Tuesday, July 14, 2009

State and federal updates- July 14, 2009

Legislative Advisory Commission reviews governor’s unallotment plan

Further cuts to state government and local government aid were made by Gov. Tim Pawlenty mid-June through the unallotment process after the Legislature and governor failed to reach agreement during the legislative session ended May 18. Many of those cuts took effect July 1 for the start of fiscal year 2010. The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system received an unallotment of $50 million in fiscal year 2011, the second year of the biennium. The additional cut to the system will not affect the one-time American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding of $79.2 million the system received.

Since the governor’s unallotment plan was made public, the Legislative Advisory Commission has been meeting to discuss the cuts. By law, the governor's administration has to consult with legislative leaders, but they do not need legislative approval. Members of the commission approved a resolution condemning Gov. Pawlenty’s unallotment plan, citing concerns over job losses and future deficits.

The resolution stated that the governor’s proposal to cut nearly $2.7 billion from the state’s biennial budget by executive action would be “unwise and not in the interest of the state’s long-term fiscal stability.” State Economist Tom Stinson told the commission that the proposed unallotments would result in 3,300 to 4,700 public- and private-sector job losses. Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Tom Hanson defended the governor’s plan, arguing that tax increases would have put Minnesota at a long-term competitive disadvantage with other states. “It is our view that the governor’s plan will put us in a better position to recover from this recession,” Hanson said.

Labor contracts approved

The Legislative Coordinating Commission Subcommittee on Employee Relations met late last month to approve labor contracts and plans including the Minnesota State College Faculty, the Minnesota State University Administrative and Service Faculty, AFSCME, MAPE, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Administrators Plan and the Commissioner’s Plan.

A copy of the adopted resolution can be found here.

A summary of the collective bargaining agreement can be found here.

As a reminder, the current Inter Faculty Organization contract was approved by the Legislature this past session and can be found in Session Laws 2009, Chapter 85.

Minnesota officially has two U.S. Senators

A new Minnesota senator was sworn into office last week. Gov. Pawlenty signed Sen. Al Franken’s election certificate June 29 after the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that Franken had won the election. Franken will join the U.S. Senate nearly seven months after the other newly elected senators were sworn into office. The new senator already has been reaching out to the state’s colleges and universities. A copy of Sen. Franken’s election certificate can be viewed here.

Rep. Kurt Zellers named new minority leader

With former House Minority Leader Marty Siefert, R-Marshall, stepping down to make a run for governor, the House Republican Caucus elected a new leader. Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, defeated Rep. Randy Demmer, R-Hayfield, for the position. The minority leader is instrumental in raising money and helping elect new candidates into office. Zellers said his goal is to see the caucus membership increase to around 70 members after the 2010 election, two more than needed to regain control of the House. Currently, House Republicans hold 47 seats. He said that anything is possible and that “a year from now is a long time.” Zellers also said the House Republican Caucus will “stick to the basics” like limited government and low taxes.

Rep. Kurt Zellers began his state service in 2003 when he won a special election to the House of Representatives. This past session, he was the Republican lead on the House Commerce and Labor Committee and also has served on the House Labor and Consumer Protection Division, House Taxes Committee and House Transportation, and Transit Policy Oversight Committee.

Governor race wide open

Since the announcement that Gov. Tim Pawlenty will not seek a third term in office, a lengthy list of contenders stepped forward. The lists below are those who have announced they will run, and still others who are exploring a run and are likely to throw their hats in the ring. For the DFL party, those who have announced their candidacy for governor include:

● Current State Sen. Tom Bakk
● Former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton
● Former House Minority Leader Matt Entenza
Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner
● Current State Sen. John Marty
● Current State Rep. Paul Thissen

Other DFL candidates exploring a run:
● Current St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman
● Former State Sen. Steve Kelley
● Current Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak
● Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher

The Republican Party candidates include:

● Current State Sen. Mike Jungbauer
● Former State Rep. Bill Haas
● Current State Rep. Paul Kohls
● Former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert
● Current State Rep. Tom Emmer

Other Republican candidates exploring a run:
● Former State Auditor Pat Anderson
● Current State Sen. David Hann
● Current State Sen. Paul Koering
● MN Business Partnership, former governor chief of staff and former State Rep. Charlie Weaver
● Former Speaker of the House and Dept. of Labor and Industry Commissioner Steve Sviggum

July economic update below forecast

According to Minnesota Management and Budget, the state’s general fund revenues for fiscal year 2009 are estimated $150 million or 1 percent less than February’s economic forecast. Individual income tax receipts were cited as the primary source of the shortfall, down $232 million, or 3.2 percent, from the forecast. Also down were sales tax revenues by $16 million. Receipts from the corporate income tax, motor vehicle sales tax, and other taxes and revenues exceeded projections by a combined $98 million. All fiscal year 2009 results are preliminary and
subject to change. A complete accounting of fiscal year 2009 revenues will be published in the October Economic Update.

New laws take effect July 1

The House of Representatives Public Information Services office publishes summaries of all new laws from the 2009 session. The new laws for 2009, taking effect July 1, can be found here. A summary can be found here.

The system also publicizes “Mandates and Curiosities,” a summary designed to highlight and explain legislation passed during the 2009 session that affects the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. This can be found online here. If you have any questions regarding new laws, please do not hesitate to contact the government relations staff:

Mary Davenport

Bernie Omann

Jerry Janezich

Melissa Fahning

Candi Walz

Obama supporter of community colleges

In The Washington Post Sunday, President Obama was quoted as saying he believes it’s time to reform community colleges so that they provide Americans of all ages a chance to learn the skills and knowledge necessary to compete for the jobs of the future. Today, the president will visit Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich., and call on the nation's community colleges to produce five million more graduates by the year 2020 and propose spending $12 billion over 10 years to improve programs, courses, and facilities at two-year institutions, according to White House officials. Obama said in his article, “In an economy where jobs requiring at least an associate's degree are projected to grow twice as fast as jobs requiring no college experience, it's never been more essential to continue education and training after high school. That's why we've set a goal of leading the world in college degrees by 2020. Part of this goal will be met by helping Americans better afford a college education. But part of it will also be strengthening our network
of community colleges.”

The proposal includes $9 billion to go toward creating two grant programs for two-year campuses and states to test programs and practices designed to improve student learning and training, increase completion rates, and better track student progress. President Obama’s proposal will need to be addressed by Congress.

U.S. House works to fund higher education

Since President Obama submitted his fiscal year 2010 budget, Congress has been busy crafting legislation. Last week, the federal budget started to take shape in the House. The U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education began to mark up the fiscal year 2010 bill.

The current legislation funds most programs at the current levels, However, funding for the Pell grant would increase $498 million to award maximum grants at the base level of $4,860. As you may recall, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 brought the maximum award
to $5,550, which just went into effect July 1. Both TRIO and Gear-Up received a $20 million increase under the new language. The subcommittee approved the bill, and it is expected to go before the full Appropriations Committee this Friday, July 17.

You can read a copy of Chairman David Obey’s comments on the legislation here.

Steps taken to simplify the student financial aid application

The Obama administration has announced a simplified, more user-friendly Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA form. Last month, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced a shorter and simpler online application that skips unnecessary questions, asks Congress for
legislation to remove more than half of the financial questions, and a Web application that will let some families easily answer the remaining financial questions with data from the IRS. You may find more information here on the proposal to simplify the form.