Tuesday, March 4, 2008

On Supposedly Unique and Essential Biomedical Research Builings
Or, Should the State Provide 500 Million Dollars Over the Next Thirty Years for This Purpose?

As pointed out on several earlier occasions, our friends at the Star-Tribune seem to be in very close contact with Morrill Hall. Mr. B. believes that there must be a red telephone in Morrill Hall. Possibly in the basement near the river of money that flows from St. Paul...

The latest example of this close relationship, an uncritical piece of puff pastry, has just been served up in the Star-Tribune:

Editorial: Biosciences buildings are a must this year

Last update: March 4, 2008 - 6:53 PM

With more than $4 requested for every $1 the Legislature can authorize, the disappointment of rejected pleaders for building projects weighs on legislators. But this year's bill is provoking more than the usual angst, for at least two reasons:

This bill is the vehicle carrying the state's best hope for leadership in the emerging biosciences industry -- and that feature's design has run into worrisome opposition.

Via his finance commissioner, Tom Hanson, Gov. Tim Pawlenty has served notice that he won't go along with the separate bonding track for four major bioscience research buildings at the University of Minnesota, as spelled out in the House and Senate bonding bills. Pawlenty, who says he continues to support the project, wants to treat those buildings as any other in the bonding process.

"One time is an exception. Twice is an end-run around our policy," Hanson said Tuesday. He worries about the potential for others to propose to issue their own bonds, and convince the Legislature to pay their debt service, as the biosciences plan envisions.

But surely, if the stadium qualified as an exception to usual practice because of its extraordinary significance, the same can be said for facilities intended to be the birthing place of a major new high-wage industry.
This is a totally bogus argument that is unsupported by facts. "extraordinary significance?" "birthing place of a major new high-wage industry?" In...your...dreams..

And you call this a newspaper?
And surely the governor understands the political reality that's behind the university's request for a separate bonding track. At $233 million, this project would consume so much of this year's state bonding capacity that dozens of legislators' smaller pet projects would be squeezed out.
So just give 'em the money? That makes a lot of sense. Is this more important than Follwell Hall, than tuition stabilization, than protecting the core of the University from deterioration? Have the relative merits of these alternatives ever been discussed by the University community? Or is this just another fast shuffle, something we have become increasingly familiar with under the Bruininks/Sullivan regime?

Seldom will today's legislators have a better opportunity to set the table for the state's economy in 2025 and beyond. Pawlenty and legislators should recognize that the biosciences proposal is unique -- and essential.
Unique and essential? Such statements are meaningless. We already have a cancer center. We already have a magnetic resonance facility. If these buildings are so unique and essential then they could easily be justified. But there are, arguably, many other needs of the University that are more important. Could we have this discussion, this conversation, please?

The size of the bonding bill has become another headache. After last week's forecast of reduced state revenues and enactment of a transportation bill that included $60 million in general-fund financed bonds, Hanson said the bonding bill must shrink. He called for a trim from the expected $965 million to $825 million.
You see this is not free money. The state is obligated to pay these bonds. So why aren't they to be considered to be part of the bonding package?
Nevertheless, in bipartisan fashion, legislators are charging ahead at the $965 million level. Eleven Republicans joined 40 DFLers in giving the Senate's bill preliminary approval yesterday.

Yesterday's maneuvers could come back to bite legislators later, if they invite Pawlenty to put a sizable number of approved projects on hold. Legislators are already well aware of the disappointment they cause when they say no to building projects. They might think that authorizing the higher amount will force the governor to play the heavy. But in the process, they'll damage their own credibility.
In the long run these maneuvers are only going to damage the university.

This administration has carefully avoided the question of where the money is going to come from to fill the buildings with people and equipment. (Hint: Further bleed the core...)

Many people in Follwell Hall, in CLA, and, in general, on the North side of Washington Avenue are becoming increasingly demoralized due to neglect by the central administration.

And you can be sure that the claims of hundreds of millions of dollars in research funding will be subject to close scrutiny in the future. The comings (and goings) of great men and women will be monitored.

Oh, and one other little thing that was picked up by the Daily:

At the hearing last week, a number of representatives from research firms like Medtronic spoke in support of the bill on the University's behalf, but they also stand to gain from the project.

Under the legislation, the University would be required to make the labs available to research firms for a fee, and would forfeit patent rights to discoveries that "do not involve its innovative intellectual contributions."

With the cost of the project taking center stage of late, and private interests set to potentially benefit, the lack of private funds directly involved in the program could be an issue.

This is breathtaking in its audacity. Dr. Cerra argues vociferously that we need this space ever so much, but it is to be on call for the biomedical industry as part of the deal. Hello, Kitty.

Whose bright idea was this? Was this ever subjected to scrutiny by
a faculty research committee?

Oh, I see, Dr. Cerra. You just want us to trust you and cut the check. Sure, see you next year.



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