Wednesday, April 14, 2010

It's Been Awhile. . .and Nothing Has Really Changed. Sorry about being absent so long. Things were hectic in March as the various education-related committees made their annual efforts to hear just about every education bill introduced during the session. These bills had their day in court and were taken back to their holding cells, where most of them will remain until next session. It's just been a pattern over the past decade or so to hear bills even though the committee has little, if any, interest in pursuing the proposed legislation seriously. Makes for some long nights and interesting discussion. Paraphrasing Shakespeare, "full of sound and fury, signifying not a whole lot."

We are now well beyond the third deadline, when it was anticipated that the omnibus education bills would be rolled out to the public. Not that it makes that much of a difference. If a committee goes past deadline, the bill that emerges from committee simply has to go to the Committee on Rules and Administration, where it is given a tardy slip and sent on its way.

The main reason for the delay is that the Governor and Legislature are waiting to see how the passage of the health care legislation will affect the state's bottom line for the remainder of this biennium. The Governor's budget proposal estimated that passage of the health care bill would improve the state's budget situation by $387 billion. How much that will change is anyone's guess. As someone pointed out to me the other day, the federal health care bill is in the neighborhood of a trillion dollars, which makes anything as innocent as a rounding error a pretty hefty chunk of change.

If the estimates hold up, K-12 will likely be spared from any cuts this year, but it will be a brief respite as things promise to be all shades of ugly for the next two biennia. One of the little-noted facts about the February forecast was that although the short-term budget picture got better, the long-term budget picture got worse. So, as Bette Davis once uttered in "All About Eve," "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night."

The state political conventions have also thrown a bit of a monkey wrench into the late stages of the 2010 Legislative Session. The DFL convention will take place Friday through Sunday next week, on April 23 through April 25 with the Republican Convention being held the next week. Rumor has it (everything is rumor these days) the Legislature is going to work short weeks each of the next two weeks to allow legislators to attend their respective state conventions. I can only imagine there will be some mention of this as the Legislature "slacking off," but there really isn't a whole lot to do right now until the final federal numbers relating to the health care package are determined. Once that amount is gauged, things are probably going to move fairly quickly.

The National Scene. If you're looking for a preview of what next session might look like, take a gander at what is happening in New Jersey. Newly-elected Governor Christopher Christie cut nearly half a billion dollars in previously-approved aid to school districts in early March and then unveiled a budget that would cut schools by an additional $820 million. All of this has led to some fairly snarky goings-on and some nasty exchanges between the New Jersey Governor and the New Jersey Education Association.

One of the real ironies here--and it is a very sad irony--is that the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that after over three decades of wrangling in the courts and over a decade of trying to meet the requirements set out in the Abbott vs. Burke decision. Funding decisions made during the last year of former Governor Corzine's tenure and the first year of Governor Christie's tenure have totally eroded the promised gains of that litigation. As Arsenio Hall used to say, "Things that make you go, 'Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm.'"

I'll leave it at that for this entry. I will be more assiduous with my blogging as the Legislative Session winds down to its end. Again, never hesitate to give me a call if you want to talk about anything. I can be reached at 612-220-7459 and, of course, at my e-mail of

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