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Feature

President Bob Bruinkinks testifies at a Senate hearing.

President Bob Bruininks presented the University's biennial budget request to the Senate Higher Education Budget Division.

Federal and state funding critical to U's strength

By Channing Riggs and Ann Freeman

From M, spring 2005

Tight budgets. No new taxes. Partisan wrangling. If these phrases are sounding familiar, it can only mean one thing: the state and federal legislative sessions are in full swing.

When the 109th Congress and the 2005 Minnesota Legislature began in January, the word from Washington, as well as St. Paul, was caution. Ask only for what is reasonable. Prepare to defend it against many other important programs. Get ready to be held accountable to high standards and tight deadlines.

In Washington, the Bush administration established a number of clear priorities--homeland security, defense, social security reform, and tax reform--and will be devoting its time and, more importantly, its money toward these programs.

In Minnesota, the Pawlenty administration is equally focused--on controlling health care costs, especially for prescription drugs, and providing adequate funding for K-12 education while demanding accountability for results.

In Washington

At the federal level, the Higher Education Act (HEA) is the main federal law that regulates financial aid, international studies, campus crime and safety, access to postsecondary education, teacher training, graduate education, and direct and guaranteed student loan programs. The HEA needs to be reauthorized every five years. To date, several bills have been introduced in the House of Representatives and the debate will soon begin.

In addition, funding of federal agencies is crucial to the University's research mission. In 2004, U researchers competed for and won more than $377 million in federal funds--about 16 percent of the U's annual budget. In early February President Bush released his budget request for fiscal year 2006. It is one of the tightest federal budget submissions in more than two decades, with austere funding levels for key agencies. President Bush proposed an increase of less than 1 percent for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a 2.4 percent increase for the National Science Foundation (NSF), a 6 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and a 10 percent cut to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

While the Department of Defense budget would rise, basic research programs would be cut by 14.2 percent. The Department of Energy's basic research programs would be cut by 3.8 percent, as well.

The President plans to use the savings from eliminating the Perkins loan program to increase the maximum Pell grant by $100 a year for five years, to $4,550.

This is the start of a very long and arduous debate. While the President's budget request frames the debate, it often bears little resemblance to what Congress eventually enacts.

In St. Paul

The University's top priorities at the Minnesota Legislature are its biennial and capital budget requests. The biennial request--for $42 million in new state funding in each of the next two years--seeks a partnership with the state to maintain Minnesota's role as a world leader in the biosciences; to assure that top students stay in Minnesota and that the U attracts and retains world-class faculty and staff; and to support discovery and learning. Governor Pawlenty has recommended $105.5 million--nearly 84 percent of the U's biennial request. And now it will be up to the House and Senate to formulate their own proposals.

Because the legislature failed to pass a capital bonding bill last year, another priority this year is to pass the updated 2004 capital request. The University's capital request of $158 million in state funds focuses on critical investments to support its academic infrastructure, needed state-of-the-art research facilities, and modern classrooms. The governor has recommended just more than $100 million for bonding projects at the University, $24 million more than his recommendation last year. The Senate has recommended $118 and at press time, the House had not yet acted on the University's capital request.

Federal and state funds have a symbiotic relationship in the support they provide for the University and higher education. Adequate state funding helps the University invest in the top researchers, faculty, and facilities, which helps garner increasingly competitive federal research funds.

Bottom line: The University is working harder than ever in both Washington and St. Paul to make a case for this critical support--support that's needed if the U is to continue as a national leader in research and education.

And that's where you can help. Friends and supporters of the U are asked to contact their state legislators and urge them to reverse the trend of declining state support and invest in the University of Minnesota. To contact your legislator, visit Grassroots. For information about the University's capital and bonding requests, visit Government Relations.

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