Higher-ed bill passes House, gets bipartisan praise for toughness, tuition control

House getting tougher

The Minnesota House passed a higher education bill that drew bipartisan praise for its tough-minded approach to tuition and administrative spending.

The bill, which passed 86-44, would prohibit MnSCU and the U from using state appropriations for executive bonuses. And the systems would have to report more closely what they spend on administration.

Higher-education committee Chairman Gene Pelowski (DFL-Winona), who has blamed past legislatures for being too last on higher-ed oversight, told lawmakers:

“We should have the same level of oversight with tuition that we have for taxes. Tuition increases tend not to go away, and they tend to have the same lingering effects — in this case, historic debt.”

Backers of the bill say 80 percent of the appropriation would go to students in the form of a two-year tuition freeze at the University of Minnesota and state colleges and universities, as well as a 3.5 percent annual increase to the State Grant.

DFL Rep. Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley told the floor:

“It is time to send a strong message to the institutions themselves that if the public is putting more dollars into their operations, the public is putting more money into higher education, the students are the ones that should benefit.”

DFL officials say the bill would offer the first increase in state higher-education funding in eight years.

Lawmakers will reconcile the House and Senate bills later this session.

Update: The House adopted an amendment — which Pelowski supported — that removes about half a million dollars from the University of Minnesota appropriation and transfers it to the State Grant fund.

The author of the amendment, Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa), told lawmakers it was the same as the cost of the U’s outside study of its administrative costs. The cost had been criticized by Pelowski and others, who said the U was paying a lot of money to find out something it should already know.

Pelowski fended off several other amendments aimed at enforcing more cost-cutting and better performance in the two systems. He said he’d worked out his oversight measures with the legislative auditor’s office to make them workable. Adding in more from the floor, he said, would not be wise.

Drazkowski was among a few Republicans who praised Pelowski and the bill, calling it “exactly the direction we need to go.”

He said, however, he could not support the bill because the budget target was too high.