As we approach the session deadline of May 22, several budget bills remain unresolved. Despite a $1.65 billion budget surplus, Republican majorities in the House and Senate are making the wrong choices.
Governor Dayton has been actively engaged with Republicans, specifying parameters for his budget preferences and detailing items that are not acceptable. In a letter sent to the press on Tuesday, all correspondence between the governor’s staff and legislators was listed. House Democrats are working toward a compromise budget in the next two weeks, but we will not stand for policies that move the state backward and hurt Minnesotans.
One area of major concern is higher education. In early April, the Minnesota House Republican Majority passed their higher education budget, which came in $169 million below what Governor Dayton had requested. Last Friday, the Minnesota Republican House and Senate Majorities released their joint budget number. Unfortunately, things have gotten worse for Minnesota’s students: $40 million worse.
Republican legislative leaders decided to not address rising tuition and the legislative majorities are now proposing nearly $200 million less for higher education than what Governor Dayton had requested, $100 million under the MN State request and $129 million under what the University of Minnesota requested.
If the Republican proposal became law, North Hennepin Community College would be underfunded by $1,117,000 and Hennepin Technical College would be underfunded by $2,126,000 and find themselves in a very precarious position. Both North Hennepin and Hennepin Tech faculty members and staff members. Both the short-term health of North Hennepin and Hennepin Tech and the long-term viability of our state college and university system is at stake.
The ongoing structural imbalance to MN State could be negative $169 million. This will result in cutting programs for teachers when there is a teacher shortage, cutting programs for nurses when there is a high demand for health care professionals and cutting programs for trained workers when Minnesota is need of trained workers in every field. This attack on education will threaten Minnesota’s ability to meet the future workforce needs of our state.
Governor Dayton's Higher Education Budget invested $62 million in additional funds for the State Grant Program, while the Republican investment is merely $18.5 million.
The President of the University of Minnesota said the Republican’s budget would increase tuition up to 5% each of the next two years for students at University of Minnesota campuses. There will be tuition increases for four-year students attending Minnesota State universities. Underfunding education will lead to increasing tuition, which is putting a tax on the backs of students in Minnesota in a time of surplus.
The amount of student debt now outnumbers the amount of credit card debt in the nation. Minnesota students have suffered record tuition increases starting from the time that the legislature began cutting budgets during the Great Recession. Minnesota is now fourth and fifth in the nation in the amount of debt students carry and the number of students that carry debt respectively. We are leaders in numerous areas in education, but debt from getting your degree shouldn’t be one of them.
The Republican majority’s education proposal not only underfunds higher education, it has numerous unfunded mandates. When the House passed their bill it had money to pay for freezing tuition for two-year students in the MN State system. While the mandate to freeze tuition continues to be in the bill, there’s no money dedicated to pay for freezing their tuition. Mandates like that will increase costs for colleges and universities, resulting in programming cuts, layoffs, and even higher tuition for students. We have a budget surplus. The legislature shouldn’t increase costs for universities, increase tuition, or continue to cripple students with record debt.
Please contact me with any concerns that you may have.
Michael V. Nelson