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A blurry light-rail train pulls into the 38th Street station.

Construction on the Central Corridor LRT project is scheduled to begin in 2010 and be finished in 2014.

Regents approve FY09 budget, light-rail resolution

By Rick Moore

June 17, 2008

The Board of Regents approved a new operating budget for the U for the upcoming fiscal year, as well as a resolution to support a light-rail transit line at grade along Washington Avenue.

The budget reduces the planned tuition increase to 7.25 percent for undergraduate students. The University will reallocate $13.3 million to address a $6.15 million cut in its state appropriation, which was made to help the state account for its budget shortfall.

Despite the challenging economic conditions, the University did its best to develop an operating budget that fit within its framework goals of "sustaining quality and competitiveness" (keeping the U at its current level) and "creating Minnesota's future" (investments geared toward the U's strategic goals). Toward the former, the University will honor its commitment to a 3.25 percent general compensation increase. And toward strategic goals, there will be a number of high-priority programmatic investments, including in faculty, staff, and student recruitment ($5.7 million); educational priority programs ($4.2 million); core academic support ($8.1 million); and interdisciplinary initiatives ($4.9 million).

As for tuition, President Bob Bruininks pointed out that it's easy to look at 7.25 percent as the key figure, but tuition and fee increases are a "much more complicated and nuanced story."

Even though the overall tuition increase will be 7.25 percent, about two-thirds of students on the Twin Cities campus will see an increase of 4.75 percent or less, thanks to a scholarship for middle-income resident students and the Founders Free Tuition Program, which provides free tuition and fees for 4,700 Pell-eligible students on all U campuses.

He also noted that, taken in the context of the current two-year biennium, tuition increases have not been drastic; with strong legislative support, tuition reform, and expanded financial assistance, a vast majority of undergraduates on all campuses (75 percent) saw tuition increases of less than 2 percent last year. "This campus deeply believes in keeping higher education affordable," said Bruininks.

Light-rail resolution

The regents also approved, by a vote of 11-1, a resolution to pursue the Met Council-approved plan to run the Central Corridor light-rail transit line at-grade along Washington Avenue on the Twin Cities campus, with a number of contingencies. (The resolution can be read in its entirety at Central Corridor.)

While a number of regents expressed some lingering concerns about the safety of students, the effects on medical buildings and patients, and the uncertainty of the ramifications of final engineering plans, most felt the need to take action now in order to help move the project forward.

The president's perspective

To hear President Bruininks's thoughts on why now was the time to act on the Central Corridor and how the new budget prepares the University for the road ahead, see the president's perspective.

"Any way you look at Washington Avenue, it's a mess today," said Regent David Metzen. "I honestly believe this is the right thing to do. It's not only good for the University, it's good for the Twin Cities. It's good for all of Minnesota."

"The Central Corridor Light Rail Transit project provides an opportunity to improve the experience of students, faculty, and visitors to campus, as well as travel in the broader community," added Patricia Simmons, the board chair. "After extensive study and assurance from the Metropolitan Council chair and county and city partners that adequate funding would be committed to ensure safety, and protect both the environment and university resources while creating better traffic flow, the Board decided to pursue the option of at-grade Washington Avenue LRT."

Construction on the Central Corridor LRT project is scheduled to begin in 2010 and be finished in 2014.

The board also approved the 2009 annual capital improvement budget and the six-year capital improvement plan.