Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Don't Look Now. Whoever said that an orderly finish to the Legislative Session was an oxymoron hasn't been watching the past two weeks. In view of the announced deadline of last evening for the major conference committees to be finished with their work, all of the major panels except for the one dealing with taxes managed to get their work completed. The transportation policy conference committee and the budget reconciliation conference committee did not finish last evening, but finished their work at around 5:00 PM this afternoon. Over the next few days, the House and Senate will be taking up the various conference committee reports produced through the conference committee negotiations, approving them, and sending them to the Governor for either his signature or veto. It would be my guess that most of the major conference committee reports except taxes will be on the Governor's desk by early next week, a full five days before the last day bills can be passed (Saturday, May 17). The Legislature must adjourn on Monday, May 19, but no bills can be passed on the last official day of a biennium.

My tongue wasn't firmly in my cheek when speaking of the relative order with which the session is winding down, but I need to point out that it could be a mad scramble next week if the Governor decides to veto any of the conference committee reports. That would send legislators scrambling for last-minute "vehicle" bills to which provisions can be attached through floor amendments on either the House or Senate floor. It is likely--at least from comments I have heard--that the Governor will veto the education policy bill. There have been rumblings that he isn't particularly enamored with the transportation policy bill as well. But it's anyone's guess what the Governor will do and what the Legislature's reaction will be in light of the Governor's decisions on specific bills.

As I stated in yesterday's report, there are a lot of good provisions scattered in the major policy bills. And even though much of this work is undeniably good policy, not much of it rises to the level major policy initiative. I would not be surprised that if the Governor were to veto a conference committee report that the Legislature would not react with a concerted effort. Individual bill authors and committee chairs in both the House and Senate may try to negotiate limited agreements across legislative bodies, find germane vehicles, and try to move them forward next Friday and Saturday, but that would swing the door wide open for all kinds of hi-jinks by the minority party (the Republicans) aimed at slowing things to a crawl. Partisan, and not pretty, but there is an election in the fall and these kinds of tricks have been played in government since the eviction from the Garden of Eden.

So stay tuned. I will let you know what is going on as we amble toward the finish line.

Budget Accord Reached. As mentioned above, the budget reconciliation conference committee came to agreement this afternoon and put together its final package. In addition to providing a list of cuts, transfers, and use of reserves (and in the case of E-12 education, a small increase in funding), the bill also contains a number of policy initiatives.

Policy initiatives of note include:
  • A new reciprocity formula for school districts calculating aid levels for students in Minnesota who attend schools in adjoining states and vice-versa.
  • The creation of a State Advisory Council on Early Childhood Education and Care.
  • Clarification of ballot language for districts renewing, but not adding to, an existing levy.
  • Extension of the special education task force to examine the differences between federal rules and statutes and Minnesota rules and statutes.
Major funding provisions include:
  • $51 per pupil unit served in one-time money,
  • An increase in the lease levy from $100 per pupil unit to $150 per pupil unit.
  • $275,000 for the Principal's Leadership Institute.
  • Ability for all school districts to transfer up to $51 per its 2007 pupil unit count.
All of this may not seem like much, but in a year when the state is going backward in a big way, getting anything is nothing short of a miracle.

No comments: