ST. PAUL -- With surprising speed Thursday, a $2.9 billion bill for Minnesota colleges and student financial aid sailed through the Senate. The bill includes almost three times as much new money as recommended by Gov. Jesse Ventura.
Only two minor amendments were proposed and just a handful of senators spoke before the 46-18 vote. The dissenters, all Republicans, applauded the bill but expressed concern over where some of the $283 million in new money will come from.
"Higher ed touches every single soul in every corner of the state," said its sponsor, Sen. Deanna Wiener, DFL-Eagan. "Higher ed in our state is our future."
The University of Minnesota would get $138.3 million added to its $1.2 billion base; the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system would see $130 million above its $1.1 billion base.
"The Senate gave us something to work with," said MnSCU chancellor Morrie Anderson. "Now we've got some work to do with the House and probably the governor's office as well."
The Higher Education Services Office, which dispenses financial aid, is in line for $14 million in new money; most would flow to student aid.
Ventura's budget proposal contains $102 million in new spending.
A House committee approved a higher education bill Thursday and it should be up on the floor next week. The bill contains $108 million in new money for MnSCU and $87 million more for the university, although $23 million of that comes from a tobacco endowment. Ventura and the Senate oppose that funding shift.
Where some of the Senate money would come from is controversial, too. Fifty million dollars would come from a fiscal year 2001 budget surplus, all of which Ventura and House Republicans want for a tax rebate.
An attempt to replace that funding with other money was turned back on a procedural motion.
"That one piece makes it almost impossible to go ahead and put a 'yes' vote on the board," said Sen. Mady Reiter, R-Shoreview.
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