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BRIEFLY: Senators approve college budget cuts

ST. PAUL - State-run colleges and universities' budgets would be cut under a bill senators reluctantly passed 41-23 Friday.

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system schools would receive 3 percent less in the next two-year budget than they receive now. The University of Minnesota's cut is 4 percent.

"This means we are going in the wrong direction..." Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said. "We should not be cutting higher education. Higher education is the economic engine for our state."

However, the chairwoman of the Senate higher education committee said, the state constitution requires a balanced budget and with a $4.6 billion deficit lawmakers have no choice but to chop spending.

Higher education cuts would have been 7 percent if not for $148 million in federal economic stimulus money that the state can use for education.

One of the most controversial parts of the bill establishes a new dental practitioner. While dentists want this job to report to them, and want the bill to require a dentist be present, the bill allows the oral health practitioner to practice even without a dentist in the building.

The dental provision was designed to provide service to rural and other communities that lack dentists.

"Think of it much like a nurse practitioner," said Sen. Ann Lynch, DFL-Rochester.

They would provide basic dental care for those who do not have access to it now.

The bill orders Minnesota State Colleges and Universities to provide a list of students to state elections officials as residency proof during elections.

Senators defeated a proposal to limit tuition increases to 3 percent a year.

Vets, ag bill OK'd

Veterans programs get more money while farmers get less in a spending bill senators approved 49-13 Friday.

The state Agriculture Department would be cut 5.5 percent (a $4.4 million reduction), the Animal Health Board funding would fall 3.3 percent ($358,000) and the Crookston-based Agricultural Utilization Research Institute drops 7 percent ($434,000).

Gov. Tim Pawlenty's budget proposal cut agriculture 2 percent.

In the same bill, the Military Affairs Department would get a 3.9 percent boost ($1.5 million) and the Veterans Affairs Department would be given 1.3 percent more ($500,000). Military and veterans spending is among the few areas that would receive more funding in this time of a $4.6 billion budget deficit.

The bill includes:

-- Authorization for vehicle gold star license plates for family members of military service personnel who have died. It is a Sen. Dan Skogen, DFL-Hewitt, provision.

-- $20,000 for Operation Happy Note, proposed by Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, to send musical instruments to military personnel.

-- $1.5 million to reimburse tuition expenses as a National Guard enlistment incentive.

-- $100,000 to pay farmers whose crops are damaged by elk or livestock injured or killed by wolves.

-- $1 million extra for the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

-- $400,000 to buy cattle affected by bovine tuberculosis in northwestern Minnesota.

No early start

The House Finance Committee overwhelmingly rejected a provision to allow schools to start classes before Labor Day.

The Friday vote came without discussion. The provision was included in an education bill that otherwise met with little resistance.

Resort and other vacation-related businesses say starting school before Labor Day reduces their workforce and potential customers.

Busy week

Next week is expected to be busy for the Minnesota Legislature.

More than a dozen budget bills in each chamber are headed to final passing in coming days. Once the House and Senate pass them, conference committees will work out differences.

On Monday, the House is expected to pass "Brandon's Law," a measure designed to speed searches for missing young adults.

From Wednesday through Saturday, budget bills are expected to be debated by the full House, said Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis.

With the Legislature's adjournment deadline approaching a month from today, Kelliher said some staff members are very concerned about getting their work done on time. Lawmakers and Gov. Tim Pawlenty must plug a $4.6 billion budget deficit.

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.