U of M prepares to ask legislators for funding increaseby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota colleges are starting to wonder what the next legislative session will hold in terms of their budgets.
Today the University of Minnesota Board of Regents will get a first look at the school's budget request for lawmakers next year.
After deep cuts to the university's state funding over the last couple of years, this request asks for an increase.
That extra money might be hard to find as lawmakers prepare to wrestle with a projected $6 billion budget deficit.
At this point the university plans to ask lawmakers for $1.2 billion in funding for fiscal years 2012 and 2013.
That's an increase of about $50 million a year over what the university receives now. School officials point out, however, that request is still less than what the school received in state funding back in 2007.
The budget request isn't just a shot in the dark. It's based on a preliminary funding level set by Minnesota lawmakers last session.
University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter realizes that's no guarantee the university will get what it asks for, especially given the state's budget deficit.
"We're not foolish enough to think that the $5 billion state problem is going to disappear," he said. "But we are are going to advance our request ... and have started to think about what the alternatives will be in case the state doesn't come through that level of funding."
Those alternatives could be to cut staff or increase tuition, moves the university has made in recent years as it's faced declining state funding.
DFL state Sen. Sandy Pappas, who chairs the senate's Higher Education Budget and Policy Division Committee, said increasing tuition should be the last choice for administrators at the university, even if they're faced with more budget cuts.
But she thinks the university's budget request is on the mark, even in these tough budget times.
"I think it's reasonable because I think higher ed has to make its case that it should be a priority in terms of state funding and not always look to higher education as a place where we can cut the budget," Pappas said.
Republican state Sen. Claire Robling, the ranking minority member on Pappas' committee, said even though the university's budget has been hit hard in recent years, finding money to offer an increase next session might be impossible.
"Things are worse than they were before, budget reserves from the state are all gone, there's nothing to do except try and rein in the spending right now," she said.
Regents will discuss the first draft of the budget request for a few months before deciding on a final number.
Officials at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System won't release their budget request until November.
As colleges begin to discuss their budget plans, one unknown is who will occupy the Minnesota governor's office in January.
Democrat Mark Dayton and Independence Party candidate Tom Horner indicate they'll maintain funding levels for higher education. Republican Tom Emmer's budget plan lays out a $400 million cut to the state's higher ed funding.
- Morning Edition, 10/07/2010, 7:25 a.m.