Battle lines drawn as advocates try to fend off GOP proposal for biggest higher-ed cuts ever

The battle is set: Legislative Republicans vs. Gov. Mark Dayton and Minnesota’s two main higher-education systems.

The fight began in the House Higher Education Committee on Tuesday and continues this afternoon in the Senate. Both have released omnibus finance bills that would dramatically reduce state aid for higher education, despite protests from students, faculty and university officials.

Both the House and Senate bills would cut $411 million in projected state spending for higher education — more than double the reductions included in Dayton’s budget — as part of GOP lawmakers’ solution to Minnesota’s $5 billion shortfall.

The cuts translate to $306.3 million less funding than in the current budget cycle and represent the largest cut to higher education in the state’s history.

U of M, MnSCU hit hardest
The University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system would bear the brunt of the cuts. The House aims to reduce both systems by 13 percent — or about $160 million — under the current appropriation to roughly $1.05 billion each. The Senate would cut the University by about $50 million more than MnSCU.

Rep. Bud Nornes
Rep. Bud Nornes

Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, says his bill is meant to protect students as much as possible from the cuts, which he contends are forced by Minnesota’s budget deficit. The legislation contains scaled tuition caps for the University and MnSCU to ensure the systems don’t put the brunt of their problems on students’ backs, he said.

The bill also includes increased funding for the state grant program, which helps students pay for tuition.

Nornes repeatedly stressed that although higher education spending didn’t cause Minnesota’s shortfall — a point he made to the GOP legislative leaders — everyone must do his or her part to put the state back on a sustainable path.

In the “no new taxes” Legislature, Nornes seemed resigned to carry out the targets handed to him by his party.

“It’s just the way things work sometimes,” Nornes said after the hearing. “Sometimes you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. If we could do what is popular, this would be a great job.”

That didn’t stop a deluge of testimony from those attacking the House bill. They used words like “decimate,” “destroy” and “disturbing” to describe the potential effects on higher education.

“I’m more concerned about the future of this state than any time during my tenure of service,” MnSCU Chancellor Jim McCormick said.

The bill would roll back University funding to 1998 levels, Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said. He added there would be a wage and hiring freeze next year to cope with the cut.

Dayton, new U president meet
Dayton met with incoming university President Eric Kaler for the first time early Tuesday and answered questions about their exchange. The governor said Kaler is “very definitely” concerned about state aid to higher education — a trend that began with current President Bob Bruininks.

MnSCU officials said the reductions would force program closures, layoffs and tuition hikes. In a letter requested by the committee, Vice Chancellor Laura King outlined a variety of forms the cuts could take:

• Staff cuts of 554.

• Faculty cuts of 490.

• The equivalent of 10,164 full-year students not served.

“It’s a very disturbing trend that has negative consequences for students and the people we serve,” King said after the meeting.

Edna Szymanski, president of Minnesota State University-Moorhead, told the committee that if declining state aid forced her to make cuts at her campus, the music and doctor of nursing practice programs would be the first to go.

MnSCU — which educates 64 percent of Minnesota’s undergraduates — argued that the system is one of the most efficient in the country.

“This is the worst cut we’ve had, and it comes on top of a series of cuts over a period of 10 years,” McCormick said. “That makes it difficult.”

Higher education funding has decreased from 18 percent of the state budget in 1967 to 8 percent in 2009. Tuition at the University has more than doubled over the past decade.

Republicans had little to say in response. Party lines only became truly apparent when all but one voted in support of the bill.

That contrasted with Democrats’ doomsday predictions about what the bill would mean for higher ed.

“We’re going to take an ax to the budget in a very crude way,” said Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter. “If I had to give this bill a grade, it would be an ‘F.’ “

Morrow and Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, were the most vocal opponents.

Rep. Tom Rukavina
Rep. Tom Rukavina

Rukavina read to Republicans the number of students in their districts. He asked for roll call votes on amendments so the names of GOP lawmakers who supported the bill would be recorded.

“It’s a bad bill,” Rukavina told the committee. “I don’t know what else to say about it.”

Although Dr. Sheila Wright, director of the Office of Higher Education, wouldn’t say if Dayton would veto the bill, Rukavina is convinced the governor will. He told Nornes some tax increases would have to be included to offset the cuts.

Dayton’s budget calls for about $3.2 billion in new tax revenue in addition to cuts to close the deficit.

“This bill is not going anywhere,” Rukavina said. “It’s going to be vetoed.”

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “In the end, there’s going to have to be some compromise.”

GOP Rep. Nornes says bill still early in process
Nornes said he hadn’t met the governor or worked with him on the proposal, but added that it’s still early in the process.

“I haven’t seen it, Dayton said. “I don’t know anything about it.”

Although DFLers were vocal about an expected veto, all the Republicans in the committee voted for the bill — except King Banaian, a freshman representative from St. Cloud.

Banaian, the sole GOP dissenter, said as he goes back into a classroom at St. Cloud State University this May, he needs to be able to tell students he did his best with a bad situation. The bill, he said, didn’t meet that test.

Banaian also voted against a previous GOP measure that would have cut $900 million in state spending, including some reductions to higher ed funding.

“They had to know when a state university professor got elected,” Banaian said of his support for higher education. “I’ve got a special place for this.”

James Nord, a Univeristy of Minnesota student, is a MinnPost intern.

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Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 03/23/2011 - 10:22 am.

    Rep. Banaian seems to be the most frequent recipient of the golden ticket allowing him off the hook for tough votes. But the voters of St. Cloud must understand, the way to maintain funding for their school is not to send Republicans to the legislature.

  2. Submitted by Jim Roth on 03/23/2011 - 10:38 am.

    I think this is illustrative of a very bad trend. I know Republicans are fond of characterizing liberals as “tax and spend”. I think the response should be “don’t tax and become a third-world state”.

  3. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 03/23/2011 - 11:08 am.

    It is EXTREMELY clear that Republicans don’t understand the concept of investment in human capital. Again, I think those Republican legislators who do have college degrees somehow view their degree was only an effort of personal accomplishment, not that it took hundreds of educators to get them through the process. It is the classic case of incompetents thinking they accomplished something completely on their own, ignoring the work of others around them.

    All their “jobs, jobs, jobs” nonsense apparently is based on the gross misconception that if you give the rich enough money they’ll create jobs out of some sense of noblesse oblige. And there is not a SINGLE shred of evidence in the whole world that shows that to be the case.

    The Republicans are essentially guilty of bait and switch in the 2010 election. They made the claim that they could balance the budget without causing serious harm. That, based on their own announced plans, is now quite apparently impossible.

  4. Submitted by David Greene on 03/23/2011 - 11:25 am.

    There’s one incredibly immoral piece in this bill that’s easy to miss because it’s an amendment of the “delete lines 4-7 of section 2, subparagraph B” type.

    This bill removes all requirements for school districts to move toward integration. It eliminates integration goals and all of the accountability measures in place around them.

    This is truly disgusting legislation. It’s legislation that couldn’t even pass in the South because of federal law provisions that make scrutiny there more strict.

  5. Submitted by Van Mueller on 03/23/2011 - 12:02 pm.

    It seems that the Republicans don’t understand the work “invest” or don’t have it in their vocabulary when it comes to funding higher education. Do they really think that jobs only come from investing in the our wealthy citizens and that investing in education does not matter? There is an abundance of respected research to support investment in education. The work locally by Growth & Justice is a good start for more thoughtful approach to why funding higher education is productive.

  6. Submitted by will lynott on 03/23/2011 - 12:05 pm.

    “Nornes repeatedly stressed that although higher education spending didn’t cause Minnesota’s shortfall…”

    Well, no. The Ventura/Pawlenty tax cuts 10 years ago did that, and we’ve been in structural deficit mode ever since. Arne Carlson handed Ventura a structural surplus. And don’t forget the economy was rather good BEFORE the tax cuts.

    “…everyone must do his or her part to put the state back on a sustainable path.” -Bud Nornes.

    Last time I checked, “everyone” meant “EVERYONE.” Bud, does that include the rich?

    Think of it. Whacking education. If I weren’t watching it happen I wouldn’t believe it. Poor Bud Nornes. After all, it’s not HIS fault. He’s only doing what his puppeteers tell him to do….right?

  7. Submitted by Cecil North on 03/23/2011 - 03:34 pm.

    What else would you expect from a legislature that thinks “job creators” care only about their tax rates, not about the health of the communities they live in or the quality of their workforce?

  8. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/23/2011 - 04:37 pm.

    What flavor was the koolaide all the Republicans were required to drink at the beginning of this session – the koolaide that reduced them all to the equivalent of those operating under the “imperious curse,” from the Harry Potter books?

    What they seem to be completely oblivious to is that this is all part of a process in which they are only “tools.” The process is this: first you consolidate all the effective political and economic power in the hands of a very few people, then those people use their human “tools” to destroy all the ladders, stairways and even grind smooth the cliff faces that might have allowed those who are not already wealthy to climb their way up to where the already wealthy dwell.

    Thus do you seek to ensure that you and your descendants will have the power required to ensure that you live like the kings and queens of old and never have to worry about the peons of society (everyone else).

    Of course Louis XVI of France discovered the flaws in that plan, but, alas, those who refuse to study and learn from history (especially those, such as our current crop of Republicans, who reject the lessons of history and science because those lessons call into question their ideologies), are doomed to learn the lessons science and history would have taught them and learn them in very difficult ways.

    Let the lessons begin.

  9. Submitted by Jacob Hite on 03/23/2011 - 06:25 pm.

    This article highlights the issues surrounding the concept of Higher Education. Namely, that education equals jobs.

    Jobs are produced by education AND in education. Minnesota was once regarded as “The Education State.” We set the standard for the country in K-12 and Higher Ed. in excellence and that was with a commitment of the legislature to pay for two-thirds of a students cost to attend a state higher education institution. This is simply not the case anymore!

    It is unbelievable how allowing “rich people” to keep their money and pocket more of it will benefit our state. My affluent background has not helped me at all in paying for my education. I had to enlist in the Army National Guard to be able to afford a STATE UNIVERSITY. I don’t regret it, but I am not about to ask each and every student at Winona State to enlist so that they can pay their bills too!!

    What we can do is make it easier on them so they can finish their education and then go join the workforce and pay taxes like every other citizen of our great state.

    Rep. Nornes needs to realize that he is just increasing the gap in our state between the “haves” and the “have nots” while condemning those who don’t have a chance to get to where they only dream of. What about the American Dream? Is that dead or do we only allow it for those that can pay for it?

    The facts below should speak louder than anything I could say:

    From FY2000-FY2007, State Higher Education Funding dropped by 28%.
    (That means by graduating from High School in 2006, i payed 28%(not adjusted for inflation) more for the same education that someone who graduate in 2000, which means my student loans were even larger for the same good or service. With inflation it is more than 50%)

    MnSCU alone, on their 32 campuses, trains 78 percent of nurses in Minnesota, as well as 50 percent of the state’s teachers and more than 92 percent of the state’s police officers.
    (80% of these people stay in our state and pay our taxes. If we continually increase their cost to go to school, they will not be here much longer.)

    According to a report conducted by an independent research firm in Minnesota (Wilder Research, 2005), a single dollar ($1) invested into the Minnesota State Colleges & Universities nets a profit of $10.87. This includes the initial spending of the staff and faculty in their communities as a result of living there, as well as the enhanced production that Minnesota receives from an highly educated workforce.

    Rep. Nornes, I challenge you to find a better return on your investment of state dollars. I for one, would like to go back to a time and place where our state once valued education.

  10. Submitted by Paul Bramscher on 03/24/2011 - 10:51 am.

    It seems that everyone has had to tighten his belt except the two demographics that have enjoyed an enormous amount of wealth shift their way since the 1970’s: the wealthy and the retiring Boomers. We’ve seen students, union workers, civil servants, young people, and pretty much everyone else sacrifice — but where’s the evidence of belt-tightening where most of today’s real wealth actually sits?

    As for the U of MN, most of its revenue now comes from tuition and other private sources. Numerically speaking, it’s a misnomer to call it a public school at this stage. It’s been gradually privatized.

  11. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 03/24/2011 - 10:57 am.

    I watched part of the Senate Education Finance Committee this morning and see the same refusal to SEE the dire harm these cuts will do to the students Representative Nornes says he wants to “protect.” Perhaps he can explain how cuts that will force the elimination of valuable programs like nursing and music and who knows how many others, plus the loss of not just professors but professional and support staff without which no college or university can remain open.

    The committee’s co-chair is 29-year-old first-term legislator Jeremy Miller. He seems bright and has authored a bunch of bills in his first months in the legislature. Yet he, as the graduate of a two-year college (Southeast Tech.), cannot see how the cuts would have adversely affected him as a student a few years ago.

    How can those who oppose the cuts fight a willful decision on the part of Miller and others to believe any truth that does not fit their ideology? I’m willing to bet that lot of these make-the-cuts-and-damn-the-results legislators will be UNelected in 2012 by the same folks who voted for them in 2010.

  12. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 03/24/2011 - 01:15 pm.

    Just listen to all the “squealing!”

    This represents the same mentality that has give our nation a 1.5 trillion dollar deficit and a President who proposes a budget that is laughable in attempting to control spending.

    The problem is – “squealing works.” Dayton’s attempt in growing the size of MN Government at a 22% clip and attempting to make MN one of the highest tax states in the nation, there will still not be enough money to satisfy these entrenched DFL special interest groups.

  13. Submitted by Howard Miller on 04/01/2011 - 01:22 pm.

    When elected public leaders have decided that there’s too much higher education going on, that it needs dramatic cutting, then it’s time to find new elected leaders.

    Cutting education is like eating your seed corn. Do it enough, and you will starve for lack of a next crop

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