BY JOHN MYERS
NEWS TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
DFL-endorsed candidate for governor Mike Hatch blasted incumbent Gov. Tim Pawlenty today for allowing tuition at Minnesota's public colleges to skyrocket over the last four years.
Hatch, state attorney general, said tuition at public colleges and universities in Minnesota have increased as much as 80 percent over the last five years and more than 50 percent under Pawlenty's administration.
At the University of Minnesota Duluth, tuition and fees for a full-time student has increased 100 percent between 2000 and the 2006-2007 school year, from $4,463 to $8,932. Since Pawlenty has taken office, UMD tuition and fees have increased 60 percent.
Those tuition hikes are a “tax on the next generation” that should be rolled back to keep college education affordable, Hatch said.
Hatch, at a Duluth press conference, restated his campaign pledge to dedicate $275 million annually to reduce tuition costs to 2002 levels.
“We have students graduating from Minnesota colleges who are $50,000 in debt. That's unacceptable,” Hatch said, noting he graduated from UMD in the 1960s with no debt.
Hatch said he will get the money by closing a tax loophole for Minnesota-based companies that earn royalties overseas or out of state. So far, Pawlenty has not supported changing that state tax law.
Hatch said all Minnesota governors over the past half-century, Republican and DFL, have strongly supported higher education. But, under Pawlenty, the percentage of college education that students must foot has increased from 30 percent of the total cost to 55 percent, said state Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, a UMD professor. That's because the state's portion of the total cost has been reduced, with the money going to help balance other state budget needs.
“We're ignoring a state law that says tuition can be no more than 33 percent” of the total cost of education, Huntley said. “Do we value education or not?”
Hatch noted that, while Pawlenty has pledged not to raise income or sales taxes, tuition, state fees and property taxes have increased rapidly under the current governor.
Mike Krueger, Pawlenty campaign manager, said the governor was forced to cope with the state's largest-ever budget shortfall “and difficult choices had to be made.”
Now that the shortfall has been eliminated, tuition increases will be more modest, Krueger said.
“The increase from the coming year will be much more traditional,” Krueger said. “And Minnesota colleges are still competitive with nearby states.”
Pawlenty last week unveiled his campaign plan for higher education, which would bolster scholarships for college students. The plan would spend $112 million annually to offer full scholarships to the top 25 percent of high school graduating classes or students who ace college entrance tests. Pawlenty did not say where the money would come from.
Hatch said Pawlenty's idea is too little too late, and that tuition increases have hit all students, not just the top 25 percent. Hatch also blasted Pawlenty for a budget-balancing maneuver that took $3 million out of a state scholarship fund stocked with minerals royalties and applied it to the Department of Natural Resources budget.
“If he really supports scholarships, he should restore that $3 million immediately,” Hatch said.
Hatch faces a September primary battle with state Sen. Becky Lourey on the DFL side. Pawlenty also faces a primary challenger, Minneapolis bar owner Sue Jeffers. The winners will go on to the November general election.
News Tribune staff writer Steve Kuchera contributed to this story.