The backers of the higher education plan offer it as a bare-bones package that maximizes meager funding for the sake of students. Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, half-heartedly served the bill on the Senate floor.
"Over three bienniums, we are still 6 percent below what would we would have been if we had just been doing an inflationary increase," Pappas said. "So this is not a generous budget."
The bill passed the Senate 44-21. Later in the day, it went on to the House floor where Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, touted the bill's focus on lowering tuition. He also blasted Republicans for previous funding cuts to cover a budget deficit.
"When you guys were in charge you were cheap -- unbelievably cheap," Rukavina told House GOP members. "You cut the MnSCU and the university system by $380 million in 2003. You decimated the system. You put 70 percent increases over five years on kids and students."
The bill passed the House 85-46.
Its pricetag is 12 percent higher than current spending. Despite supporters' claims, it has no direct method for lowering tuition for most Minnesota's students.
Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, mocked the bill's language informing college administrators the Legislature expects them to keep tuitions down.
“When you guys were in charge you were cheap -- unbelievably cheap.”DFL Rep. Tom Rukavina, to GOP lawmakers
"Just the expectation -- Just the, 'Would you pretty please not raise tuition so gosh darn high?'" Buesgens said.
The bill provides $148 million in new operating money for the University of Minnesota and $142 million for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. Another $36 million in one-time-only money goes to the two systems. Most of that is for a partnership between the U of M and the Mayo Clinic.
Before the session began, MnSCU officials promised to keep the average tuition increase for all of its schools to no more than 4 percent a year.
The bill's affect on University of Minnesota tuition is murkier. A $4 million installment allows University of Minnesota students to take more credits for less money, which mostly helps those at the Morris and Duluth campuses.
Another $5 million goes into a scholarship for some eligible students who don't qualify for state grants. All other students can expect tuition increases as high as 7.5 percent by the second year of the biennium.
Gov. Pawlenty was quick to throw down the gauntlet, although not because of the questions over tuition.
"It's underwhelming, uninspiring, spends too much in years 10 and 11," Pawlenty said. "(It) ignores all our requests for reforms. Need I say more?"
The package significantly deflates the most expansive provisions of the governor's plan. Instead of Pawlenty's $90 million to boost top-performing high school students into college credit courses, the DFL bill squeezes out $4 million to expand existing programs, especially for rural parts of the state.
Pawlenty is balking at the expansion costs that balloon in later years. The bill also omits the governor's $50 million pay-for-performance proposal.
DFLers bowed to Pawlenty's veto pressure and took out the DREAM Act language, which would allow children of illegal immigrants to pay lower in-state tuition.
But House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, complained about a substitute that keeps tuition at six MnSCU institutions at one rate for anyone, regardless of residency.
"It gives in-state tuition for anyone -- legal or illegal -- at six campuses, at a subsidy cost of $3.5 million," Seifert warned. "There is lots of new money in this bill, but interestingly enough the bipartisan, large vote for a tuition freeze on this House floor was dumped under the bus wheel in conference committee."
The flat-rate tuition plan is an expansion of an existing practice dating back to 1999 at 16 MnSCU campuses, including Southwest Minnesota State University, where Rep. Seifert is employed as an admissions counselor.