Legislature approves deep cuts for higher-education systems

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 29, 2011 - 10:44 PM

The Republican-sponsored bills would reduce funding for the U and MnSCU by several hundred million dollars.

Minnesota's higher-education institutions would take a significant financial hit in the next two years under bills approved on Tuesday by the state House and Senate.

Despite pleas from officials with the University of Minnesota and the state's college system, the two chambers passed deep cuts in spending that majority Republicans say are needed to whittle the state's massive budget deficit. The votes were 37-27 in the Senate and 69-60 in the House, with Republicans in favor and DFLers opposed.

The legislation also includes a ban on the use of state or federal funds to finance human cloning after that amendment was approved by both houses.

Other bills moving through the Legislature would enact a more comprehensive ban on human cloning, making it a felony.

DFLers repeatedly tried and failed to get rid of or limit the cloning ban. House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, told Republicans: "You've really abused your power by adding this amendment" and warned that for the rest of the session, "it's fair game" for DFLers to load bills with unrelated amendments.

In opposing the amendment, they echoed U President Robert Bruininks, who has called the ban "anti-research," and Minnesota Higher Education Commissioner Sheila Wright, who said it doesn't belong in the budget bill at all.

Both of the higher-ed bills far exceed DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's recommended spending reductions in the area.

The Senate bill would cut the university's budget by 19 percent, or $243 million, while the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities' budget would be reduced by 13 percent, or about $167 million, according to estimates by administrators from the U and MnSCU.

The sponsor of the Senate bill, Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, called it "a solid bill" that tried to grapple with the state's fiscal woes. She predicted that "it will not cut so deep that it will put the universities out of business."

But DFLers argued that the cuts would, in the words of Sen. Scott Dibble, cripple "arguably the economic engine of our state."

Under the bill passed by the House, both the university and MnSCU would sustain budget cuts of 13 percent, a combined reduction of nearly $320 million.

"It's a sizable hit," said Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, who chairs the House Higher Education Finance Committee. "I can't tell you anyone is happy with it, but that's what we have to deal with."

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, called the budget cuts "outrageous" and said the bill "stinks to high heaven."

Republicans "have got to pull their heads out of the sand -- or wherever they have them."

The Legislature also approved caps on tuition increases for the next two years, something students have pushed for, but a move resisted by administrators.

Bob von Sternberg • 651-222-0973

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