Global Agreement Reached. The Governor and legislative leadership reached accord on the parameters of the budget for the coming biennium. The plan features $2 billion in tax increases (income, tobacco, and probably alcohol) and a $475 million target for the E-12 education budget. It also contains a temporary surtax on high income earners that will be used to pay back the school shift, a high priority for the House DFL caucus.
Here is a StarTribune article that outlines the agreement: http://www.startribune.com/local/207121531.html
Home Stretch. It’s the time of the year when I start dusting off the analogies to describe how the legislative process operates as it enters the stage when conference committees on the major budget and policy bills start to put together the final versions of these bills for final legislative approval. As a refresher, it’s important to remember that each legislative body assembles its version of a bill and those bills, especially in the case of the major budget bills, are rarely identical. This necessitates the conference committee process—a body composed of representation from both legislative bodies (including the chairs of the budget committee whose jurisdiction covers the bill)—in which the final version of the bill is developed through a set of compromises. I don’t know if you covered this in your ninth grade civics class (or if you even had ninth grade civics), but a bill must pass both houses of the legislature in exactly the same form (and when I mean exact, I mean exact) before it can be sent to the Governor either for his signature or veto.
Enough with the civics lesson, it’s time for the analogy. Think of the legislative session as you planning your Thanksgiving dinner. You probably start out by thinking what you want to serve. You think about how many people are going to be at dinner and how big a turkey you are going to need to buy. You think about what you want to serve for side dishes and what recipes you are going to use. Now imagine that another family member has decided to help out, but they have their own special stuffing recipe that you don’t particularly care for that they insist on using in the turkey. You balk, but relent after agreeing with the family member that you will stuff the turkey with their recipe and your recipe. You then buy the turkey and on Thanksgiving Day, you and your sibling stuff the turkey simultaneously with your respective recipes.
We’ve reached the time in the legislative session that the size of the turkey has been determined. The tax increases agreed upon by legislative leadership and the Governor have allowed the purchase of a big old twenty-five pound Butterball © and over the next few days, it is going to get stuffed with legislative “ingredients,” namely provisions on spending and policy. In the end, because both recipes have been used and cooked into one turkey, the meal will be identical for all the guests that arrive instead of having one turkey with one dressing recipe and one turkey with a different dressing recipe.
Have I tortured this analogy enough (please say “yes”)? At any rate, the informal deadline for completion of the bill is Thursday at midnight and the negotiations will undoubtedly result in a package that contains both the House and Senate recipes. As I said earlier, the package of tax increases that have been agreed upon will provide a sizeable budget target of $475 million for the conference committee.
As I said, the bill will likely be finished by late Thursday (May 16) and it will feature a commitment to voluntary all-day/every-day kindergarten and an increase (perhaps as large as 2% in each year of the biennium) in the general education formula basic amount. There will also be a commitment to the early childhood scholarship program promoted by the MinneMinds coalition which looks to be about $40 million over the biennium. In the policy realm, there will be a new assessment system that eliminates the 11th grade MATH grad and replaces it with a suite of assessments that will hopefully ensure college and career readiness. The House provision known as "Minnesota's World's Best Workforce," will also likely be part of the final package in some form.
Tax Bill. The tax bill will also be put together over the next few days and if there is going to be increased referendum equalization (and there likely will be), it will be the product of those discussions and not the discussions on the E-12 bill. Senator Rod Skoe has been promoting increased equalization all session long and it appears at this point that resources will exist to do something considerable in this area. One possible negative that exists is the proposed referendum freeze that would prevent districts seeking to increase their referendum this fall. While districts that have already passed a resolution stating their intent to put a question on the ballot in November are exempt from the freeze, there are many more districts that are likely interested in going before the voters this fall and this issue will have to be discussed and the restriction either eased or eliminated. Another potential problem springs from the fact that equalization aid currently follows students to the serving district under open enrollment or charter school law. This could prove extremely problematic, as an equalization increase would result in a district losing money. Just more things to consider in the thicket-laden world of education funding.