Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Legislature works to balance budget; Governor hosts higher ed round table; Conference committee met; President Obama signs budget bill

Legislative Update
April 15, 2011

Four working weeks remain to resolve $5 billion budget deficit

This week the agriculture finance bill made its way through conference committee, and the final conference report was approved by both bodies before sending it to Gov. Dayton for consideration. Dayton signed the bill today saying it closely matches his recommendations and fits within his budget framework. The bill accounts for less than 1 percent of the state's total general fund budget. Included in the bill is $94,000 each year of the biennium for statewide mental health counseling support to farm families and business operators through farm business management programs at Central Lakes College and Ridgewater College.

Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said today that she is pleased the Legislature is three weeks ahead of last year’s schedule with the budget bills and called the signing of the agriculture bill a success. Legislative leaders characterized the current situation as one budget bill down (signed by the governor), nine more to go.

The signing of the agriculture bill was a moment of optimism in an otherwise tough week of disagreement and criticism between the Republican legislative leadership and Gov. Dayton. Dayton accused Republicans of pulling budget savings “out of thin air.” He said the budget plan that passed the House floor and is now in conference committee, is $1.2 billion out of balance, and the Senate approved plan is $1.1 billion off. Koch said Republicans are willing to work with Dayton to come up with numbers that they can both agree on. Republican legislative leaders continue to emphasize they do not support a tax increase as part of the solution to the deficit.

The House and Senate are scheduled to meet Monday for short floor sessions prior to recessing for a week-long Easter/Passover break. When asked today if leadership thinks they can come to an agreement with Gov. Dayton prior to the adjournment date of May 23, Senate Deputy Majority Leader Geoff Michel, R-Edina, said he sees a parallel to what is happing in Washington D.C., where Democrats in Washington have agreed with Republicans to cut spending and scale back some tax increases. Michel said the agreement in Washington “sets the tone for what we can do here.”

Koch said lawmakers will meet with constituents and hold town hall meetings over the break, but she said she also hopes they spend some much needed time with their families. Republican leaders did say they will continue meeting with Gov. Dayton’s office next week as they work to reach a compromise on the remaining nine budget bills before May 23.

Governor holds higher education round table

A panel of higher education leaders, faculty, students and staff met this week at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul for Gov. Dayton's round table discussion on higher education. Dayton heard about the impact the House and Senate proposed budget cuts would likely have on higher education, and participants discussed the future of higher education. Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Chancellor Jim McCormick said that studies show by 2018, 70 percent of jobs in Minnesota will require postsecondary education, and the current degrees and certificates will not be enough for the country to advance globally. He said more people need to obtain degrees.

Another round table participant, Minnesota State University Student Association Chair Andrew Spaeth, said he's concerned about the future of Minnesota if the legislative proposed budget cuts are enacted. Spaeth said that the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system is one of the most efficient systems in the country already.

President of Metropolitan State University Sue Hammersmith said there is a direct relationship between the disinvestment on the part of the state and the increasing tuition burden on the students. President Terry Leas of Riverland Community College said decisions will have to be made, whether it's closing programs to balance the budget or cut off access. Leas said his college has nationally recognized programs, yet they will have to choose among them when deciding what to cut.

Metropolitan State University professor Monte Bute said higher education is a public good and told Gov. Dayton that if he stands up for the public good, there are many Minnesotans who will as well. Gov. Dayton said the round table discussion gave him a strengthening of his resolve to stand firm on minimal cuts and resist the deeper cuts being proposed in the House and Senate bills.

There are other round tables scheduled to discuss higher education, including Congresswoman Betty McCollum's round table Thursday, April 28 at 9:30 a.m. at Metropolitan State University with a focus on the potential consequences of the federal budget cuts to higher education. On Tuesday, April 19 at 1:00 p.m. at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, DFL state legislators from around the 8th Congressional District, along with the Director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, Sheila Wright, will hold a town hall meeting to discuss ways to improve higher education in Minnesota.

Higher education conference committee holds brief meeting

Conference committees began meeting this week and started walking through the side-by-sides of the House and Senate bills. Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said that conferees are getting a good start and have invited commissioners in Gov. Dayton’s administration to be part of the discussions.

The higher education finance conference committee met briefly Thursday afternoon, and House Researcher Kathy Novak walked through the side-by-side of the House and Senate bills, and Fiscal Analyst Doug Berg walked through the funding in both bills. There was no discussion, and no votes were taken.

You may find the side-by-side of the Senate and House bills here.

The spreadsheet for the bills can be found here.

Conference Committee Co-Chairs Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls and Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, said there is a possibility the conference committee will meet Monday, April 18 before the legislative recess. If not, they will meet after the break to take testimony on the two bills.

President Obama signs 2011 budget bill with $38 billion in reductions

At the time we sent out the weekly update last Friday, it looked like Congress was headed toward a federal government shutdown; however, President Obama and congressional leaders were able to reach a deal. This week, the House passed that budget deal by a vote of 260-167, and the Senate passed the bill 81-19. The legislation funds the federal government until September 30, 2011 at a reduced spending amount compared to fiscal year 2010 by $38 billion. Republicans who voted against the bill said it doesn’t cut enough, while the Democrats who voted no, said the bill makes too many painful reductions. President Obama signed the legislation this afternoon.

Under the measure, the maximum Pell Grant award of $5,500 was preserved, however the year-round Pell Grant was eliminated in order to pay for maintaining the maximum grant level. Other areas of reductions include the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants and the GEAR UP program each reduced by $20 million; a $25 million reduction to TRIO; and the elimination of funding for the Career Pathways Innovation Fund. The Perkins Career and Technical Education program was also reduced by $138 million. With the fiscal year 2011 budget signed, Congress and President Obama now turn to the 2012 budget and the federal debt limit.

The Senate Committee on Appropriations has released a summary of the fiscal year 2011 continuing resolution here.

The House Appropriations Committee has also released a summary, you can find it here.

Movement in Congress on fiscal year 2012 budget

The U.S. House voted today to approve a 2012 budget resolution put forth by Republican leadership. The plan cuts $6.2 trillion over the next 10 years from the budget submitted by President Obama. Obama has acknowledged that spending cuts will have to be made, but has offered a much different vision. Obama’s plan calls for cutting the deficit $4 trillion over the next 12 years without significantly changing any of the entitlement programs, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Obama’s plan also would repeal the Bush-era tax cuts on families making more than $250,000 annually.

The budget resolution now heads to the Senate where it is not expected to have any momentum. The Senate Budget Committee has not yet released their 2012 budget plan. The House Budget Committee released the report for the fiscal year 2012 budget plan which includes a proposed funding level of $7 billion below the current funding level for the Pell Grant, which if enacted could lead to a significantly reduced Pell Grant maximum award.

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's web site.

Monday, April 18

10:15 AM (Note: committee will recess by 12:00 and reconvene in the Basement Hearing Room at 1:00 p.m. or after session)
House Government Operations and Elections
Room: 200 State Office Building
Chair: Rep. Joyce Peppin
HF905 (Hamilton) Youth athletes with concussions resulting from participation in youth athletic activities policies established.
HF1440 (Beard) Hydroelectric facility municipal approval exception provided.
HF1470 (Stensrud) State government resource recovery program changes made.
HF1144 (Cornish) Former employees in the state employee group insurance program specified notice required for termination of rights.
HF1408 (Sanders) Vacancies in nomination procedures and requirements changed.
HFXXXX (Banaian) A bill for an act 1.1 relating to state government; assigning new duties to the Legislative Commission 1.2 on Planning and Fiscal Policy
HF1455 (Urdahl) State Capitol Preservation Commission established, and money appropriated.
HFXXXX (Peppin) A bill for an act relating to campaign finance; changing certain procedures and requirements of the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.

12:00 PM
Senate in Session

12:30 PM
House in Session

1:00 PM
Senate State Government Innovation and Veterans
Room: 123 Capitol
Chair: Sen. Mike Parry
S.F. 247-Dahms: Public employees insurance program local government employees participation or withdrawal approval requirements.
S.F. 1100-Brown: Interest arbitration factor consideration for public sector labor relations.
S.F. 1146-Wolf: Public employees dues check off written request requirement for certain contributions.

1:00 PM
Senate State Government Innovation and Veterans
Room: 123 Capitol
Chair: Sen. Mike Parry
S.F. 247-Dahms: Public employees insurance program local government employees participation or withdrawal approval requirements.
S.F. 1146-Wolf: Public employees dues check off written request requirement for certain contributions.

Tuesday, April 19 - Monday, April 25

Easter/Passover Break