The House of Representatives passed a higher education funding bill on Wednesday that would keep the University of Minnesota’s yearly funding at nearly current levels each of the next two years.
The bill amounted to a more than 10 percent cut in state support for higher education during 2010-11 , but the difference was made up with more than $361.8 million in federal stimulus funding . The bill would give more than $1.4 billion in funding to the University.
The bill comes with a 3 percent tuition cap, using stimulus funds to keep any possible tuition increase to around $300 per student.
“The stimulus money really helped us,” the bill’s sponsor Rep. Tom Rukavina , DFL-Virginia, said. “Thank heavens it was there.”
Language in the bill that would have eliminated state funding for University biomedical research buildings was removed from the bill last week , but the bill retained provisions that would require the University to sell alcohol to everyone of legal age at TCF Bank Stadium, as well as a controversial provision that would force state schools and universities to sell only American-made apparel in their bookstores.
House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, proposed an amendment to remove the provision, saying a college in his district had told him 100 percent of the clothing sold in their bookstore was not made in the United States and the bill would hurt schools’ ability to raise money.
“This is a very, very poor provision,” Seifert said.
The amendment failed.
Further debate revolved around using state funds for a University scholarship for students who are not eligible for Pell Grants but come from Minnesota families who make less than $100,000.
Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan , argued tax money shouldn’t be used to fund the scholarship and called for tax cuts instead.
“Why don’t we just let middle income folks keep more of their money?” he said.
The amendment failed, and the scholarship remained in the bill.
Two amendments were introduced to allow students to choose which student service fees they would pay.
“Students should have the choice as to what services they want to fund and what they don’t want to fund,” Rep. Paul Kohls, R-Victoria , said.
However, both amendments were voted down, as were two amendments from a pair of Republican lawmakers that would impose 5 percent to 10 percent cuts on salaries of University employees who make more than $100,000.
On Friday, the Senate passed their version of the higher education bill. It would cut more than 4 percent from the University next biennium, as well as propose a further 8 percent cut in the 2012-13 funding years.
A conference committee will convene to hammer out differences between the two bills.
Before passing the bill 41-23 on Friday , much of the Senate’s debate centered on the size of the cut.
“This higher education budget would not pass the House,” Sen. Geoff Michel , R-Edina, said during the debate. “It would not pass the governor [Republican Tim Pawlenty ].”
Pawlenty has proposed a budget plan that is very similar to the House’s plan in the upcoming funding years.
“This [cut] is very difficult for a lot of us,” Sen. Sandra Pappas , DFL-St. Paul, said on the Senate floor. “It means we’re going in the wrong direction, not the right direction … However, we do have a constitution and our [Minnesota] Constitution says that we have to balance the budget, so we have no choice.”
-Devin Henry is a senior staff reporter