The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

July 24, 2009

Legislators hear details of budget cuts at MSU

Cliff analogies dominate outlook

MANKATO — Administrators, faculty and a student painted a variety of pictures for visiting state lawmakers to illustrate what budget cuts have meant to Minnesota State University.

But every landscape contained the same geological formation.

“The fear we have is what’s going to happen in 2012, when that cliff comes,” said Murtaza Rajabali, president of the MSU Student Association.

Many of the new faculty at the school are being offered only one-year contracts, many administrators have “interim” before their titles, and class sizes are increasing, said MSU President Richard Davenport.

Those sorts of decisions are being made to retain future budget flexibility “given what we’ve heard about the cliff coming in two years,” Davenport said.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, the chairman of the higher education committee in the Minnesota House, was at his fifth college among seven he was visiting Thursday and Friday, and the Iron Range Democrat has heard plenty about the steep drop-off ahead.

“When the stimulus package disappears and we hit the cliff we’re talking about — we’re hearing a lot of horror stories,” Rukavina said.

It’s not that the current situation is a bed of roses. MSU had to cut about $8 million out of the current budget, and Gov. Tim Pawlenty imposed an additional $100 million cut for state colleges and universities in fiscal year 2011, which starts on July 1, 2010.

The crag that everybody is worrying about comes a year later, when the state might be facing a budget shortfall equal to or worse than the $4.6 billion deficit the governor and lawmakers dealt with earlier this year. That’s because the next two-year budget, starting in July of 2011, could face similar levels of red ink but without the nearly $2 billion in emergency aid from the federal economic stimulus package that was present this year.

Part of that federal money went to colleges and universities, erasing much but not all of the funding cuts imposed by the Legislature. The impact is being felt and it will be worse a year from now, Rukavina and three other lawmakers were told.

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