House DFL plan aims to slow tuition increasesby Art Hughes, Minnesota Public Radio
The higher education budget presented by Minnesota House Democrats on Tuesday aims to hold down tuition increases at public colleges over the next two years. The bill requires Minnesota State Colleges and Universities to raise tuition no more than 2 percent -- well below the 4 percent MnSCU trustees targeted. The bill also provides incentive for the University of Minnesota to keep tuition down. The measure must be reconciled with a Senate version that spends some $100 million less.
St. Paul, Minn. — The House bill adds nearly $170 million of new money for each of the public higher education systems over the next two years. House Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee Chairman Tom Rukavina says the measure signals an end to double-digit tuition increases.
"We increased education spending by about $396 million, which is about $100 million more than the Senate. Which is why, with the help of leadership, we were able to give some relief -- finally -- to these students across the state," Rukavina said.
The bill buys down MnSCU's tuition by diverting $40 million that administrators wanted for technology improvements. Constitutional provisions prevent the state from dictating tuition levels at the University of Minnesota. Instead, Rukavina says the bill offers enough money to shave tuition more than 2 percent next year if the university uses it for that purpose.
"It's more than a carrot and a stick," he said. "It's a carrot and a slap on the side of the head if you don't use it right."
The bill challenges the university to raise matching money for a middle-income student scholarship. It also has money to try out a program to lower textbook costs for students.
The plan keeps alive many of the programs Gov. Pawlenty touted in his budget, including $38 million for a venture between the U of M and the Mayo Clinic, and some funding for the ACHIEVE program to support the state's top students.
Officials from both public college systems received the numbers positively. The U of M's chief financial officer, Richard Pfutzenreuter, says the House plan is encouraging.
"It's really refreshing to see a higher education bill that's funded to the level that it is," he said. "It's very close to what the university is requesting overall. We're appreciative that you were able to raise the target compared to the governor and you were able to deliver money on a recurring basis."
The House version is $100 million bigger than the Senate higher education bill and the two aren't directly comparable. The House bill does provide at least $60 million more in new spending for the universities than the Senate does.
Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, the Higher Education Budget Division chair, says her committee decided to steer clear of added taxes and worked only with existing money and the budget surplus.
"Mostly we're just dealing with inflation," she said. "I don't know if they're including any additional tax revenue in their bill. We're not. We're just trying to live with the money we have and it's inadequate."
The House education spending plans are bigger than the Senate's because the House DFL intends to raise taxes on wealthy Minnesotans.
Sen. Pappas says she hopes the final figures are ultimately closer to what Rukavina proposes.
"I'm thrilled he got that much money in his target," she said. "I look forward to conference committee and hopefully we can move the target up to his level."
The Senate bill contains one key provision not in the House measure: a plan to allow Minnesota children of illegal immigrants to pay lower in-state tuition. The Senate approved the so-called DREAM Act language despite a veto threat from Gov. Pawlenty.
- Morning Edition, 03/28/2007, 7:20 a.m.