Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday Afternoon Report. Not a whole lot new on the overall budget front. The Governor seems intent on allowing the Legislature to adjourn without an agreement on the revenue end of the budget equation. Instead of an agreement, the Governor appears to be comfortable taking the task on himself and balancing the budget through payment delays and unallotments. There may (or may not) be negotiations taking place as I write, but as was just pointed out to me, we've got a whole 72 hours left, so why hurry (Not trying to be a smarty-pants with that comment. I've seen more done in less time in this place, so neither side is panicking yet.)?

Pension Bill in Senate. The pension bill is up on the Senate floor right now and Senator Claire Robling (R-Jordan) just successfully had an amendment attached a bill that would eliminate the enhancement in teacher retirement benefits through both employer and employee contributions. The increase in employer contributions would go to fund the deficiency currently existing in the teacher pension funds and the employee contribution would go to enhancing benefits. Under the Robling amendment, the contribution rate for both employees and employers would be cut from 2% to 1% to fully fund the plan without benefit increases. It passed on a vote of 29-27 (on a "standing division," basically the same thing as a show of hands although those voting for one side or the other stand at their desks).

Now, in the monkey wrench department, a group of Senators who were in a conference committee and not informed of the floor vote on the amendment are pressing for a re-vote on the matter. Sounds simple, but the complaint was raised after the bill was given its 3rd reading, the procedural step that puts the bill on the docket for final passage. Usually, bills cannot be brought back before the body for purposes of amendment after third reading.

The legal eagles and rule interpreters are now debating whether or not the bill can be brought back before the body. Senator Pogemiller has moved to bring the bill back before the body, the Chair (currently Senator Dan Skogen) ruled that motion in order, and a roll call appealing the ruling of the chair moved by Senator David Senjem is now taking place. The ruling of the chair has been upheld on a vote of 43-20 and now a roll call is being taken on the Pogemiller motion. That motion has passed on a vote of 41-22. Senator Mary Olson (DFL-Bemidji) is now moving to reconsider the Robling amendment out of courtesy for those who were on unable to vote. That motion has passed on a 45-20 vote and the amendment is back before the body.

Debate on the Robling amendment is now proceeding and things are getting spicy. And now, the roll call. . . . . .and the amendment fails on a roll call vote of 31-34, meaning the higher contribution rates and enhanced benefits back into the bill.

Senator Rosen has now moved to strike the entire Article relating to teacher pensions, which would leave employer and employee contribution rates at the same level and leaving the teacher retirement plan underfunded in the process. The roll is being taken on the Rosen amendment and it is defeated on a vote of 23-38.

The bill has passed on a vote of 43-22. Make no mistake, the increase in the employer's share is going to take money out of classrooms.

That's all for now. I'll be back later if and when the Teacher Health Care bill hits the House floor.

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