Friday, August 17, 2018

Great Meeting in Lindstrom (can't find the umlaut) Last Night.  The Chisago County Board has taken an increasing interest in education and last night they hosted a meeting of local school districts (Chisago Lakes, Forest Lake, North Branch, Rush City, and the St. Croix River Education District) to discuss some possibilities for improved funding for districts in the area.  Each of the districts in attendance falls below the state average in terms of per pupil revenue and the fact that Chisago County is a low property wealth county complicates matters as it is difficult for these districts to pass voter-approved referenda to make up the difference where state revenue falls short.

Deb Griffiths gave her school finance presentation and I urge all SEE members to take advantage of the opportunity to have Deb out to provide your community with this information.  It is clear and concise and shows how school districts throughout the state with few exceptions constantly find themselves behind the funding eight-ball.  It works in multiple venues and Deb's experience in giving the presentation to audiences beyond the school board setting makes it an ideal way for districts to give communities as a whole a better understanding of the funding challenges faced by school districts.

It is truly great to see the Chisago County Board joining the education funding debate and pledging its support to remedying funding and property tax inequities that plague so many members of SEE.  For my part, I want to encourage SEE members to explore the possibility of working with your city councils and county boards and see if synergies like the one happening in Chisago County are possible in your area.

Another Loss to the America's Cultural Mosaic.  Most of you know I'm quite the music fan, having grown up in the 1960's with my transistor radio next to my ear.  Like many of you, I was saddened by the news yesterday of the death of Aretha Franklin.  In honor of The Queen of Soul, here's a great video clip of her in high-powered action.  


Thursday, August 16, 2018

A Belated Tribute to Barbara Baker.  



There are very few people still involved with SEE whose service dates back to the era when Barbara Baker was leading the organization.  Back in 1979, Barbara's management company--Baker Research & Consulting--ran the organization and run it she did.  I first met Barbara when I was on Senate Education Committee staff in the late-1980s and I had the pleasure working for her in my first years as a lobbyist in the early-1990s.  To say Barbara was a tenacious advocate for the cause of funding equity understates the case.  She never raised her voice, but she always got her point across firmly and politely.  Barbara was at the helm when the members of SEE (then known as the Association for Stable or Growing School Districts--ASGSD) comprised the plaintiffs in the Skeen v. Minnesota lawsuit and that was an extremely arduous task and one she performed with her usual aplomb.  That effort was an organizational challenge, but Barbara saw the organization through the successful district court decision (in which the plaintiffs won) and the subsequent reversal by the Minnesota Supreme Court.  The day the Supreme Court decision came down, Barbara was disappointed, but refused to sulk.  The same day we had a press statement ready to go and managed somehow to maintain control over discussion of the issue.  No small task, but there was no task that Barbara found too daunting.

On a personal note, I know I wouldn't be where I am today without Barbara and ASGSD taking a chance on me.  Barbara provided me with a lot of guidance on the how-to's of lobbying.  I had an extensive background in the legislative process and a pretty good handle of education finance when I was brought on board, but I lacked the finesse that a good lobbyist needs to succeed and Barbara served as a mentor in helping me acquire those skills.  I will never forget when Barbara and I were meeting with a high-ranking official in Governor Carlson's office to discuss his line-item veto of the first debt service equalization appropriation.  I attempted to explain what we were trying to accomplish when the official stopped me and said something to the effect "Well, that's socialism."  In my younger days, I could go from zero-to-sixty in the spirited debate department and, after the initial shock of the statement, I was about to blow up.  Barbara could see the steam coming out of my ears and before I could say anything, she took control of the conversation and, as was her style, calmly disagreed with the official.  We left the meeting in good shape and afterwards had a good laugh about how I had avoided an embarrassing, and perhaps damaging, situation.  It was one of the many lessons I learned from working with Barbara.

It's not just me that benefited from Barbara's expertise and ability.  People are surprised to learn that the MSBA Delegate Assembly would almost break out in riots--rhetorical and otherwise--when the Skeen lawsuit was in court.  The lawsuit divided school districts in a lot of ways and there were tons of hotly-contested resolutions that were specific and which had winners and losers in terms of the proposed policy effects.  Barbara worked the floor of those sessions and was a magnificent vote-counter.  Those efforts helped keep the equity issue front-and-center in the education funding debate and whatever progress we have made over the almost 40 years that SEE has been in existence are built on the foundation that Barbara and the early SEE pioneers carefully and firmly laid in place.

Here is a link to Barbara's obituary from the StarTribune:  Barbara Anne (Brooke) Baker Obituary

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Enough Goofin' Around!  I haven't blogged since the end of the legislative session and yesterday's primary election provides a great opportunity to start it up again.

The surprise in from yesterday's results came in the Republican gubernatorial race.  Most pundits thought the former Governor Tim Pawlenty would win his match-up with Hennepin County Commissioner and 2014 Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson and some thought Pawlenty would win quite handily.  The problem with picking primary winners is that with turnout levels much lower than the general election, a particularly motivated block of voters can turn the election.  The Republican party has done quite well over the past couple of decades in getting their endorsed candidate through the primary election successfully.  On the other hand, this is the second consecutive time that the DFL has not gotten its endorsed candidate for Governor to the general election (not counting Governor Dayton's 2014 re-election effort as a sitting incumbent).  I wish I knew for reason for the difference.

For my part, I told many (and the SEE legislative committee is my set of witnesses) that I would be surprised, but not shocked, if Commissioner Johnson defeated former Governor Pawlenty.  Yesterday's result reminded me of the 1990 Republican primary election when endorsed candidate Jon Grunseth was pitted against Arne Carlson.  Carlson went straight to the primary as the moderate alternative, foregoing the endorsement battle that featured Grunseth against David Printy in which Grunseth prevailed.  Carlson was the prohibitive favorite in the primary, with most polls showing him with a comfortable lead (some polls showed him with a lead of nearly twenty points), but, like yesterday, the Republican voters rallied behind the endorsed candidate to put him into the general election . . . but not quite as all of you will recall that a scandal removed Grunseth from the ticket, where he was replaced by Carlson and Carlson defeated incumbent Rudy Perpich to become Governor.  On primary evening in 1990, I remember (having had the opportunity to be in an election night "war room" in what now seems like the horse-and-buggy days of politics) the look on Carlson's face when asked how things were going as the early returns were coming in and realizing (as I had seen that face on other politicians in the past) that things weren't going to turn out well for him.  As an aside, campaigns pick a set of precincts as their target precincts to gauge their chances at success.  There is a science to picking target precincts and if they are chosen accurately, the candidates generally know how they are faring early in the vote tabulation process.  There can still be surprises, but that type of methodology is usually dead on and it likely was again last night.

In yesteday's Morning Take, publisher Blois Olson highlighted the First Congressional District as one to watch.  He conjectured that if State Senator Carla Nelson fared well in her challenge to GOP-endorsed Jim Hagedorn, it may be a harbinger of a similar success for Pawlenty.  Like the statewide GOP primary, Hagedorn prevailed by an almost 2-to-1 margin and while Johnson's victory over Pawlenty didn't reach that level, it was an indication that Republican voters were pretty much going along with their endorsed candidates.

From my perspective, two other elements contributed to Pawlenty's coming up short.  Because the DFL was anticipating a Pawlenty victory, much of the advertising by each candidate tied Pawlenty to policies he pursued during his time as Governor.  While those policies were supported by Republicans, Pawlenty needed to bring other folks to the polls in order to go over the top and the ads probably blunted enthusiasm for another Pawlenty term.  Which leads to the second point, which is (being a bit glib), the "third time is not the charm."  Minnesotans seem to have an aversion to giving Governors a third term, as (again channeling 1990) Rudy Perpich found out.

The DFL side of the night had a lot more drama given events of the last month.  Early polls showed a tight race between Attorney General Lori Swanson and First District Congressman Tim Walz with endorsed candidate Erin Murphy lagging behind.  As I stated earlier, a motivated voting bloc can make all the difference and while Murphy had trouble raising money to get ads on the air until late in the game while both Swanson and Walz had ads on shortly after the DFL state convention.  Murphy's campaign picked up steam as the primary approached, but there was just too much ground to pick up to overtake Walz.  I was somewhat surprised that Swanson fell into third place by the margin that she did, but (and this is getting to be a theme) the voting blocs in primaries can be quite fluid.

As we look toward to the general election, it's important to note that turnout on the DFL side was considerably higher than on the GOP side yesterday.  Some may attribute that to energy on the DFL side emanating from opposition to President Trump.  A word of caution needs to be injected, because in 2010 DFL turnout was similarly higher than on the Republican side and it turned out to be a wave election for the Republicans.  Like this year, 2010 featured a hotly-contested race between DFL-endorsed candidate Margaret Anderson-Kelliher and Mark Dayton.  Dayton narrowly won the general election over then-State Representative (now Congressman) Tom Emmer.  It is tempting to extrapolate general election projections from primary results, but it is a dicey proposition.  One thing to remember is that the party that holds the Presidency usually (but not always) has a difficult time with mid-term elections, which the Obama Administration faced in 2010 and 2014.  DFLers appear to have more energy this year and we will have to see if that translates into general election results and what those results are.

Good to be back on the blog scene.  Let me know your thoughts.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Wha' Happened?


That's what a lot of folks are asking after the Legislature adjourned for the biennium last evening just before midnight.  The Legislature did finish its work, sending the Governor a tax/school safety bill, a supplemental budget bill, a bonding bill, and a pension bill and the fate of each of those bills now lies with the Governor.

The Governor did veto the tax bill the first time through and with the threat of the veto looming over the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill, the Legislature decided to attach a $50 million appropriation to the vetoed tax bill (with minor changes) to the Governor.  The school funding portion of that bill does three things:

  • Moves $50 million from the budget reserve to a one-time school safety appropriation.  Uses of this one-time revenue would be limited to the uses currently prescribed in the school safety revenue law.
  • Allows school board to unilaterally waive the 2% staff development set-aside currently mandated by law and use that revenue flexibly.
  • Calls for more aggressive marketing of the school trust lands to get more money into school districts (and to replenish the $50 million moved from the budget reserve to schools).
There is a clear strategy in the Legislature's approach.  First off, the $50 million in one-time money in school safety revenue is a strong statement toward the initial need of school districts in upgrading their school safety efforts, both in terms of facilities and personnel.  The problem, of course, it is one-time money and if I had one considerable disappointment as to how the school safety issue was handled as the session wound down was the downplaying of school safety needs beyond next year.  The Governor's budget recommendations and the House bill both devoted considerable resources to school safety needs beyond the coming school year, but the Senate greatly reduced funding for the next biennium after the initial bump for next year and that position held the day (or night).  I get the argument that this wasn't a budget year and that the next Legislature needs to fashion the appropriate level of school safety revenue in the context of next year's biennial budget, but I also realize that priorities change year-to-year and I find it hard to believe the need for school safety improvements--especially on-going investments in student support services--is going to diminish.  In order to hire additional school support personnel with school safety revenue, districts need assurance that those dollars are going to be there and not pulled away.  That commitment is absent from the Legislature's approach, making this increase in school safety revenue less useful than it would have been had their been an on-going appropriation at the increased level.

While no new revenue is generated with the ability of districts to waive the 2% staff development set-aside, some districts may benefit from the increased flexibility.  What wasn't said yesterday is that districts and their bargaining units already have the ability to come to an agreement on a partial or complete waiving of the set-aside in addressing budget shortfalls.

The increased marketing of the school trust lands has been a goal of a number of education-related groups and it is a welcome addition to this year's discussion, although it came up late.

There is also $25 million in the bonding bill for school safety facility upgrades.  This will not be handled through general obligation bonding, but instead will be a grant program administered by the Minnesota Department of Education.  The maximum grant is $500,000 and half of the money must go to school districts outside the 11-county metropolitan area.  Grants will be awarded on a first-come/first-served basis.  I have linked the bill and the language governing these grants--Section 4, Subdivision 3, is found on the bottom of page 8 through the top of page 10.

HF 1226--Bonding Bill

The omnibus supplemental budget bill underwent some minor changes on Friday night, with eight sections relating to new mandates removed from the bill, but the framework of the funding provisions remain as I described in an entry last week remain the same.

Perhaps the best news of the night came with the passage of the final bill in both the House and Senate, which was the pension bill.  Despite assurances from legislators of every stripe that the bill would pass (and it passed unanimously), when the clock was winding down, pulses were quickening.  There was a rumor that the fate of the pension bill was tied to the passage of the bonding bill by the Senate.  The bonding bill failed in the Senate on a straight party-line vote last week because the bonding bill requires a 60% of the Senate (or 41 votes) to pass.  The revised bonding bill garnered 42 votes and shortly after that vote was announced, the pension bill moved through final passage in the House.  Coincidence?  Maybe.  But there was that rumor.  Speaking of rumors:




The Governor has stated that he plans to veto both the school safety/tax bill and the omnibus supplemental budget bill.  Because he received these bills in the last three days of the legislative session, he has two weeks to either sign them, veto them, or allow them to become law without his signature.  I am sure he will be deluged with advice from every quarter on to what to do and I am not going to venture a guess as to what direction he will go, although if I were a betting person (the ability of which will undoubtedly be discussed next session in the wake of the recent United States Supreme Court ruling on sports betting), I would say he won't waver from his statements regarding his intentions.

Big-Time Congratulations in Order.  Congratulations to House Research tax analysts Steve Hinze and Joel Michael for being recognized by the National Conference of State Legislatures for excellence in public finance policy.  Both Steve and Joel are knowledgeable, professional, and effective in dealing with legislators and the public.  They do great work and it was great to see them awarded honors commensurate with their talents.


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Curtain Coming Down in a Few.  The pension bill just passed the House 131-0 and is on its way back to the Senate for concurrence in an amendment that was adopted in the House at the committee level.

And . . . . .  the Senate repasses the pension bill on a vote of 67-0 and the pension bill is on its way to the Governor.

I will sign off for now, but not before I leave you with one last musical tribute that kind of sums up the day and the session.


School Safety/Tax Bill Passes House.  Just a few minutes ago, the House passed the conference committee report on HF 947, the vehicle bill for the latest school safety/tax bill on a vote of 85-42.  Eight DFLers joined the Republican majority in passing the bill.  That bill will head to the Senate in a short time where it is likely to pass on, if not a party-line vote, a close vote.

As we wait, another Sunday hit, this one a 1972 hit by Daniel Boone (born Peter Charles Green in Birmingham, England).  The video below constitutes high-tech in 1972.


Less than 10 Hours to Go.  There's bound to be a mad rush on the floors of the House and Senate in the next few hours, but work is being done in another conference committee--HF 1226--that will carry the bonding bill to the floor of both houses.  HF 1226 originally dealt with some miscellaneous tax provisions, but as we have already witnessed today (and I pointed out in Friday's entry), there are vehicles on the lot and all they need is a driver and some passengers.

The pension bill is scheduled to be voted on later today and it is expected that everyone wants to see that passed.  But that is yet to come.

Time for another musical interlude that sums up a lot of people's feelings about today.


The Plot Thickens.


As I reported earlier, the Legislature has agreed to use HF 947 as a vehicle for funding one-time revenue for school safety with $50 million from the budget reserve and providing emergency funding by allowing school boards to unilaterally waive the 2% staff development set-aside and transfer money out of any community education fund balance they have.

The latest development has the Legislature adding the tax bill the Governor vetoed on Friday to the conference committee report.  Difficult to say at this point what the Governor's reaction will be, but the odds among the observers appears to be pretty low that he will sign it.

Anyway, how about another Sunday song.  I wish it was Another Park, Another Sunday, but it's Room 5, State Office Building, This Sunday.


Note that this live recording of The Doobie Brothers performance took place one day short of two years ago.  The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan will be performing at the Xcel Energy Center on Friday, June 15.  Tickets are available.

That's all for now.
We Have Arrived at Sunday, Sunday, Sunday.


We are at just more than 16 hours left in the 2018 session and a number of things may be moving.  As I wrote on Friday in my entry about vehicle bills, the Legislature has taken a conference committee on a minor education-related bill and are going to use that as a vehicle for a very focused school safety bill that will spend $50 million in one-time money and send that to schools for uses allowed under the current school safety statute.  The bill will also allow school districts to waive the 2% staff development set-aside without reaching agreement with the local bargaining unit.

While not providing on-going money for school safety or directly addressing the Governor's request for emergency funding, this effort would, at least on paper, serve as a response to the Governor's negotiating stance.

Stay tuned and let's hope that we end up with what Etta James was asking for in this classic.


Saturday, May 19, 2018

Omnibus Supplemental Budget Bill Conference Committee Report Released.  In this corner, weighing in at 990 pages is the 2018 omnibus supplemental appropriations bill.  The E-12 related articles run from pages 799 to 990 and the bill contains a number of policy items to which the Governor has voiced objections.  Just a few minutes ago, legislative leaders rejected the Governor's proposed budget compromise, saying it does not go far enough in cutting taxes.  Here is the link to the entire bill.  The opioid and elder care bills were folded into the omnibus bill after being considered as stand-alone legislation until a couple of days ago.

Link:  Conference Committee Report on SF 3656
Clarification.  The provision that is being hotly debated by the agriculture committees in both the House and Senate deals with the effects of fertilizer on water quality.  A rule has been published in the State Register and is slated for a round of hearings for public input this summer.  The resolution being debated tonight would slow down the final adoption of any rule in the event the Governor does not sign a similar bill passed by the Legislature on Thursday.  My earlier post indicated incorrectly that the debate centered around the buffer zone issue.

Meanwhile, it's not Almost Saturday Night, it's Saturday Night!



Governor's Proposed Compromise.  The link below shows the offer that the Governor proposed to legislators about an hour ago.  The bottom line shows how much revenue will be on the state's bottom line given the current budget projections.  Don't try to make sense of that line other than that because the columns do not add up.

Link:  Governor's Offer to Legislators Saturday Afternoon
Addendum!

Here is a link to the language items that the Governor wants removed from the supplemental omnibus appropriations bill.  It's the list of 100+ items I referenced in my earlier entry that I posted within the past hour. The education-related language the Governor finds fault with are found on pages 13-16.   Eight of the education-related items were removed last night, including mandatory dyslexia screening and the prohibition of use of school funds in elections.  MDE also received a small revenue increase to help administer the grants included in the bill.  There's still more in the bill that the Governor objects to, so even with these removals, the bill could die on the vine (or the grapes stomped when they get to the Governor's office).

Here is a link to the document distributed by the Governor's office:  Problematic Language in Supplemental Appropriations Bill from Governor Dayton's Perspective

In another development, there's a heated debate going on in the House Agriculture Policy Committee regarding the water quality bill.  The majority would like to delay implementation of the buffer bill through a resolution that the minority views as a slap at the Governor.  Not to make light of the importance of this resolution or other items that will be coming up in the next day-and-a-quarter, but it at least for next few hours, I think it's safe to say that



Saturday (Not in the Park).


Here we are at the Capitol on a Saturday afternoon with not a whole lot going on.  I think Peter Callaghan summed it up best in today's edition of MinnPost, where he points out that the final results of this session may end up being rather meager, especially when it comes to the larger issues relating to taxes and the budget.  We are closing in on the point where there will be a smidgen over 30 hours before the curtain will come down on the 2018 legislative session.

Here is a link to that story:  As Legislature enters final days, one policy option seems more likely: Doing nothing

Another angle comes from Chris Magan of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that outlines the obstacles (117 on the Governor's list) to a smooth ending to the session.  Here's a link to that story:  Gov. Mark Dayton: Lawmakers have 117 paths to failure, can they work them out?

So, what will it be?  Will we get


Or will it be



Friday, May 18, 2018

It's Friday (And a Lot is on the Legislature's Mind).



We are at about 57 and counting hours before the curtain has to come down and a lot of work remains to be done at the Legislature.  The veto of the tax bill has left things up in the air to a great extent and the budget bill is still not wrapped up.  The conference chairs on the supplemental budget bill--Senator Julie Rosen and Representative Jim Knoblach--seem to opting to leave the bill open to address the Governor's considerable list of issues with the bill, many of them dealing with language to which he objects.

Here's a nice piece from MPR earlier today that sums things up succinctly:  https://www.mprnews.org/story/2018/05/18/minnesota--legislature-prepares-for-its-ritual-mad-dash

Time for Your (Modern) Civics Lesson.  First, get a sheet of paper.  Second, go to the page in your civics text that describes how a bill becomes a law.  Third, write down everything (well, maybe not everything) I tell you in this entry and tape it to that page in the text.

As referenced in the MPR story above, Senator Carla Nelson spoke about having alternate plans if the Governor were to wield the veto pen on the supplemental appropriations bill.  I wrote yesterday how the supplemental budget bill could have a number of other provisions attached to it before being sent to the Governor.  Superstar lobbyist Amy Walstein pointed out to me later (I am gratified she does read the blog and did point this out) that it can work the other way around as well and that the supplemental budget bill could be broken into a number of pieces and sent to the Governor in a series of bills.  How you might ask.  They are called "vehicle bills" and they can take many forms.  In the legislative process, many of the bills that pass one house of the Legislature and go to the other are often not acted upon (for a variety of reasons that aren't really important right now).  Further, all of the conference committee reports the Governor vetoed last session are also "live" as they were returned to the Legislature and the final budget agreement was reached in a special session.  And remember, special sessions are proceedings onto themselves with separate bills, bill numbers, and committee processes.  So, with help of the following illustration, think of all of this moribund legislation as a used car lot.



All those cars need is a driver and some passengers and if worse comes to worse in the next two days, some of these cars may get loaded up and take a little spin down toward the Governor's office.  Before you get too hepped up thinking that this is all new and just another indication of how political discourse in this country has bottomed out (and it be bottoming out, but this little diversion is not one of the reasons why), these types of end-runs have been employed for years and years and years.  Sometimes, it is necessary given time constraints.  Sometimes it's the only way one house of the Legislature can get the other house to consider a topic.  And admittedly, sometimes it's just pure hi-jinks used for partisan political purposes or between committee chairs in different bodies who simply don't like each other.

So, recapping:  (1) the Legislature and Governor may be at loggerheads on a number of issues, (2) time is of the essence, and (3) means exist to get a number of things done if negotiations on larger items cannot come to a successful end.  So who knows, maybe we'll see this little gent carrying a trunk full of provisions to the Governor before the weekend is out.




Was the Governor Humming This During while Writing His Veto Message on the Tax Bill?  Sorry, I couldn't resist.



Just wanted to let you know that those of us in the Elvis Party have a three-plank platform.  In addition to making Elvis' birthday a state holiday as mentioned in yesterday's blog entry, we want to see a sales tax exemption on all Elvis-related merchandise and the construction of an Elvis theme park.