A day after Republican lawmakers introduced legislation that would continue about $200 million in higher-education cuts into the next budget cycle, University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks made his pitch to the Senate Higher Education Committee touting the university’s “phenomenal role and impact” on the state.
In the Senate hearing, he emphasized the university’s cost-cutting measures and high international standing among research institutions.
“I know we have to be a part of the solution, but I’m arguing that higher education should be a priority for the state of Minnesota, particularly when it comes to a university like ours that is producing so much for Minnesota’s economy,” Bruininks said.
Extending the cuts — a one-time tool implemented by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty — would remove $90 million in budgeted state aid increases for the U of M in the 2012-2013 biennium. It was the first part of a Republican proposal to begin tackling Minnesota’s projected $6.2 billion deficit.
While higher-education folks are used to flat state aid, it’s the next round of budget reductions that worry U of M administrators.
“Who knows how much they’re going to cut us?” University of Minnesota CFO Richard Pfutzenreuter said. “The next one is unknown.”
“I know that they’ve taken some [cuts] already,” Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, said. “I can’t say that they’ll be off the table, but we will remember that.”
If the cuts stop with the continued unallotments, tuition increases would likely remain in the single digits, Bruininks said. But if an “absolute crisis” causes further budget reductions, tuition could jump by 10 percent or more.
“They’d have to hammer us really hard,” he said. “I hope they don’t do that.”
Bruininks answered inquiries about the role of state aid in the U of M’s income and in its financial aid services used to help low-income students.
Not all of the questioning was pleasant.
Robling, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, grilled Bruininks on administrative costs and university subsidies at the Rochester campus, which only supports about 140 full-time students.
Sen. David Brown, R-Becker, asked how the university would respond if the current spending cuts are extended.
When facing previous budget reductions, Bruininks said, U of M administrators relied on spending cuts to make up two-thirds of a shortfall and tuition increases for the last third, a practice they’ll continue this round.
A $1 million budget cut threatens about 15 jobs, he said.
In the past, spending cuts have come in the form of pay freezes and mandatory furlough days for employees, among other reductions.
“We’re ‘cost hawks,’ if you will, at the University of Minnesota,” Bruininks said.
Tuition and fees made up a quarter of the university’s budgeted revenues for fiscal year 2011 while state aid only accounted for 18 percent. Tuition has more than doubled over the past decade, according to Minnesota Office of Higher Education data.
Bruininks said the proposed cuts won’t spur any changes in the university’s legislative agenda, but he said the institution will seriously consider pushing for repeal of legislation that prohibits alcohol sales at sporting arenas on campus, including TCF Bank Stadium.
Currently, the university is losing out on $1.5 million to $2 million in yearly revenue because of the restrictions, which Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, championed last session.
The university, however, supports only selling alcohol in premium seating.