Monday, April 19, 2010

Lawmakers reassess budget; Confirmation of Trustee Frederick; Contract bill moves; Nanotech discussed; Race to the Top debated; U.S. Senate talks jobs

Legislative Update
April 16, 2010

Minnesota’s cash situation unknown while lawmakers address remaining deficit

Members of the Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy’s Balanced Budget Subcommittee received an update this week from Minnesota Management and Budget, or MMB, about the state's cash situation. MMB Budget Deputy Commissioner Jim Schowalter told committee members that Minnesota will not have to borrow money to pay its bills this spring, but cash flow shortfalls are still a possibility for later this year. Schowalter said fiscal year 2011 has deep cash problems right now.

Schowalter said the state has averted a potential cash shortage in the general fund by borrowing more than $1 billion from other state accounts and by delaying $416 million in payments, mostly to school districts. Schowalter said MMB will not know for sure whether borrowing is necessary until they see the complete legislative solution to the budget deficit. The supplemental budget bill, which Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed into law April 1, includes a $10.5 million reduction to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and solves approximately $312 million of the $994 million shortfall. Lawmakers are waiting to address the next phase of the solution, the health and human services bill, until Congress passes the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which could include about $400 million for Minnesota.

Confirmation of Trustee Frederick moves to Senate confirmation calendar

The Senate Higher Education Budget and Policy Division had been scheduled to meet this week and take up the confirmation of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees member Christopher Frederick. Because of a long floor session, the committee did not officially meet; however, committee members had an opportunity to meet with Trustee Frederick and ask him about his appointment to the board. Following that, Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, moved to remove the confirmation of Frederick from the higher education committee and place it on the confirmation calendar. The Senate is authorized by statute to give its advice and consent on executive appointments starting in the appropriate committee. Once the committee gives its approval, each confirmation moves to the confirmation calendar for full Senate approval.

Contract ratification bill one step away from the governor’s desk

The full Senate approved SF 2386, the contract ratification bill, by a vote of 48-16 earlier this week. In the House, the Senate bill was referred for comparison and after determining that the Senate and House bills are identical, the Senate bill was substituted for the House bill. The House gave the Senate bill a second reading Thursday. A bill needs three readings before passage; the third reading occurs immediately preceding the final vote on the bill. The bill ratifies the contracts and plans for Minnesota State College Faculty, the Minnesota State University Association of Administrative and Service Faculty, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, the Middle Management Association, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Administrators, the Commissioner’s Plan and the Managerial Plan.

Safety standards for nanotechnology discussed at Capitol

The House Finance committee amended HF 3448, the higher education policy bill, this week to include a provision regarding a nanotechnology report. By Feb. 1, 2011, the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities are required to report to the Legislature on ways nanotechnology is used responsibly through standards and guidelines that protect public health and the environment and provide for occupational health and safety. The House higher education policy bill passed as amended and was sent to the floor. The Senate companion bill, SF 184, sponsored by Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, awaits action by the full Senate.

The nanotechnology amendment also was discussed as an informational item this week in the House Housing Finance and Policy and Public Health Finance Division. Members of the committee were interested in learning more about the safety aspects in nanotechnology. Gail O'Kane, system director for education industry partnerships, told committee members about the programs within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system that are focused on nanotechnology and informed members that the programs operate under OSHA standards.

Deb Newberry with Dakota County Technical College testified in front of the committee both as a nanotechnology instructor and from the national perspective of developing safety and environmental guidelines for nanotechnology.

Newberry spoke about the approaches to safety and ethics issues in Dakota County Technical College's program and other programs. Newberry also told the committee that it would be difficult to report on how the system's practices compare with national guidelines on nanotechnology as there are none yet. Newberry said the scientific and regulatory communities are working hard to develop guidelines, but the challenge is enormous since there at least a dozen interactive variables that would determine whether a particular use of a nanoparticle is toxic or environmentally harmful.

Politics in Minnesota captured Professor Newberry in midtestimony here.

Race to the Top discussions continue

At a press conference this week House and Senate leaders indicated that lawmakers hope to build consensus with the governor and teacher unions to help meet the federal Race to the Top grant application criteria. A joint meeting of the House and Senate education committees is planned for 8:30 a.m. next Tuesday to discuss a package of education reforms that could serve as an outline for a round two application for Race to the Top. The application deadline for round two is June 1, 2010.

Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, said Minnesota would be eligible for between $60 million and $175 million in federal grant money for four years. Some of the key reforms that are part of the grant application criteria and that the governor, teacher unions and lawmakers have disagreed on include alternative teacher licensure, how the Q Comp pay for performance plan could be expanded, and how much student test scores should count in teacher evaluation and tenure decisions. Gov. Pawlenty said in a press release: "There’s a growing consensus around what must be done to ensure our children receive a top-notch education. This is not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue. Now it’s time for the Legislature to come together in a bipartisan way to pass these reforms on behalf of our students and future students."

U.S. Senate introduces legislation to help preserve education jobs

Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education appropriations subcommittee and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, introduced legislation this week that would provide $23 billion for preserving education jobs. These funds would be distributed to states through the same formula used for education funds in last year's stimulus bill and would support preserving jobs in both elementary and secondary education and public higher education.

The legislation requires a governor to allocate federal funds among K-12 and higher education systems in proportion to the overall level of state budget cuts sustained by both sectors. However, the governor may adjust the allocation to K-12 and higher education by increasing or decreasing such amounts up to 10 percent of the larger of the two allocations. In addition, the measure includes a maintenance of effort provision requiring a state to maintain the fiscal year 2006 funding level or the same overall fiscal year 2006 percentage of funding for each sector, higher education and elementary and secondary education, in fiscal year 2010. The impact of this provision will vary from state to state. Of the $23 billion, the estimated state grant Minnesota would receive is $386.9 million. Congressman Harkin's legislation parallels, with some significant differences, the $23 billion provided for education in the Jobs for Main Street Act that was passed by the U.S. House in December.

Marc Herzog, chancellor of the Connecticut Community Colleges, testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education appropriations subcommittee this week. Chancellor Herzog's testimony supported Chairman Harkin's legislation to provide funding for an Education Jobs Fund for Fiscal Year 2011. Herzog's statement said that passage of the legislation "is needed in order to avert major cuts on many of our campuses, which in turn will lead to a further denial of access to our programs." Herzog added that the community colleges in Connecticut are "stretched to the breaking point." In response to a question from Chairman Harkin, Herzog said that when positions on campuses are eliminated, "the very people we lose are the people who ensure success."

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also testified in front of the committee. Duncan urged Congress to consider another round of emergency funding similar to that provided in last year's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Duncan said that additional support for education was the "right thing for our country, our economy, and our children."

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 legislative web site.

Monday, April 19
9:30 AM
House Finance
Room: 200 State Office Building
Chair: Rep. Lyndon Carlson
Agenda: SF1323 (Gardner) Infectious Waste Control Act modified.
HF3757 (Hilty) Security transaction security exemptions modified, and money appropriated for the state grant program.
HF3414 (Hilty) Public Utilities Commission supplemental funding authorized, and money appropriated.
HF3033 (Rukavina) Rebate program established for solar photovoltaic modules, and money appropriated.
HF3347 (Urdahl) School concession stands established as a specific category of food and beverage service establishments.

11:00 AM
Senate in Session

12:00 PM
House in Session

Tuesday, April 20

8:30 AM
Joint Meeting: E-12 Education Budget and Policy Division; House Committee on K-12 Education Finance Division
Room: 200 State Office Building
Chairs: Sen. LeRoy A. Stumpf, Rep. Mindy Greiling
Agenda: Race to the Top Discussion

9:00 AM
Senate Taxes
Room: 15 Capitol
Chair: Sen. Thomas M. Bakk
Agenda: S.F. 3327-Bakk: Omnibus Tax Bill (walk-through, no amendments)
Wednesday, April 21

9:00 AM
Senate Taxes
Room: 15 Capitol
Chair: Sen. Thomas M. Bakk
Agenda: S.F. 3327-Bakk: Omnibus tax bill (amendments and passage)