Higher Education Chairwoman Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said college and university funding is far from enough. “We are starving higher education,” she said.
Under the Senate targets, public education would get the most of $1.3 billion in new money: $498 million in the next two years. Following would be higher education ($296 million) and health and human services ($245 million). Other parts of the budget would get relatively insignificant increases considering the total state spending will top $34 billion over the next two years.
Pappas predicted existing plans to increase public college and university tuition about 4 percent each of the next two years may jump to twice that much.
Sen. Pappas' sense of starvation is more than a little warped. In 2007, the higher education budget increased by $296,000,000, an 11.3% increase for the biennium.
Like many public colleges, the University of Minnesota went on a spending spree over the past decade, paid for by a steady stream of state money and rising tuition. Officials didn’t keep close tabs on their payroll as it swelled beyond 19,000 employees, nearly one for every 3½ students.
With DFL legislators insisting that an 11.3% spending increase for the 2008-09 biennium amounted to starving higher education, U of M lobbyists, never the bashful types to begin with, didn't have an incentive to ask for responsible, modest spending increases.
They essentially got permission from the DFL legislature to ask for the moon. It's now another budget year and the DFL is saying all the right things about being fiscally responsible. Without budget bills to scrutinize, reporters can't offer proof that the DFL's chanting points are spin. Yet.
Still, the DFL's past spending habits offer insight into what's likely to happen this budget session. There's no proof over the past 4 years that shows that the DFL has suddenly become the party of austerity.