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Senators complain, but pass college funding

ST. PAUL - Minnesota senators voted to increase higher education spending Thursday, but complained it was not enough to prevent tuition increases or to launch any significant new programs.

The measure ups spending $296 million for the next two years, leaving a higher education budget of $3.1 billion.

"Personally I am very dissatisfied with it," Higher Education Chairwoman Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said. "All we could do is fund a status quo budget."

It is a comment expected on the Senate floor often through April 2, when senators are supposed to have their spending bills finished. In general, committee chairmen are not happy that their leaders would not let them spend as much as they say is needed.

However, some senators say privately they expect an income tax increase somewhat like House Democrats proposed to come forward. If senators go that route, more money could be spent.

House Democrats suggest adding a new tier of income taxes for the richest Minnesotans, brining in $433 million in the two-year budget that begins July 1.

The total state budget is expected to top $34 billion.

The higher education spending bill passed 64-2, even though many senators complained it would not spend enough money. The House probably will not pass a higher education bill until next month.

One of the biggest disappointments senators expressed was their inability to keep tuitions in check because of the lack of money.

Senators defeated 37-28 an attempt to require the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities systems to freeze tuition through 2009.

Pappas said a freeze would cost the two systems $141 million.

Tuition has risen 112 percent in the past decade, Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said.

Senators, led by Democrats who control the chamber, also turned back an attempt to require illegal immigrants to pay out-of-state tuition instead of the cheaper in-state rates they pay today.

"We should not be paying for those who are not legally here," said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, who brought the failed amendment to the Senate.

However, Pappas said that removing the so-called Dream Act from the bill would force children of illegal immigrants underground.

"We cannot afford to lose the talents and the skills of anyone," she said.

Ingebrigtsen's amendment failed 43-23.

Another spending bill senators passed - by 66-0 - funds agriculture and veterans' programs.

Agriculture funding was $98 million for the two years, including $300,000 for each of two studies that would look into the feasibility of launching ethanol facilities on the White Earth and Bois Forte American Indian reservations.

It also would provide subsidies to producers of biofuels such as ethanol that come from new, more efficient, forms of plants.

The veterans' budget was more than $40 million, boosting several programs helping the National Guard, including:

  • $60,000 for honor guards at funerals.
  • $1.5 million to help Guard members reintegrate when they return from war zones.
  • $1.5 million for tribal veterans services offices.
  • $1.5 million for the Assistance Council for Veterans.
  • $500,000 to tell Minnesotans about veterans' programs.
  • $2 million for various soldier assistance programs.
  • $900,000 in improved veteran higher education aid.
  • $1 million to allow counties to increase veterans' benefit programs.

  • Don Davis
    Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.