Bell Museum left out of House spending bill

The Senate passed a bill on March 16 funding the project.
March 30, 2009

Funding for a new Bell Museum of Natural History was absent from the House version of the bonding bill as state representatives introduced the $200 million spending bill Monday.
The Bell Museum is slated for $24 million in the Senate bonding bill, which passed March 16 , but Rep. Alice Hausman , DFL-St. Paul, said the House’s version had a strict $200 million limit not found in the more than $300 million Senate bill. The House and Senate will have to resolve differences between the two bills to gain final passage.
“The easiest thing in the world is to write a big bill,” Hausman said before a House committee Monday. “The greater challenge is writing one that is smaller because you still have to look at it from a statewide perspective, and you still have to be fair.”
Addressing the $39.5 million Bell Museum project directly, Hausman said she called Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s office Friday to get the administration’s perspective on the project. She said she was told the project is too similar to other institutions in the state.
“I was told that they believe this is duplicative of what the [Minnesota] Zoo and the Science Museum are doing,” she said.
During the 2008 session, the Legislature passed $24 million in funding for the Bell project, but Pawlenty vetoed it. A spokesman for the governor did not return calls for comment Monday afternoon.
Under the House bill, the University would receive $20 million in Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement (HEAPR) funding for general repair projects on campus. The Senate’s bonding bill appropriated $35 million in HEAPR funds to the University.
The House bill was presented before the Capital Investment Finance Division on Monday and will be voted on by the committee today.
“I know there are many very disappointed people, and I’m one of them,” Hausman said. “A $200 million bill done fairly for the entire state is not easy to arrive at.”
Bell Museum Executive Director Susan Weller also said she was disappointed, though she said after the committee meeting that she understood Hausman’s approach to the bill.
“Anyone who balances a budget knows, it’s really tough to figure out what projects or what expenses you have to cut,” Weller said. “I’m not convinced that Pawlenty will veto it … It is an academic mission, which sets it apart from the other institutions [Hausman] mentioned.”
Should the bill pass the full House, the House and Senate bills would be brought before a conference committee to create one version for passage to be sent to Pawlenty.
Weller and Donna Peterson , University vice president for government relations, said they will not try to have Bell funding added to the House bill before the vote, but will go to the conference committee to fight for the funding.
Weller said last week that some private donations for the Bell Museum project are contingent on getting funding from the state this session.
Should the funding not pass this year, Peterson said it was up to University President Bob Bruininks and the Board of Regents to decide whether or not to propose it before the Legislature next session. Weller said last week that Bruininks had told her it would not be a priority next year.

—Devin Henry is a senior staff reporter

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