Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Session Ends . . . Or Did It?  We're having some fun now!  Anyway, the gavels went down in the House and Senate last Thursday morning at about 3 AM with all of the budget bills and the tax bill passed.  The Legislature also passed a preemption bill that would prevent any local unit of government from setting a minimum wage or other employee benefits in excess of what is prescribed in state law for private sector employees.  This legislation--vetoed by the Governor--was passed in reaction to ordinances in Minneapolis and St. Paul that set minimum wage and family leave laws above the state minimums.  The Legislature sweetened the preemption bill with several provisions that the Governor wanted to see passed--including family leave for state employees--in an attempt to get him to sign the bill, but it was to no avail.

Everything seemed to be going swimmingly until yesterday, when the Governor signed the bills he intended to sign, but then pulled out the line-item veto pen.  The line-item veto is not covered in most civics classes, so here's a short description.  The Governor has the power to zero out appropriations in funding bills.  He cannot simply reduce the amount.  He has to eliminate the entire appropriation.  We'll get to how that has complicated matters in a minute.

Needless to say, the Governor was not totally pleased with the way the session ended.  I think if you talked to a lot of legislators in both the majority and minority parties, they probably had similar sentiments.  But it appeared that in the spirit of compromise, everyone took what they could get, brushed up their talking points, and prepared to take things on the road to explain all the good things and assure their respective bases how things would be different next year.

Blois Olson--editor of Morning Take (to which everyone should subscribe)--posted all of the Governor's signature letters and his veto message on the preemption bill in a special edition of his blog last evening.  Here is a link to the Governor's letter that sums up his approach to the entire bill-signing process, outlining his concerns over a number of provisions that made it into the final budget bills and the tax bill.

Dayton Letter to Legislative Leaders

In it, the Governor zeroes in on a number of provisions in the tax bill that he finds troubling:  the tobacco tax break, the changes to the estate tax, and freezing the statewide commercial/industrial property tax that goes into the state general fund.  His language on these items is very straightforward.  I was hoping (against all hope as it turns out) that the Legislature would not do eliminate the automatic inflator on the tobacco tax and use that money for debt or referendum equalization.  Same goes with the estate tax changes.  If those tax decisions were reversed, there would be money available for equalization, so maybe we aren't done lobbying quite yet.

The Governor also voiced his displeasure with the changes in the tiered licensure system approved as part of the E-12 bill.  It is unclear from the letter what aspects of the licensure changes he objects to, but most of the criticism of the proposal zero in on the lowest tier, which is currently inhabited largely by community experts.  Education Minnesota had a very public posture in the Twitterverse over the weekend voicing objections to some of the changes in the bill, but like the Governor, I am unclear as to what exactly the organization wants to change in terms of specifics.

Given the special session has ended and the Governor wants changes, he came up with a novel approach to forcing another special session by line-item vetoing the appropriation for the legislative branch.  This raised the hackles of legislative leadership immediately and they are pledging to take the Governor to court over what they view as a violation of the separation of powers in the state constitution.

This is going to bring up some interesting angles.  State Auditor Rebecca Otto is currently suing the Legislature for allowing counties to seek auditing services outside her office.  She has lost at her first two court stops, but intends to take her suit to the state Supreme Court.  Now the Legislature will be suing the Governor over his decision to zero out their appropriation and, for lack of a better term, cease their operations effective July 1, 2017.  I have no idea how things will turn out, but it will be interesting to see if both sides research how the Legislature was funded in the early years of the state when there was little, if any, general state taxing authority and the appropriation for the Legislature was extremely small.  So dust off the history books and burnish your arguments on constitutional law and whether constitutions are "living" documents, because we are going to find out.

Musical Tribute to the End of Session.

As the session closed, some were feeling like the late James Brown.

Some were feeling like the late Johnny Maestro of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Most of us were feeling like the late Gerry Rafferty of Stealers Wheel.

And those of us who were hoping for something that didn't make it feel like the late Marcel King and are sad, sweet dreamers.

And right now, it's a ball of confusion.

I will keep you up-to-date as things develop.  Regional meetings start next week.

TRA Left Unaddressed.  There was optimism during the waning days of the legislative session that the TRA issue would be tackled and that school districts would receive money outside the basic formula to deal with an increased employer share suggested by the TRA staff.  Instead, nothing was done on the issue.  No increase in employer share.  No increase in employee share.  No change in cost-of-living adjustments.  No new funding for any of the above.  In other words, an all-pro punt.  Let's hope they didn't shank it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Off Until Tomorrow.  Instead of meeting to recess and recess and recess, the Legislature has decided to take the evening off and let staff get the remaining bills in order and convene again at noon tomorrow and pass the rest of the budget.  The House passed the transportation bill this afternoon and the Senate passed a bill that is centered around the preemption bill that was in conference when the regular session ended.  The preemption bill would prevent local units of government to go beyond state law on a number of basic employee/employer relationships, particularly the minimum wage, sick leave, and family leave.  Minneapolis and St. Paul have passed ordinances that require family leave and a minimum wage in excess of the state benchmark.  A number of provisions that the Governor supports have been attached to the preemption bill and it's difficult to know whether he will drop his opposition to the preemption provision and sign the bill or not.  

On the education front, after a couple of recesses and discussion of several amendments, the E-12 budget bill was given its third reading and then laid on the table.  It will come up for a final vote tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, I'll sign off with the Shirelles "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?"  I hope the Legislature loves us all tomorrow or I'll have to post "Please Release Me."

Gears are Grinding.  

It appears that the Legislature will be returning next week unless there is a rapid turn-of-events in the next couple of hours.  The Legislature passed a resolution today that would allow them to adjourn for more than three days (the Legislature must work every three days during a session without a joint resolution stating otherwise) in anticipation that work would not get done and that it may be best for everyone to take a break for a few days.

As I stated earlier, I inaccurately reported that the E-12 bill had passed both Houses and the Senate is embroiled on the discussion of several elements of the bill.  The minority members are offering amendments, but they have all been voted down to this point.  There was an amendment offered to remove the unrequested leave of absence changes in the bill (moving away from "last in/first out") and that failed on a party-line vote of 30-33.  The Senate is currently in recess and leadership is discussing several elements of the E-12 bill with the Governor.

Another issue that is currently hanging out there is the TRA correction.  There was language in a bill that would have put in the an increased contribution schedule for employers and employees (with no new funding to help employers with the increase), but I believe that language has been taken out and there may be negotiations on-going to try and solve the problem.  I will get that cleared up so I can share the information with you all tomorrow at the general membership meeting.

How about a little more music?  Hopefully things will be alright, but hopefully before the morning comes.

Duh!  I was guilty of fake news in my last blog entry.  The E-12 bill did not pass the Senate floor last evening.  The 47-17 vote I referenced was simply the vote to suspend the rules to consider the bill.  After that vote was successful, the bill was laid on the table.  It is now being discussed on the Senate floor.  The Senate did not pass any bills last evening, but have just passed the tax bill by a vote of 44-20.

Sorry about the mistake.  In that vein, he's Sheryl Crow with "My Favorite Mistake."

Education Bill Passes!  It was a night of intrigue and charges of mischief, but the omnibus E-12 bill passed both the House and Senate and is on its way to the Governor for his anticipated signature.  I am sure the Governor will wait until all of the bills hit his desk before making any decision, but there's little doubt that he will sign the E-12 bill.  The vote in the House was 79-54 in the House and 47-17 in the Senate.

As I reported last night, the House DFLers offered several amendments to the tax bill and all were unsuccessful.  There were charges by the majority caucus that the offering of amendments violated the agreement that was signed prior to the special session, but the DFLers counter-charged that the agreement stated the session would be done by 7 AM on Wednesday and that wasn't going to happen.  There was an ample amount of frustration on both sides as legislators had been sitting around since three o'clock and the tax bill did not hit the House floor until around 11:00 PM.  Things fell together after they looked like they were going to fall apart and the tax bill passed on a vote of 102-31.

In that vein, I can only post this musical treat from the late J J Cale, which kind of sums up what happens after midnight.

Things Slooooowing Down.  The tax bill is on the House floor and there is a bit of a hubbub over whether the agreement signed by the Governor and legislative leadership precludes the members of the DFL caucus from offering amendments.  Whatever the text and intention of the agreement, members are offering amendments and while the amendments are all failing (and all will likely continue to fail), things are getting a little edgy.

All that said, it's a quarter-to-three and I couldn't resist posting a video of Gary "U.S." Bonds' hit from 1961, "Quarter to Three."

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

E-12 Bill Analysis.  The E-12 working group finished their walk-through of the bill and spreadsheet about an hour ago and now we are all wading through the 203 pages to get a better handle on the various elements of the bill.  There is only one surprise in the bill and that is the inclusion of a provision that will require school districts and their teacher bargaining units to negotiate an unrequested leave-of-absence policy that is not solely based on seniority (softening of LIFO). This provision was not in the vetoed conference committee report sent to the Governor last week and it's surfacing is a bit of a surprise.

Here are the highlights of the bill:

  • 2% increase in the basic formula in each of the next two years.
  • The current voluntary pre-kindergarten program is untouched and $50 million is appropriated for a program called School Readiness Plus (more on that later).
  • An additional $20 million in early childhood scholarships.  Pathway 2 scholarships capped at this year's level of participation.
  • Inclusion of the language from the vetoed bill relating to the creation of the Professional Educators Licensing and Standards Board, including language that removes the requirement that teachers with an Academic and Behavioral Strategist (ABS) license acquire a license in a discrete disability category in five years in order to retain their license.
  • Perpich Center for Arts Education is not mothballed (couldn't think of a better term), but director is required to hold a Minnesota Superintendents License.
There are other items, of course, and MDE will be giving us a full rundown at our general membership meeting on Thursday (yes, Thursday), but these are the items that have elicited the most interest and discussion over the past few weeks.

It is nearly midnight and the House will be taking up the tax bill shortly while the Senate takes up the E-12 bill.  They will then take up the bill the other body has just finished before moving onto other business.  While the tax and E-12 bills are assured of passing and receiving the Governor's signature unless there's a political foodfight over other bills, there are a few things brewing that could rile things up, especially as it relates to the pre-emption bill that would limit municipalities from setting wage and benefit packages higher than the state minimums for private industry.  The bill containing the pre-emption provision is being loaded up with some items of great interest to the Governor and it will be interesting to see if the resulting stew will clear the Legislature and find its way to the Governor's desk.

In the meantime, enjoy this musical treat from the 1950s featuring a very young-looking Dick Clark (who managed to be young-looking until the day he checked out) on American Bandstand introducing Santo & Johnny and their big hit "Sleep Walk," which is what I feel like I am doing.

The Dam Has Burst!  

Just when I thought it was going to be water torture all night long, documents outlining the budget agreements are hitting the web.  The E-12 working group is meeting in ten minutes, so I don't have time to analyze the bill right now, but here are the documents:


Tax Bill and Spreadsheet Posted.  Things are coming out in dribs and drabs up here at the Capitol.  The State Departments Working Group (remember this is the special session so there are no committees or conference committees--at least yet) will be going through the State Departments bill sometime within the next hour or so.

The big news is that the tax bill and spreadsheet that goes with the bill have been posted on the House Tax Committee website.  As I conjectured earlier today, the Ag Bond Credit is in the bill at a 40% reimbursement rate for the school debt service levy on agricultural property and the proposed increase in debt service equalization did not survive.

Here is a link to the tax bill language:  Language  Ag Bond Credit language is Article 4, Sections 1 and 2, on pages 136 and 137 of the bill.

The spreadsheet:  Spreadsheet  The appropriation for the Ag Bond Credit is on line 54 of page 7.  The zeroed amount for debt service is on 47.

The bill summary:  Section by Section Summary

For this installment's musical treat, I will leave you with the late Glenn Frey's The Allnighter.  Sorry, I couldn't find a live performance and--pardon the pun--I don't have all night.  Wait a minute.  I'm sitting at the Capitol all night, so I guess I would have all night.

This Is It.  The Legislature will be convening at 3 PM in a special session to take up a set of budget bills that were left hanging as the midnight deadline for adjournment of the regular session.  Included in the bills will be the tax bill, the transportation bill, the health and human services bill, the bonding bill the state departments bill, and--of course--the E-12 funding bill.  Agreement was reached on all of these measures late last night and rather than have a rapid fire free-for-all, legislative leadership decided to take a more measured approach and pass the bills in a special session today when members are more rested.  Obviously, there will still be a lot of fireworks and making the self-imposed deadline of 7 AM on Wednesday morning will be a challenge.

It is reported that the E-12 budget target is $477 million--$10 million more than what the Legislature had called for in its revised targets released last week--and folks are wondering how the money will be divided.  Clearly, the formula was a high priority in both the House and Senate bills with targets around $300 million, so it's probably a safe guess--but a guess nonetheless--that more money will go toward the formula.  A 2% increase in each year costs approximately $380 million, so that would leave $90 million to move around into other priorities unless, of course, the Legislature wants to take the formula increase above 2%.  

One complicating factor is how the TRA issue will be handled.  Rumors are flying around on this.  There is talk of increasing the formula amount beyond 2% to help accommodate the costs related to an increased employer contribution, but when revenue goes on the formula, it can go for anything.  The preferred method of dealing with the issue would be--as proposed by the Governor--to set aside revenue and distribute through the pension subtraction.  This is the cleanest way to approach the problem, but there are distributional differences between using the pension subtraction and putting the revenue on the formula and my guess is the data runs outlining those differences have been studied.  

The other item that will be interesting to see is how the early childhood issue will be handled.  The Governor continued to push his voluntary pre-kindergarten program throughout the negotiations and rumor has it that there will be $50 million distributed for early education in some form.  Hard to say what that is, but some are saying it's a more targeted form of school readiness.  There are so many rumors flying around that they are flying in formation.

It will also be interesting to see what is in the tax bill.  What I have gathered is that the Ag Bond Credit is in the bill, but that the increase in the debt service equalization did not survive the negotiations.  If debt service equalization is not part of the final bill I--and a lot of SEE members--will be disappointed, but we'll be back and hammering (and yammering) again if that is the case.  I have also heard that all of the private school tax credit/tax deduction/scholarship fell by the wayside and if that is the case, like our debt service and referendum equalization initiatives, proponents of those items will be back in force in 2018.

Here is the MinnPost article regarding the budget agreement and today's legislative process:  Dayton signs deal calling Legislature into special session. What happens now?

And so, as I finish this missive, let's sign off with the Kenny Loggins' song that inspired this headline.  I've taken the YouTube version from Loggins' episode on Live from Daryl's House.  For those of you music aficionados, Live from Daryl's House is an absolute hoot, as he brings in artists and works up new versions of their hits.  With no further ado, here's Kenny and Daryl:

Monday, May 22, 2017

Regular Session Ends Quietly.  Special Session Commences Immediately.  Rather than frantically attempt--and fail given the time constraints--to pass a bevy of bills with the clock winding down, the Legislature decided to adjourn slightly before midnight.  The Governor has called a special session beginning tomorrow and the Legislature will start its work bright and early and try to work through the budget bills remaining from the regular session by Wednesday morning.  Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka informed the Senate that there is agreement on all of the bills and that work will go on during the night to have them ready to go when the House of Representatives and Senate convene tomorrow.  For those of you wondering what to look for, in a special session, everything is set back to zero.  Each of the conference committee reports from the regular session will be drafted as a bill and be numbered from HF 1/SF 1 upward.  I do not know what is in the education bill, but will likely find out when I get to the Capitol tomorrow morning and will post details when I get them.  I would guess that there will be a 2% increase on the basic formula in each of the next two years and some money for early childhood education in a yet-to-be-determined form.  Rumor has it the Governor was using all of his persuasive power to try to expand his voluntary pre-kindergarten program, but the legislative leaders were not receptive to his entreaties.

So tomorrow is shaping up to be a long day, so how about a little Marshall Tucker's "24 Hours at a Time" with special guest Charlie Daniels from 1975.  Could be a whole 24-hour shift tomorrow!

T Minus 10 Hours.  It's creeping up on 2 PM and it looks like it will be difficult for the Legislature and the Governor to come to an agreement in time for bills to be processed and passed before the midnight deadline.  A number of conference committee reports were passed yesterday, but they all pertained to smaller parts of the budget.  The top tier--Taxes, E-12, Health and Human Services, Transportation, and Bonding--all remain unsettled.  What most of us hear through the grapevine that winds through the Capitol hallways is that things are close.  Policy items that the Legislature would like to see enacted are clearly a stumbling block as the Governor pretty much wants to stick to numbers and not language.

So with that, I post this musical treat (probably your first in a series) to sum up what a lot of folks are feeling.  We return to Kris Kristofferson's oeuvre from which I plucked a song earlier this session for "Help Me Make It Through the Night."

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Slow Ride.  But no one is subscribing to Foghat's advice and taking it easy, but things are moving slowly on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (street on which the Capitol is located) tonight.  Both the House and Senate have returned to the floor and they may take up several budget bills (but not E-12 which is still being worked on).   It appears that a number of policy initiatives seem to be gumming up the works and the Governor is laying most of the blame at the feet of the House of Representatives, saying that he believed the Senate wanted to finish on time, but the House wants to push some policies he simply won't accept.  As per usual, we'll see how this all plays out.  In the meantime, enjoy a video of the still-touring Foghat's biggest hit in footage from 30 years after the song was released.

Here's a link to a MinnPost article on the Governor's veto of the teacher licensure bill:  Teacher licensing overhaul sent back for negotiations after veto. But for teachers in limbo, changes can’t come soon enough 

Speaking of the teacher licensure bill, I inaccurately reported that the bill passed the House on a straight party-line vote and it did not.  3 DFLers--Representatives Mariani, Marquart, and Poppe--voted for the bill and one Republican--Representative Franke--voted against the bill.  At this point, it appears that the contents of HF 140 with some changes may be incorporated into the omnibus E-12 funding and policy bill.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Logjam Breaking?  When I was pondering what to photo to post as a description of today's legislative activity, I thought of this:

But then the afternoon came and indications are that there will be movement on the part of the Legislature and it will be coming soon.  At a 4:15 press conference, legislative leadership outlined the framework of their proposal to the Governor and provided a rough vision of how they will be proceeding from this point forward.  Legislative leadership made it clear that negotiations with the Governor are on-going in hopes that agreements can be reached in the next day that will be agreed to by all parties.  The biggest concession made by the Legislature is in their decision to shave their tax cut proposal by nearly half a billion dollars down to $660 million.  The E-12 target mentioned at the press conference was $467 million, $164 million more than what was in the bill vetoed by the Governor earlier in the session.  A target of $467 million would accommodate a 2% increase on the basic formula in each of the next two years with approximately $90 million left for other initiatives.  Hopefully, the Legislature and the Governor will come to an agreement on helping correct the projected problems with the Teacher Retirement Association outside of the education budget, but the Governor did include $69 million in his budget for that purpose.  There wouldn't be room for much more and it would probably mean a stalemate on early education initiatives.  Too early to tell however.

A point of contention--and it's a pretty big point--is how policy will be handled in the coming negotiations.  The Governor has made it clear he is not particularly interested in policy changes and wants to basically stick to numbers.  The Legislature has a number of initiatives--both inside and outside the education realm--they would like to pass before the session ends.  The biggest education policy initiative pushed by the Legislature has been the teacher licensing changes in HF 140, which was vetoed by the Governor on Thursday.  It will be interesting to see how that issue is handled.  It is doubtful that there would be enough votes to override a gubernatorial veto (takes 91 votes in the House and 45 in the Senate), which would mean the language would have to be incorporated into whatever omnibus education bill that the Legislature would fashion.  Word on the street is the Governor would agree to the teacher licensure changes with a couple changes to the bill, but the mechanics could of getting this all to fit in the next three days could be tricky.

For your musical enjoyment, here's an oldie but goody that will describe the next three days because it's going to be a long train runnin'.  Lots of cars and lots of miles to be covered in 72 hours.

Be prepared for updates!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Governor Vetoes Teacher Licensure Bill.  It's hard to say whether it was a surprise or not.  The debate on HF 140--the bill that would create the Professional Educators Licensing and Standards Board and a new tiered-licensure framework for Minnesota teachers--seemed to indicate that there were concerns with the bill from the DFL side and it was never clear if the Commissioner of Education had endorsed the bill.  There will be charges and counter-charges about that, but the bottom line is the Governor vetoed the bill.  Needless to say, the bill's chief authors--Representative Sondra Erickson and Senator Eric Prattt--are not pleased with this outcome and see it as a needless injection of partisan flavor into a non-partisan bill.  The votes in the House have always been pretty much along party lines, but the bill passed the Senate with a number of DFL votes on its original passage prior to the conference committee proceedings.  That number was cut by 5 as the number of DFLers supporting the bill dropped from 7 to 2 on the vote that approved the conference committee report.

Here's the WCCO story on the veto:  Dayton Vetoes Teacher Licensing Overhaul Bill

StarTribune Story:    Education veto, spending disputes mark Legislature's fifth-to-last day

I was trying to a story with quotes from the bill's authors responding to the veto, but the video from the press conference on the House of Representatives media page won't download, so here is a piece from the Senate Republican Caucus homepage that contains quotes from Representative Erickson and Senator Pratt.

Link:  Governor vetoes bipartisan teacher licensure reform bill

Budget Negotiations on a Glacial Pace.  The last few days are looking pretty much like what everyone would have liked to avoid coming into the 2017 session.  With just under 100 hours left before the regular session is required to end, things seem to be at a standstill and it's difficult to know if anyone will blink and if someone blinks, who will blink first.  As in the case of most budget negotiations, the parameters of the discussion are taking up a lot of the discussion.  The Governor contends he is meeting folks halfway; the Legislature disagrees.  The Governor wants bills with little or no policy included; the Legislature disagrees.  One would think there would be a happy (or even an unhappy) medium, but it has yet to be found.  There has been some movement on the second-tier budget bills, but agreement on the big five--taxes, E-12, state departments, transportation, and bonding--likely won't take place until the weekend.

I always like to post a song that describes what's happening in an off-hand (but hopefully respectful) way and the only thing I would come up with today is the Stylistics "Make Up to Break Up," which portrays the yo-yo we are on.  In the morning, there's optimism, but as the day wears on, negotiations seem to break down.  So let's go old school tonight and relax to one of the great Slow Jams of the 1970s (and forget that the special session in 1971--two years before this song was released--last until October).