on the table” when it comes to finding more revenue sources.

“The governor certainly hasn’t come up with any ideas about how we’re going to maintain the quality of our University while we cut,” Pappas said. “We have a governor who will not consider all options.”

In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, both DFL-Minneapolis, said legislative leaders would be willing to consider Pawlenty’s proposals during the session.

Testifying before Rukavina’s committee on Tuesday, University students and faculty said they would like to see University costs remain low in coming years.

“It’s very tough because on one side, as a student, I would love to see my tuition never go above 5.5 percent,” University student Alex Tenenbaum said. “But on the other hand, I really value that overall payoff from my education that’s going to come out and mean a lot to me.”

When asked his opinion on how to best apply cuts to University funding, student Martin Chorzempa said, “there really isn’t anything you can cut without huge ramifications throughout the rest of the University.”

Nancy Carpenter , a professor of organic chemistry at University of Minnesota-Morris, said students would be a vital part of Minnesota’s economy in the future.

“We want to make sure that students have a really outstanding education, and they’re getting it,” she said. “The young people we work with in my opinion are Minnesota’s most precious resource, and they’re our future.”

Higher education was not a hallmark of Pawlenty’s budget. Areas such health and human services and K-12 education received the bulk of the budget’s attention.

K-12 education received an increase of more than 1 percent in Pawlenty’s budget, but he said schools with better performance levels of would receive increased funding in the future.

As for healthcare, Pawlenty’s budget would give it almost $1 million more in funding in the next biennium. But the department’s costs were expected to grow by more than $2.6 million, equating to a cut for the department.

-Tara Bannow and Nicole Tommerdahl contributed to this report.

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