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U's impassioned speeches don't move GOP budget views

Despite impassioned speeches today before the House Higher Education Committee, University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks and CFO Richard Pfutzenreuter were largely unsuccessful in winning Republican support for shallower budget reductions.

Pfutzenreuter and Bruininks (PDF) testified before the committee in tacit support of Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget, which features lower cuts to higher education than Republican proposals.

The CFO presented a striking picture of what the university could do with state funding at levels currently projected for next biennium: $9.8 million in new financial aid, 75 new faculty positions and the ability to cover core inflationary costs.

Instead, the university is preparing for a darker future.

“We will freeze salaries next year,” Pfutzenreuter told the committee. “[These cuts] will swamp higher education at some point.”

Included in that future is no new financial aid, no additional faculty members, the previously mentioned salary freeze and no built-in spending increases to match inflation. Traditionally, the university balances reductions in state aid with two-thirds spending reductions and a one-third tuition increase.

Pfutzenreuter stressed that state aid to the university has declined dramatically since a high in 2008, and that the system has taken “steps to stabilize budget cuts” like pay freezes and furloughs in conjunction with the reductions.

After the GOP proposed a bill weeks ago that would cut $1 billion from projected state spending increases — including about $200 million from higher education — university administrators warned lawmakers that although the cut would hurt, the next one would be unbearable.

That’s the scenario Bruininks and Pfutzenreuter painted today.

According to university projections, a 20 percent reduction in state support, which accounts for about 18 percent of the system’s operating budget, would result in a $128.4 million loss of funding in fiscal year 2012.

Bruininks provided striking, but far-fetched, examples of how that funding loss could be handled internally: double-digit tuition increases, closing entire campuses, cutting full colleges or firing 1,700 employees.

Despite the presentation, Rep. Bud Nornes, committee chairman, wasn’t fazed. After the meeting, Nornes said he’ll receive targeted amounts to cut from the University from Republican legislative leadership.

“We all have that sinking feeling that we’re going to have to make some adjustments,” he said.

Nornes, although unwilling to acknowledge tax increases to cover cuts, noted that slowing spending in other areas or an improved February budget forecast could change the scenario.

“We are optimistic, always have to be,” he said.

Bruininks, on the other hand, had stronger words than usual.

“We’ve tightened our belt and taken our medicine,” he said of cutting the University’s budget and raising tuition. “I think I could pull together six reasonably intelligent people and get [a balanced state budget] done in half a day.”

Students also rallied at the Capitol today. Read more here.

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Comments (2)

Don't tax the wealthy, rob the poor seems to be the mantra of the right wing legislature this year. We are starting to see the results of their approach to destroying the building blocks of our great state. Soon, there will not be the great research insitution that has been so successful in educating our children. Next will be seondary education, then primary education. All this for the purpose of allowing the rich their big homes on Lake Minnetonka! What a shame.

Well said, Robert. (though I think I'd say it less partisanly as these values seem common among all Minnesotans)

Once we lose our first rate research reputation it will be near impossible to recapture it. 30% of costs to educate so many of our future leaders and inventors and job creators seems like a heck of a bargain to me. Educating kids and our workforce is expensive, no doubt. Having a uneducated workforce is even more expensive. Does anyone think the gap can be filled by highly educated Californians dying to live in Minnesota?

Once we start to see a brain and high-tech job migration out of Minnesota we'll all complain about this, but it will be too late. I don't think it an exaggeration to say the medical technology industry in the Twin Cities is more than any other single factor due to its relationship with the University of Minnesota.

Minnesota is not an average state. Yet.