Thursday, December 23, 2010

Congressional session ends; Dayton appoints cabinet; MN keeps 8 congressional seats; State Legislature meets Jan. 4

Lame duck session not so lame as 111th Congress comes to an end

Congress was on a fast-track this week completing its work before adjourning for the year. Congressional members were productive as they acted on a wide variety of legislation, including several items of importance to higher education.

You may recall that the House passed the DREAM Act legislation earlier this month and the Senate tabled consideration of the bill. The Senate took up the bill this past Saturday, however the legislation failed to get the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster, so the DREAM Act bill is dead for now. The vote was 55-41.

We last reported that the House had passed a full year funding resolution that freezes fiscal year 2011 discretionary appropriations at the fiscal year 2010 level; and within that ceiling, adjusts funding between programs. The Senate had yet to take action on fiscal year 2011 appropriations with the hope of potentially wrapping all 12 appropriation bills into one large omnibus bill.

The Senate did not have enough votes to pass a measure to provide funds through the entire fiscal year. So this week Congress passed a continuing funding resolution that will provide funds until March 4, 2011 at the fiscal year 2010 funding levels for most government programs. This will require the new Congress come January, to determine the funding levels for the remainder of fiscal year 2011.

For higher education, the continuing resolution funds the Pell Grant program for the entire year and covers the fiscal year 2010 shortfall. This funding level will ensure that the maximum Pell Grant award remains at $5,550 for academic year 2011-2012.

The 112th Congress will convene on January 5, 2011.

Governor-elect Dayton begins announcing his cabinet appointments

Governor-elect Mark Dayton has begun to build his administration, but many more announcements have yet to be made. Most recently Ken Peterson was appointed the Commissioner of Labor and Industry. Peterson was Minnesota's labor and industry commissioner during Gov. Rudy Perpich's administration. Heading up the Department of Agriculture will be former state Senator David Frederickson, and Dayton announced he will retain the current Department of Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel.

Also part of Dayton's senior staff will be longtime Senate Counsel Peter Wattson. Wattson will be Dayton's General Counsel. Tina Flint Smith will be Dayton's Chief of Staff. Smith was most recently the Chief of Staff to Mayor RT Rybak and ran Rybak's bid for governor.

Dayton's campaign manager and long-time employee, Dana Anderson, will be the Deputy Chief of Staff, and Dayton's campaign communications director, Katie Tinucci, will be the Press Secretary for the new Administration.

The Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative Affairs will be Michele Kelm-Helgen. Kelm-Helgen was most recently serving as the Chief of Staff for the Minnesota State Senate. Andrea Mokros, will become the Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications and Outreach. Mokros is currently Principal of Mokros Strategies, LLC, and served as Deputy Chief of Staff to U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar.

A new director for the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, or MOHE, has not yet been announced. David Metzen, the current director of MOHE in the Pawlenty administration, is leaving to become provost for Globe University based in Woodbury.

Governor-elect Dayton will continue to fill out his administration as he prepares to take office January 3, 2011.

Minnesota retains 8 congressional seats

There has been an on-going concern that Minnesota might lose a congressional seat due to the slow population growth compared to other states. Earlier this week, the U.S. Census Bureau announced the 2012 reapportionment results from the 2010 census. While the race to keep our 8th seat was tight, Minnesota did prevail. The U.S. Census Bureau releases information every ten years that prompts states reapportion the number of congressional seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

With redistricting coming up, a loss of a congressional seat would surely have been a political fight. The new Republican majorities in both the House and Senate have created redistricting committees. Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth will lead the redistricting effort in the House, and Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, will be the lead in the Senate.

Legislators prepare for January 4

New Republican leadership has been preparing for the 2011 legislative session. Electing leadership positions, creating a new committee structure, assigning committee chairs and appointing members to each committee, are among the many responsibilities leadership has been handling. We recently shared with you the newly announced committee rosters. I am re-attaching them here.

The House Higher Education Policy and Finance committee is scheduled to meet Tuesdays and Thursdays 12:30-2:15 p.m. In the Senate, the Higher Education committee will meet Mondays and Wednesdays 3:00-4:30 p.m. If you are interested in seeing the complete House committee schedule, you may find it here.

You may check the government relations Web site throughout the upcoming session for further information and resources.

House Higher Education Committee members named

The membership for the 2011-2012 House committees was recently announced. Members of the higher education committee are:

Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, Chair
Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, Vice Chair
Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, DFL Lead
Rep. King Banaian, R-St. Cloud
Rep. Mike Benson, R-Rochester
Rep. Kurt Daudt, R-Crown
Rep. Connie Doepke, R-Orono
Rep. David Hancock, R-Bemidji
Rep. Pat Mazorol, R-Bloomington
Rep. Bruce Vogel, R-Willmar
Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights
Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter
Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester
Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona
Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Senate Higher Education Committee members named

The Senate has released the committee membership for the 2011 legislative session. The make-up of the higher education committee is as follows:

Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, Chair
Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, Vice Chair
Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, DFL Lead
Sen. David Brown, R-Becker
Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji
Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar
Sen. John Pederson, R-St. Cloud
Sen. Clair Robling, R-Jordan
Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester
Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park
Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids
Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato
Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook
Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm

Information about the House committee membership will be posted when known.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Dream act passes, Dayton is governor, Higher education tax legislation, MN's Kline to take office

Dream Act passes House, tabled in Senate

By a vote of 216-198, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Dream Act bill last night that would create a path to citizenship for undocumented college students and make such students eligible for federal financial aid. The Senate voted earlier this morning by a vote of 59-40 to table consideration of the bill.

Emmer concedes governor's race, Dayton to take office next month

At his home in Delano yesterday, Tom Emmer conceded the governor's race to Mark Dayton. At Emmer's news conference, he said the integrity of the election is of utmost importance, but at the same time it is imperative that "we" allow the next Legislature and governor to govern. He went on to say he doesn't believe we should delay the process. Emmer said that he was proud of his campaign, and as a conservative came within 8,700 votes in a race few thought would be that close. He congratulated Mark Dayton and offered to help him in anyway he could. "It is our job to make sure he can be the best possible governor he can be," Emmer said.

Less than two hours after Emmer’s announcement, the state canvassing board certified Dayton the winner. Governor-elect Dayton thanked Rep. Tom Emmer for his integrity and graciousness at his news conference, also yesterday. He also thanked all the workers and volunteers that helped on his campaign and promised he will work to the best of his ability on behalf of the people of Minnesota. Dayton said we face difficult decisions ahead with the $6.2 billion budget deficit, and asked for everyone's ideas, talents and help in making a better Minnesota for everyone. Dayton will now begin to build his administration as he prepares to take office Jan. 3, 2011. He did say he would name his Chief of Staff within 48 hours.

Federal tax legislation includes components for higher education

As Congress wraps up the year and the 111th Congress, President Obama and Republican Congressional members reached a deal Monday on tax legislation that extends for two years the Bush-era income tax cuts in exchange for an extension of unemployment benefits and a payroll tax holiday.

The measure includes benefits of importance to colleges and students. The legislation extends for two years the American Opportunity Tax Credit, or AOTC, which was created in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The AOTC builds on the previous Hope Scholarship Tax Credit and provides a tuition tax credit worth up to $2,500, a student-loan interest deduction worth up to $2,500, and a benefit that allows companies to provide up to $5,250 in tax-free tuition assistance to their employees.

The House Democratic Caucus however voted today to not bring up the tax legislation in its current form. This non-binding vote held during a closed meeting of the caucus puts pressure on House leaders to push for changes to the legislation and raises questions about whether the deal will move to the House floor for a vote.

Kline to chair House Education and Labor Committee

It's official. Rep. John Kline of the second district in Minnesota will be the chair of the House Education and Labor Committee when the Republicans take control of the U.S. House of Representatives next month. The House GOP conference voted on the slate of committee chair recommendations yesterday.

Congressman Kline, who has served as the ranking Republican on the committee since 2009, says he hopes the committee's work will help improve the economic climate and lead to more jobs. He says he also hopes to simplify federal law.

Speaker designee John Boehner, R-Ohio, said of Kline’s election as chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, "He's a savvy legislator who knows how to lead and can bring together members on both sides of the aisle to do what's best for our country."

2011 full year funding resolution passes House

As Oct. 1, the start of a new fiscal year, came and went without Congress passing any of the 12 appropriation bills for fiscal year 2011, the U.S. House and Senate passed a funding measure late September to keep federal government programs operating at current fiscal year 2010 funding levels until Dec. 3. As Congress works through a lame duck session, a further continuing resolution was passed Dec. 1 providing for a 15 day extension until Dec. 18, 2010.

Yesterday the House passed a full year funding resolution by a vote of 212 to 206 that freezes fiscal year 2011 discretionary appropriations at the fiscal year 2010 level. Within that ceiling, the measure adjusts funding between programs and accounts to deal with current demands and workloads. Overall, the Act includes $513 billion for the Department of Defense, $4.9 billion above 2010; $75.2 billion for military construction and veterans, $1.4 billion below 2010; and $501.4 billion for all other appropriations, $3.5 billion below 2010.

For education specifically, the bill provides $5.7 billion more for Pell grants to meet the current funding shortfall that has arisen because more people are qualifying for the grant. The discretionary portion of the maximum Pell Grant award is maintained at $4,860 which, combined with a mandatory supplement of $690, will support a $5,550 maximum Pell Grant in fiscal year 2011, the same as the 2010 level.

The bill also adjusts funding to allow the office of Federal Student Aid to maintain services to students and families in implementing the transition to 100 percent direct student lending mandated by law, and provides $550 million for Race to the Top, which was not funded in 2010.
You may find a summary of the bill here.

The bill now awaits action by the Senate, which could take up the resolution as a stand-alone bill or handle 2011 spending by wrapping all the appropriations bills into one "omnibus" bill and send it back to the House for a final vote.

Higher education, 2010 elections and the economy

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities, or AASCU, prepared a policy brief that examines November's elections as it relates to public higher education. In addition to discussing policy implications at the state and federal level, the paper explores the changing political and policy dynamics in governors' offices, state legislatures and Congress, as well as future implications of redistricting. Also included are higher education policy issues that may be taken up by the 112th Congress. You may find the brief here.

AASCU has also released a brief entitled, State Outlook: Fiscal and State Policy Issues Affecting Postsecondary Education. This document is a compilation of key economic trends, fiscal conditions and state policy actions that can serve as a helpful resource in preparation for the 2011 legislative session and can be found here.