Friday, February 27, 2009

Town hall meetings have great system attendance,

Legislative Update
February 27, 2009

Town Hall meetings have great system attendance

House DFL leaders held 23 town hall meetings around the state the last two weeks to hear from the public about the current budget deficit. Leaders called the hearings a success in public problem solving. According to Session Daily, more than 3,000 submissions on how to solve the state's budget deficit have been received online and during the town hall meetings, and each submission will be forwarded to the related legislative committees.

Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said top concerns expressed in the meetings included the need for fairness across the board: fairness with cutting programs, fairness when using the federal stimulus dollars and fairness with strategies for increasing revenues, such as income tax formulas.

Attending the town hall meetings were Minnesota State Colleges and Universities faculty, students and administrators from every corner of the state. Here is a recap of the events and comments on higher education from area newspapers:

Alexandria Echo Press
Attendance in Alexandria was at 350 people. Alexandria Technical College Vice President Jan Doebbert expressed concern about the impact that decreased funding for higher education might have on Minnesota students, colleges and its economy in the long run.

Bemidji Pioneer
Nearly 250 people filled the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State University to speak with legislators about the state’s budget. Many students and faculty testified at the event.

Higher education is important to the future of the state, said Andrew Spaeth, a Bemidji State University student. “It’s critical both for the economic quality of our state and the social well-being of the state.” For Minnesota to be viable, “we have to have a highly educated workforce,” he said. Bemidji State University, which faces $2.5 million in cuts under the governor’s budget, is the community’s third-largest employer.

Strong higher education “can help build Minnesota’s economy,” said Becky Bowen, another Bemidji State University student, adding that 80 percent of the graduates in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system stay in Minnesota, becoming tomorrow’s educators and nurses.

“Our students understand in difficult economic times that sacrifices must be made,” Bowen said. “However, a continuing trend of declining investments in public higher education will not help rebuild Minnesota’s economy and will not help us rebound.”

Christopher Brown, president of the Bemidji State University Inter-Faculty Organization, said its members have accepted a salary freeze as their part of a budget solution. “There is no one fix to this,” he said. “We’ve offered a pay freeze right at the beginning. That’s not going to solve it, even. There obviously has to be something on the revenue side that is not all tuition on the students. Perhaps some sort of tax adjustment may have to be made.”

Brainerd Dispatch
More than 200 people attended the Brainerd event, and 60 people spoke. Larry Lundblad, Central Lakes College president, said colleges have had significant cuts and noted that many of his students were nontraditional and the first generation of their families to attend college.

Morrison County Record
In Little Falls, in a room full of 150 people, Joyce Helens, president of St. Cloud Technical College, said her school has a 97 percent placement rate. She asked the lawmakers if she should stop producing dental hygienists or welders. “We get 'em in, get 'em out and get 'em jobs,” she said.

To learn more about the state budget, you may review the background PowerPoint presentation prepared by the House and Senate fiscal staff and used at the Town Hall meetings here.

We will learn more about the state’s budget deficit at 9:45 a.m Tuesday, March 3, when Minnesota Management and Budget releases the February Economic Forecast.

State lawmakers ask for balanced budget moving forward

Legislation passed by the House and Senate this week, HF 886, directs the state Legislature and governor to balance the budget for 2010-2011 and the next biennium. “This will ensure that the budget solutions put forward are honest and that they don’t just pass on a deficit to future legislatures,” said Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis. “The state needs to get its fiscal house in order, not for the next two years, but also into the future.”

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, called the federal stimulus money a “bridge into the future,” and said government leaders need to look beyond the next biennium and come up with a stable funding plan for government services over the long run. The House passed the bill 89-40, and the Senate passed it 57-8. The bill heads next to the governor.

Bonding proposal advances in House

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system can do its part to put people back to work. Associate Vice Chancellor of Facilities Al Johnson told the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Finance and Policy Division this week that $40 million of the proposed
$50 million asset preservation, or HEAPR, projects would go out for bid this calendar year. The bill, HF 859, sponsored by committee Chair Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, authorizes $50 million for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and $35 million for the University of Minnesota to fund the system’s repair and replacement requests. The bill was approved and referred to the House Capital Investment Committee.

The committee also heard HF 1063, also sponsored by Rukavina. The bill provides $106.6 million for higher education projects that were vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty last session or only partially funded in last year’s bonding bill. Included in the bill for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities is $67.1 million for the five capital projects vetoed in 2008 totaling $40.28 million, and the four capital projects partially funded in 2008 totaling $26.83 million. If there is a not a bonding bill this session, the bill’s projects will be at the top of the system’s priorities next year, Johnson told the committee. This bill also was approved and referred to the House Capital Investment committee.

Also before the committee were other bills relating to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. One of the bills, HF 283, would provide funding to the city of Mankato to upgrade its convention center with a hockey rink and a performing arts center. The rink would be used by the Minnesota State University, Mankato women’s hockey team. Another bill, HF 23, is seeking $6 million of state funding, matched by local funds for a $12 million project, to create a steam line from Olmstead County’s waste-to-energy center to Rochester Community and Technical College. This alternative energy source could help heat and cool the campus and save the college 20 percent. Both of these bills advanced to the House Capital Investment Committee for consideration.

Bills move ahead in Business, Industry and Jobs committee

The Senate Business, Industry and Jobs Committee met this week to hear multiple bills, including SF 684, authored by Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, and SF 456, sponsored by Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato. Both bills expand the bioscience business development public infrastructure grant program to include higher education facilities. Because both bills were very similar and aimed at achieving the same objective, Sheran withdrew her bill and added her support to SF 684. Sheran offered an amendment requiring that grant recipients provide for the remainder of the public infrastructure costs related to projects from other sources. The committee approved the amended bill and sent it to the full Senate.

SF 643, authored by Sheran also was heard. This bill provides eligibility for unemployment benefits to workers who receive reduced hours while taking skills training programs associated with the workforce investment in regional economic development, or WIRED, program. The bill is designed to give financial relief to companies facing possible layoffs in response to the downturn in the economy because it allows the employees to work reduced hours, attend classes under the WIRED program and retain partial unemployment benefits, Sheran said. Sheran also said the bill helps companies retain skilled persons that they may have otherwise had to lay off, while giving employees a chance to get extra training without a significant loss in income brought about by a layoff. The committee approved the bill and re-referred it to the Finance Committee.

State of the Union Address calls for higher education action

President Barack Obama gave his State of the Union message Tuesday night and called for relief for American families. Starting April 15, there will be a tax cut to 95 percent of Americans, coming in larger paychecks. President Obama thought this ongoing tax cut would be better than a one-time check to stimulate the economy because of its continuing effect. He also proposed a higher education tax cut to families paying tuition through a $2,500 credit that would be available for four years. Recognizing the current economic condition, the president recommended a new lending program that would allow families to borrow for cars, homes or education by assisting banks, “It’s not about helping banks, it is about helping people.”

The president also is requiring greater accountability and transparency with government spending by creating a recovery Web site. This will allow Americans to track where the federal government is spending.

To move the country forward, President Obama said that the nation will focus on three things - energy, health care and education. Specifically on education, the president challenged all Americans to seek at least one year of higher education at a technical school or a four-year university. “It is the responsibility of every American to participate,” Obama said. “Dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It is not just quitting on yourself, it is quitting on your
country. This country needs, and values, the talent of every American,” Obama said. By 2010, the president is calling for Americans to once again have the highest-educated rate of any country.

The entire speech can be viewed here.

President Obama releases his fiscal year 2010 budget

President Obama released a blueprint of his fiscal year 2010 budget this week. Included in his budget are several higher education provisions. Under the proposal, the Pell Grant would increase to a new maximum award of $5,550 and an estimated 7.5 million recipients would benefit. An American Opportunity Tax Credit, which was announced in the president’s State of the Union speech, would provide a tax deduction of $2,500 and provide 40 percent of this amount to be refundable to tax filers without a tax liability. The proposal also would revamp the Perkins Loan program, allowing all institutions of higher education to participate in awarding Perkins Loans. These loans primarily will be used to cover the gap between available aid and cost of attendance.

President Obama also gives the Direct Lending program a facelift; he is proposing to originate every Stafford loan through the U.S. Department of Education, thus ending the subsidies to the lending community and ending the Federal Family Education Loan program. Servicing of these loans would be contracted by the Department of Education.

States also would be given an opportunity to innovate to improve college completion rates. The president provides $500 million for the next five years in grants to encourage completion. A requirement of receiving these funds includes a rigorous research component.

More details of the president’s budget should be known in April. You may find further information on the president's overall budget here and for specific information on the education proposals, click here.

Fiscal year 2009 federal appropriations bills begin to move

Working toward a March 6 deadline, Congress is trying to move nine appropriations bills that were not passed last session. Each of these appropriations had continued funding at the previous fiscal year levels.

The House of Representatives incorporated the nine bills into one measure, H.R.1105, to continue funding for fiscal year 2009. Included in this measure was $4.4 billion more funding for education overall. Increased measures came in the following areas: $173 billion for Pell
grants (in addition to the funds in the federal stimulus package) totaling the maximum awards at $5,350, plus $980 million for work study, $2.8 million to Perkins Loans, raising the account for Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants to $757 million, and $313 million for GEAR-UP. You may find more information here. The Senate is expected to take up the measure Monday, March 2.

Here's What's Happening at the Capitol:

This schedule shows all meetings that we are aware of at the time of publication that MAY have an impact on the system. This schedule may change. Please watch the House and Senate schedules posted on the Legislature web site.

Monday, March 2

11:00 AM
Senate in Session

1:00 PM
House in Session

7:00-10:00 PM
House Higher Education and Workforce Development Finance and Policy
Room: 10 State Office Building
Chair: Representative Tom Rukavina
Agenda: U of M Finance 101

Tuesday, March 3

8:30 AM
House K-12 Education Policy and Oversight
Room: Basement State Office Building
Chair: Rep. Carlos Mariani
Agenda: HF935 (Slocum) Charter school provisions modified.

Continuation of previous week's discussion of delete-everything amendment to HF935 Charter school provisions modified. Additional amendments may be offered and discussed. Committee will take final action on the bill.

9:45 a.m.
February Forecast Released
G-15 Capitol

10:30 AM
House Bioscience and Workforce Development Policy and Oversight
Room: 200 State Office Building
Chair: Rep. Tim Mahoney
Agenda: HF567 (Gunther) Bioscience business development public infrastructure grant program expanded.
HF12 (Mahoney) Unemployment compensation definitions modified.
HF680 (Kalin) Federal stimulus funding allocated for energy programs.

12:30 PM
Joint Senate and House Higher Education Committees
Room: 200 State Office Building
Chair: Sen. Sandra L. Pappas
Agenda: Regent Elections: Joint committee voting - recommendations to the joint convention
Briefing and discussion of higher education provisions in the federal stimulus bill

3:00 PM
Senate Energy, Utilities, Technology and Communications
Room: 123 Capitol
Chair: Sen. Prettner Solon
Agenda: SF913 (Bakk) - Greenhouse gas emissions reduction; land use planning, development, incorporations and minimum acreage standards restrictions; redevelopment grant program bond issue and appropriations.
SF673 (Stumpf) - Kennedy energy conversion building project (Go Green business center) appropriation.
SF657 (Prettner Solon) - Federal stimulus energy programs funding direction

Wednesday, March 4

8:30 AM
House K-12 Education Policy
Room: Basement State Office Building
Chair: Rep. Carlos Mariani
Agenda: HF553 (Dittrich) Online learning provider requirements modified.
Informational hearing on HF1001 (Demmer) K-12 education state grants authorized to leverage quality improvements, and money appropriated.

8:30 AM
Senate E-12 Education Budget and Policy Division
Room: 112 Capitol
Chair: Sen. LeRoy A. Stumpf
Agenda: Testing and Assessments

3:00 PM
Senate State and Local Government Operations and Oversight
Room: 123 Capitol
Chair: Sen. Ann H. Rest
S.F. 709-Bonoff: Minnetonka municipal street improvement districts authorization.
S.F. 407-Moua: Children's federal and state funding sources map of money.
S.F. 764-Moua: Indian affairs council electronic meetings authority.
S.F. 767-Doll: Metropolitan government water management plan review requirements modification.
S.F. 334-Prettner Solon: State employee veterans with service-related disabilities additional sick leave provision.
S.F. 515-Robling: Public employee definition modification.
S.F. 713-Robling: State employee suggestion system for cost-savings to the state award program.

6:00 PM
Joint Committee: House Finance and Ways and Means Committees
Room: 200 State Office Building
Chairs: Rep. Lyndon Carlson, Rep. Loren Solberg
Agenda: Presentation of the February Forecast

Thursday, March 5

8:30 AM
Senate Committee on Finance
Room: 123 Capitol
Chair: Sen. Richard J. Cohen
Agenda: February Forecast Briefing:
State Economist Tom Stinson
Commissioner Tom Hanson, Minnesota Management and Budget

8:30 AM
Senate E-12 Education Budget and Policy Division
Room: 112 Capitol
Chair: Sen. LeRoy A. Stumpf
Agenda: Testing and Assessments

12:30 PM
Senate Higher Education Budget and Policy Division
Room: 123 Capitol
Chair: Sen. Sandra L. Pappas
Agenda: System bonding proposals
Minnesota State Colleges and Universities oversight review continued

4:30 PM
House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Division
Room: 200 State Office Building
Chair: Rep. Nora Slawik
Agenda: HF378 (Slawik) Early childhood education funding provided, and money appropriated
HF106 (Swails) P-20 education partnership established
Presentation on the Effects of Early Maltreatment and Trauma on Children and Families by Dr. Bruce Perry, M.D., PhD
Presentation on February Forecast