Monday, April 25, 2011

We Are Now Starting the Bell Lap. I ran high school track. I was a reasonably good quarter-miler and was a decent 220 man. But once or twice a year, my high school track coach would get this sadistic idea that I would best serve the team's interest if I ran the mile (an idea that would be proven wrong on an annual basis). For those of you who are unfamiliar with the nuances of track, the final lap of any race is the "bell" (or "gun") lap because when the lead runner starts the last lap, the official will ring a bell (or shoot a gun--a starting gun--no conceal and carry permit needed) to inform the fans that it's time to pay attention because the next time the runners come around, the race will be finishing.

Why this story, you ask? We are now starting the bell lap of the legislative session. It's been an interesting race to this point, but four weeks from today the regular session is slated to end and--as a lot of track fans out there know--there's a lot of jockeying for position and strategy that takes place in that final lap.

At this point, I have a difficult time believing that the session will be wrapped up by the constitutionally-mandated adjournment date of Monday, May 23 at 11:59:59 PM. There's just too much to cover in too short a time. A story in Saturday's StarTribune reported that the Governor is having on-going breakfast meetings with legislative leadership and while there appears to be a greater understanding of what has yet to be surmounted, there is little indication that either side is ready to budge. Of course, willingness to budge (on both sides) will likely increase as the clock ticks louder, but we are going to need to close a $5 billion (slightly less than $4 billion when the education funding shift is taken into account and all sides appear to agree that will be done) in a month and that is going to require either a general tax increase (which the Legislature is resisting) or deeper cuts to the Human Services budget than the Governor appears willing to swallow.

As I have reported several times, I thought the Legislature would have sent a raft of budget proposals to the Governor and force him to veto them in order to firm up their position going into the final negotiations, but that strategy never materialized and the Legislature now appears to be keeping the remaining conference committees open and will negotiate with the Governor on the issues before these committees throughout the remainder of the session. Conference committees will begin meeting again these week. I will keep you posted.

Policy Up Next. When the Legislature returns tomorrow, policy committees in both the House and Senate will be picking up the baton and sprinting (yet another track analogy) until the policy committee deadline of May 6. Both the House and Senate have a considerable number of policy initiatives in their omnibus budget bills and it's unclear whether those provisions will remain in the realm of the omnibus education funding conference committee or if the policy provisions will be transferred into an omnibus education policy bill. At any rate, there are a number of education policy measures that remain to be heard, including the Minnesota Department of Education's policy bill, which is largely populated with non-controversial housekeeping measures. There will also be discussion of special education mandates, especially those Minnesota provisions that go beyond federal statute and rule. I will keep you posted on the progress of these meetings and whether the bills heard at the committee level will proceed on their own through the process or be folded into a larger omnibus education policy bill.

Important Visitor Coming to Minnesota Tomorrow. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush will be visiting Minnesota yesterday as a guest of the Minnesota Business Partnership to discuss some of the reforms enacted during his tenure as Florida's Governor. The Legislature has been somewhat obsessed with Florida since the publishing of a column in the StarTribune by Katherine Kersten outlining some of the measures enacted in Florida over the past fifteen years to boost student achievement. There is no question that what Florida has accomplished in terms of closing the achievement gap, but Florida's graduation rate is still among the lowest in the nation. I will be interested to hear Governor Bush's comments and to see whether they have any effect on the legislative proceedings as the session winds down.

Policy Up Next.

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