When the committee deadlines were set, with the budget bills due out before the policy committee deadlines in an extremely rare move, I thought that the legislative strategy would be to deliver scaled-down budget bills to the Governor without including a heavy dose of policy provisions and force him to consider vetoing the entire set of legislative budget bills. As was made clear by legislative leadership when they presented their budget targets, the House and Senate intend to pass their budget plan without a tax increase and I thought (there I go thinking again) that would constitute an opportunity for the Legislature to differentiate its approach from the Governor's without cluttering the budget bills with a raft of policy initiatives. In a year when everyone is guessing, I guessed wrong (Hey! We're all allowed one per session.)
That's not to say that the policy initiatives aren't comprehensive. I'll be spending the next few blog entries going over some of the major policy issues before the education committees this session. They generally come from the conservative side of the education policy spectrum and deal with issues like mandate relief, accountability, employee relations, teacher quality, and expanded school choice opportunities.
Speaking of Targets. The House and Senate Majority caucuses announced their budget targets last week and, as stated earlier, their proposed budget recommendations do not include any state tax increases. This is the largest difference between the Legislature and the Governor as they seek to find accord on Minnesota's fiscal problem. This amounts to a difference of about $3 billion, the amount of the spending difference between the Legislature and the Governor and slightly more than the amount of the Governor's proposed tax increases.
For K-12 education, the target news is very good. Given a $5 billion revenue shortfall, there was widespread concern that considerable cuts to the K-12 budget would have to be enacted to balance the budget, especially because of the evaporation of the federal stimulus package revenue that back-filled cuts to education spending last biennium. That didn't turn out to be the case, as the House and Senate target for K-12 education came in just under $14.2 billion for the biennium, approximately $11 million less than the Governor's proposed spending. One point of agreement between both Houses of the Legislature and the Governor is a continuation of the education aid payment shift at a 70%/30% rate, putting a $1.4 billion dent--just short of 30%-- in the revenue shortfall.
That doesn't mean that there won't be major differences between how the Legislature reacts to the Governor's education budget and the resulting array of changes from current funding streams that the Legislature may enact. There has been some chatter, most of it below the radar, that the integration program will be radically changed with revenue re-distributed. It is highly doubtful that the Governor would ever endorse such a move, but that won't stop the Legislature from running it up the flagpole. There has also been talk of re-vamping the compensatory education program, which would divert money onto the basic formula (or some other formula) from districts with high levels (and sometimes high concentrations) of families with students who qualify for free-or-reduced price lunch.
All of this will be coming to a head over the next week. As I stated above, the budget bills have to be out of their funding divisions by Friday, March 25. That means the discussion will be shifting toward budget bills over the next few days. I'll be reporting on those proceedings regularly as well as providing updates on the policy debates that have been receiving attention over the past week.
Here is a link showing the House budget targets (the Senate K-12 target is identical at this point): http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/fiscal/files/targets11.pdf