To: Senator Amy T. Koch,
Dear Leader Koch
and Speaker Zellers,
There are times when real leaders must make painful choices, while at the same time, setting important priorities. Clearly, given our budgetary difficulties in this state, this is such a time. Many programs must be cut and scaled back—including the size of government itself. But this letter is written to urge you to make your number-one priority giving increased state support to the University of Minnesota.
The case for that support is simple: jobs. It is estimated that by 2018, 70 percent of Minnesota jobs will require postsecondary education. Each year, the university welcomes nearly 68,000 students. You would expect the production of educated and trained workers on that scale to have a dramatic impact on the economy of our state, and it does.
A recent study commissioned by the University of Minnesota and conducted by the Pittsburgh-based research consultancy Tripp Umbach found that for every dollar invested in the university, 13 dollars are returned to Minnesota’s economy. As an employer, the university supports nearly 80,000 jobs for Minnesota citizens. It generates more than $512 million in tax revenue for the state. If you total the university’s economic impact statewide, including indirect spending associated with the U, the estimated value equals $8.6 billion per year for Minnesota. If you are looking for a jobs program on a sustained basis, this is it!
The U is now ranked ninth among the nation’s top research universities. Its success in this regard is demonstrated in the area of peer-reviewed and competitive research grants, where the University of Minnesota garnered a record (for the U) $823 million in outside research funding in 2010. These are remarkable achievements attained during a decade-long period of decline in the dollar amount of the university’s legislative funding. (See President Robert Bruininks’ State of the University Address at umn.edu/pres.)
Funding from the Minnesota Legislature today is less than 20 percent of the total university budget, as it was in 2001. For context, note that a few decades ago, the legislature provided more than 40 percent of the U’s budget.
In the past decade, while the university ramped up its commitment to world-class research and scholarly work, it pared down programs and staff. Efficiency became an administrative mantra. The university has reduced its work force, decreased maintenance and custodial support, consolidated and in some cases eliminated colleges (such as the General College), closed extension offices, and reduced noncore offerings. Wages have been frozen and benefits lowered. Yet with all of this careful attention to cost control, since 2000 the university has increased its admissions by more than 12,000 students statewide and produced more than 1,200 additional undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees per year. It has grown international enrollment by 60 percent.
There have been recent cries in the legislature to statutorily restrict certain types of biological research in the state. Legislatures are good at some things, and government in general can accomplish positive results in limited areas. Dictating the future of scientific research is not one of those areas.
This is not Tennessee. This is the state of the Borlaug agricultural revolution (plant genetics) and of the first synthetic hormone used to treat human disease (synthroid). This is the state that houses the great Mayo Clinic and a biological research infrastructure that has brought us many of the miracles of 20th-century medicine: the pacemaker, organ transplants, and other medical advances that increase the quality of life for so many of us.
The University of Minnesota is at the forefront of world-class research to cure diabetes and to take on the challenge of Alzheimer’s disease, which may involve scientific inquiry at odds with legislators’ view of the world. We can ill afford to allow this state to be labeled as anti-research and anti-intellectual. Because make no mistake, research and progress will continue—if not here, somewhere else.
Many of us in the business community are skeptical of government claims for ever-increasing tax revenues. The state gets ever more devious in its squeezing of the productive class to produce revenue ladled out by the political class to the voters. But let me end with a suggestion.
We have employed special-use taxes and sales taxes to build a baseball stadium and to fund “legacy” amenities. There would be great support in the professional and business classes of this state for a tax whose proceeds were specifically allocated to our great public university. Whether that is an increase in the state sales tax, or a surtax above a certain level of income, or a statewide real estate levy, we will leave the details to you to be negotiated with the governor. Such an action would show faith in our future and real leadership.
Vance K. Opperman,
A Proud Gopher