Thursday, April 14, 2011

Quick Conference Committee Update. The conference committee has met twice, opening its deliberations on Tuesday, April 12. The Senate named its conferees on Monday after a slight delay in the process. The Senate conferees are: Senate Education Chair Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista), Senate Education Vice-Chair Carla Nelson (R-Rochester), Senator Dave Thompson (R-Lakeville), Senator Benjamin Kruse (R-Brooklyn Park) and Senator Pam Wolf (R-Spring Lake Park).

Both conference committee meetings were relatively short, with neither going two hours. To this point, the proceedings have all been dedicated to going through the bills and describing where they are similar or different. Fiscal staff also went through the budget appropriations and levy sheets.

The session has taken a bit of a different turn. When the session began, I thought the new Republican-controlled Legislature would pass the budget bills early and get them on Governor Dayton's desk by April 15. I guess I was channeling my long-languishing "inner political hack" and those muscles have atrophied to a great extent. It just seemed that with the Republicans adamantly stating that their budget solution would contain no tax increases, that the April 15 tax filing deadline appeared to be great day to make a point by putting a stack of appropriations bills on the Governor's desk and saying something to the effect: "Minnesotans are filing their taxes today and they are taxed enough. We are putting these bills on the Governor's desk in a way that does not raise taxes to make sure we don't become more uncompetitive when it comes to taxation."

But then something happened and the legislative majorities changed their strategy. The pace has changed and the conference committee chairs in both houses have decided to keep the conference committee process open for input from the Governor. There hasn't been much input yet, but once the Legislature returns from its break for the spring religious holidays on April 26, I expect the process will accelerate a bit.

One stumbling block has been the Governor Dayton's insistence that the budget solution be done in a comprehensive manner and not with a piece-meal approach. He hasn't described what exactly a comprehensive approach looks like, but it's my guess that he wants to balance revenue and expenditures at once, set the various budget area targets, and work toward a final package of appropriations bills.

Below is a MinnPost story from earlier this week outlining Republican leadership's outline of how they believe the conference committee process will unfold:

History Standards Review. I came across a brief article in The Economist about a month ago talking about the importance of teaching history to high school students. I can't link the article because it is copyrighted material that requires a subscription to view, but the article contained a reference to a report from the Fordham Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank, in which 28 states received either a "D" or an "F" for their grade. Minnesota got to average with a "C" and the review of the standards contains some interesting, if not entirely unexpected, comments.

Links to individual state reviews are midway down the page.

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