Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Dust is Settled (For Now).  I've taken a couple of days off to scour through the education articles (Articles 24 through 34) of the 599-page omnibus supplemental appropriations bill.  I outlined the appropriations a couple of days ago, but there is some policy in the bill as well, including changes to testing policy, the addition of a civics test, changes to teacher licensure (and hopes that more will be if the offing), and several provisions dealing with student discipline.  There will be a couple of important working groups meeting over the interim that hopefully will bring reform to teacher licensure (and the creation of a single entity to deal with the issue) and student discipline.  Along with the election, it all adds up to a busy summer.

Process Breakdowns.  I don't know how many of you watched the last night of the legislative session live, but things disintegrated at the end.  It's important to remember this is a human process and when the stakes are high (or at least perceived as high), people are going to push things to the limit (and in this case beyond).  That doesn't mean the process shouldn't be cleaned up.  Given the complicated decision-making process that surrounded the omnibus supplemental budget bill, the Legislature may want to revisit how the budget is assembled in the non-budget year.  And given the time crunch at the end of the session, the Legislature may also want to look at somehow putting tighter deadlines into the joint rules to govern how the end of session unfolds.  Of course, rules can only do so much and given this is an election year with divided government (and a lot of political turmoil nationally) and a fair amount of difference between the parties philosophically, I just think this is how the stars lined up.

We will know in a few weeks whether or not there will be a special session.  Clearly, the Legislature was close on the bonding bill, but one has to ask if that closeness was due to the time constraints the Legislature faced when they crafted the final attempt.  Given the opportunity to step back and re-do both the transportation and bonding bills, things might take on a different hue.  Throw the election into this and it just might be too much to handle if things go on this long and all eyes are focused on one or two bills.

Thanks to All.  I just wanted to close this entry with a hearty thanks to legislators, legislative staff, my fellow lobbyists, SEE members, and all the readers of this blog for the help and support throughout the session.  In the spirit of the music I've been using to sum up things over the past couple of weeks, here we go once again with the great Sam and Dave with the appropriate sentiments.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Highlights of the E-12 Agreement.  The biggest single item both in terms of spending for next year and into the next biennium is the Governor's pre-K initiative.  The program costs $24 million for FY 17 (16-17 school year) and $24 million in each year of the next biennium.  The budget tails number for the next biennium is lower than it was in the Governor's budget and the Senate bill.  Other items in the bill include:
  • $12.1 million in one-time money for student support services grants.
  • $4.9 million in non-metro equity (adjustment in the equity formula so there is no differential between metro and non-metro equity).
  • $4.5 million for staff development for the intermediate districts.
  • $3.0 million for the NW Regional Partnership
  • $2.8 million for Grants for Teachers in Shortage Areas.
  • $2.8 million for Positive Behavior Intervention Supports
  • $2.2 million in Maximum Effort Grandfather Aid ($4.4 million in budget tails for next biennium)
  • $2.0 million for Parent Home Visiting Program
  • $2.0 million for Teacher Loan Forgiveness
  • $2.0 million for Parent Aware
  • $1.5 million for the Tony Sanneh Foundation (Mentorship Partnerships
  • $1.5 million for Girls in Action
  • $1.5 million for Grow Your Own and other Teacher Preparation Programs
  • $1.0 million for MDE IT Security
  • $1.0 million for Reading Corp
  • $1.0 million for Full Service Community Schools
  • $900,000 for the Western Minnesota Manufacturing Lab
  • $775,000 for MDE Operating Increase
  • $500,000 for Innovation Partners Center
  • $500,000 for Education Partnership Grants
  • $500,000 for Teacher Governed Schools
  • $500,000 for Broadband Innovation Grants
  • $430,000 for St. Cloud Early Learning Program
  • $400,000 for ABE Pilot Grants for both the House and Senate ($800,000 total)
  • $385,000 for Southwest Minnesota State University Special Education Teacher Preparation Program
  • $310,000 for Collaborative Urban Educator Program
  • $294,000 for Grant to Glenville-Emmons
  • $270,000 for Indian Education Teacher Preparation Grants
  • $250,000 for Board of Teaching Base Funding Deficiency
  • $250,000 for Graduation Incentives for ELL Students Ages 21 and 22.
  • $250,000 for Agricultural Educators
  • $250,000 for Minnesota Council on Economic Education
  • $240,000 in Current Year to Make QComp Fund Whole
  • $200,000 for Vision Therapy Pilot
  • $150,000 for Race2Reduce (Water Conservation Project)
  • $120,000 for GED Testing
  • $100,000 for Rock and Read Pilot
  • $80,000 for Statewide Educator Job Board
  • $69,000 for Metro Deaf Charter School
  • $50,000 for Headwaters Science Center
  • $50,000 for Promise Neighborhood/Greater Partnerships
  • $1.5 million in FY 19 for Debt Service Equalization (I believe this is the indexing of the Debt Service Equalization Factors contained in Senator Kevin Dahle's SF 2231)
As you can see, lots of relatively small grants and other one-time expenditures.  As I wrote earlier in the session, more Grants than at Bud's family reunion.

Deals Are Coming Together.  Settlement is being reached on most of the components of the omnibus supplemental budget bill.  The conference committee has approved the broadband, agriculture, environment, and public safety portions of the bill.  An agreement on the E-12 budget has also been reached and it is now being put to paper for presentation at some point in the next few hours.  The only thing that we know is in the agreement for sure is the provision in the Senate bill that was promoted by the Governor relating to pre-kindergarten education.  So, we all sit on pins and needles (which will likely help me stay awake).  In the meantime, how about another waiting song, this one from the Lizard King and his bandmates also known as The Doors.  Here we go with "Waiting for the Sun," which many people will likely see as today's session ends sometime early in the AM of Sunday morning.

Things are Slooooooooooowly Coming Together.  Global budget targets have been set and were reported by Senator Bakk in a brief statement to the press.  The overall general fund spending target is $167 million.  Of this amount, $35 million goes to broadband and $24 million goes to the Governor's pre-K initiative.  It is unknown whether or not the $24 million for the Governor's pre-K initiative comes in addition to or as part of the E-12 target.  We have yet to see what the target for E-12 will be.

The Senate and Governor did come down considerably on broadband.  The Governor proposed $100 million and the Senate proposed $85 million.  From what I have heard, the Senate did prevail on the implementing language on broadband, which is viewed as a victory in the eyes of broadband proponents.

Elsewhere, the transportation conference committee has sprung back to life and is hoping to reach an agreement.  I'm curious to see what that might look like.

In the meantime, here's another "waiting" song, this one by that set of 1980s British chanteuses Bananarama, coming at you with "Robert DeNiro's Waiting (Talking Italian).

And in a Bananarama bonus, here's an appropriate title for the last couple of days of the legislative session:  "I Heard a Rumour."

Supplemental Budget Conference Committee Back at Work.  Higher Education Article Finished.  The conference committee on the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill re-convened at 12:45 PM.  It was past high noon, so Gary Cooper didn't stick around.  The higher education article has been approved--both money and language--which would seem to indicate that the budget targets for each of the areas covered in the bill have been reached.  That means a lot of things coming together throughout the day.  I will provide details as they become available.  Meanwhile, speaking of High Noon, how about a listen to "Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darlin'," the Oscar-winning song from the movie.  Don't worry, more "waiting" songs throughout the day.

Is It Soup Yet?  Where's the Lipton Cup o' Soup when you need it?  It's taking a little longer to bring it all to a simmer here. 

The conferees for the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill have been milling around, but we've now been told there won't be a formal meeting until high noon (no idea if Gary Cooper will be here).  So, we're still in wait mode, which means another waiting song.  How about "Waiting for a Star to Fall" by Boy Meets Girl?

Friday, May 20, 2016

We've Got the Slows.  Remember that old Nestle's Quik commercial?  Just about the same thing going on here today after the tax conference committee wrapped up its work for the day.  The agricultural land bond credit I referenced earlier in the day works as follows:  Owners of agricultural property will have 40% of their property tax bill that is attributable to school debt service bonds reduced by a property tax credit.

Other good news today came with the passage of the omnibus elections bill and the partial correction of changes made to election law as it pertains to school board vacancies.  As I understand the bill, school boards will be able to appoint a community member to fill a vacancy on the school board, but that appointment will only be good until the subsequent election day each November.  It was hoped that the law would allow the appointment to last until the next November general election date in an even-numbered year, but compromising at a year seems to split the difference between last year's usurpation of school boards' appointment authority and a longer appointment tenure.

The omnibus supplemental appropriations conference committee will not be meeting tonight, but will be here bright and early at 7 AM tomorrow morning.  I will need my Nestle's Quik.

Back to what you've all come back for.  It's another "waiting" song, this one from the Glimmer Twins (aka Jagger and Richard).  Here's "Waiting on a Friend" from 1981.  I felt as young this morning as Mick Jagger looked in this video.  Alas, I'm dragging a bit right now.

A Big Domino (Not Derek and the Dominos) Falls.  Sorry.  With all the musical allusions this week, I couldn't resist.

The tax conference committee has an agreement and that could be an indication that things will be coming together in the other conference committees shortly.  There is no guarantee of that, but it does create some sense of optimism and optimism has been sorely lacking throughout the session.

The agreement does contain the House provision that provides a credit to owners of agricultural property for the portion of their property tax bill attributable to school debt service.  I have yet to see the language, but according to the spreadsheet, the program would cost approximately $90 million over the next biennium.  This is a provision that SEE strongly supported both last year and this year and it is sorely needed to promote tax fairness in a number of SEE school districts.

No word on whether the omnibus supplemental appropriations conference committee will be meeting today.  Until global targets are set (and they may well be set given that the tax conference committee has its target), it will be difficult for the individual subject areas to know how much money they will be having to work with.  And even if the global target for the supplemental appropriations bill has been set, the target for each individual area will still have to be set.

And now I know you've been waiting for more "waiting" songs.  This comes in as a request from Rich in Medford and it's a long distance dedication to Theresa in Madison, Wisconsin.  The song is "Sitting, Wishing, Waiting" which I assure all of us are doing with glee over here at the Capitol complex.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Hint of Progress.  Call it the Iron Law of Conference Committees:  The more they are meeting publicly, the less that is getting done.  If that is any indication, things are starting to move.  Rumors are abounding (but then again they always are this time of year), but there is talk of targets being set soon, particularly for the tax conference committee.  If one believes that the transportation issue is not going to be resolved, that would leave only bonding and supplemental appropriations left to determine in addition to taxes.  All this points toward a very busy next few days.  Again, all bills have to be passed by 11:59:59 on Sunday, May 22, so the lawn won't get mowed this weekend.

Our next "waiting" song comes from 1986 (check out the hair!) with Nu Shooz' dance hit "I Can't Wait."

Thursday Halftime Report.  Things continue slowly at the Capitol.  The House, like the Senate earlier in the session, failed to pass its bonding bill on the first time through.  Two DFLers voted for the House bonding bill and four Republicans voted against it in an otherwise party-line vote on the final 69-64 tally.  "What?" you say.  "The bill got 69 votes.  Doesn't that mean it passed?"  On an ordinary bill, you would be correct, but the bonding bill requires 60% of the body to vote in favor of it, which translates to 41 votes in the Senate and 81 votes in the House.

There are rumors that leadership is closing in on a target for the tax conference committee, which would break the logjam somewhat, but it's always difficult to discern whether there will be quid pro quos when targets are discussed.  One side may not pass a tax bill unless there is a bonding bill (or something like that).  Stay tuned.

In the fun word department, the dictionary app on my phone provides me with a word of the day every morning, and today's word was "furphy," which is a word most commonly used in Australia whose definition is "rumor."  Kind of appropriate word for the last week of the session.

I'll do double duty with my "waiting" song for this afternoon.  Texas songwriter extraordinaire Guy Clark passed away earlier this week at the age of 74.  Seems like "Desperadoes Waiting for a Train" describes the situation at the Capitol to a tee as we desperate lobbyists are waiting on the legislative train.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

No Budget Conference Committee Today.  The omnibus supplemental budget conference committee did not meet today, but that doesn't mean the Capitol was bereft of action.  Things are happening behind the scenes, but it is way too early to say whether or not true progress is being made.  The chances of an agreement on transportation funding looked better yesterday than today.  The chances for some measure of tax bill also look to have improved.  The question is going to be how much revenue will be dedicated to these purposes if and when an agreement on the overall budget targets is reached.

The House did release their $800 million bonding proposal, but the Senate has yet to pass a bonding bill, so there's a way to go on that package as well.

I don't know where the supplemental budget sits vis-a-vis the other major bills, but even with a deal on transportation looking iffier, there may be a chance to put together a deal on all the other major bills in the absence of an agreement on roads, bridges, and transit.  Transportation has been portrayed as the key to resolving everything, but it may not be the lynchpin that it was advertised to be.

So it's time for another "waiting" video, this one from '80's artist Richard Marx, with "Right Here Waiting (for You)."  I think this will be a lobbyist theme song for the rest of the week with the "you" being the Legislature.  Believe me, we will all be "right there."

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Talks Continue and Budget Conference Committee Meets.  As I reported earlier, the transportation issue seems to be center stage and almost all other action hinges upon the successful negotiation of the funding mechanism and level of the transportation package.  Negotiations went on for most of the day between the Governor, the Speaker of the House, and the Senate Majority Leader as they try to bridge the differences that exist.  The House has flatly rejected any increase in the gas tax and believes that the license fees proposed by the Governor are too steep and cuts the amount raised by that mechanism from $200 million in the Governor's proposal to $100 million.  The House proposal raises the amount taken from the General Fund from $200 million in the Governor's proposal to $300 million.  The House proposal adds $200 million in bonding for roads and bridges as well to reach the $600 million proposed by the Governor.  It is unclear where the Senate is in all of this except to say they are very concerned--as is the Governor--with the amount of money coming out of the General Fund to fund road and bridge projects and transit.

The conference committee on the supplemental budget reconvened this evening and tackled a number of non-budget provisions.  The most controversial item discussed and passed deals with the maximum effort loan program (also known as the capital loan program).  As many of you know, both the House and Senate generated approximately $50 million in spending by anticipating that a small group of districts in the program would choose to repay their loans early, but it is uncertain how many of these districts would actually choose that route.  The conference committee decided to limit one of the advantages of being in the program this evening (perhaps in hopes of persuading these districts to repay their loans), which will certainly be met with resistance from these districts, several of which are members of SEE.  It's certainly something to stay tuned to.

The conference committee will be reconvening tomorrow at some point, but there is some question as to what the final outline of the bill will be and whether or not an omnibus bill consisting solely of language would be pursued.  Just another thing to keep those of us in this business awake at night.

Let's have another "waiting" song.  This one comes from the Kinks with their 1965 hit "Tired of Waiting for You."

Monday, May 16, 2016

Some (But Not Much) Movement.  The omnibus supplemental funding bill conference committee met Sunday night and approved a number of provisions, mostly those that are either the same in each bill or quite similar.  There were a few provisions approved that were not in both bills, but they fall into the category of non-controversial.

The big news today was the Governor's presentation of two proposals to try to break the logjam on the transportation issue.  One with a gas tax increase of 5 cents per gallon and one with no gas tax increase.  The House has made it clear that they will not pass a transportation funding bill that contains a gas tax increase, which puts all eyes on the Governor's second proposal.  Both proposals raise license tab fees considerably (increases which the House has voiced concern over) and also use general fund revenue to fund highway projects.  Both proposals come at $600 million for roads and bridges and $280 million for transit on an annual basis for ten years.  The problem is that the hit to the general fund is $200 million per year and that revenue could be used for a variety of purposes that could rely on general fund revenue--including education.

Here is a link to the Governor's proposals:  Governor Dayton's Transportation Proposals

In other developments, a "shell" vehicle has been found that could accommodate a bonding bill.  A "shell" vehicle is a bill passed by one body, but sitting idle in the other.  That means a Senate file passed by the Senate and sitting in a House committee (or on the House floor) or vice-versa.  The bill is then amended with pre-agreed provisions and passed by the body.  Because the bill has been amended, the bill has to be re-passed by the house of origin before it can be sent to the Governor for signature.  I just bet none of you ever had this described in your high school civics class.  The bonding bill was one of the most oft-stated goals of the Legislature this year and so I would not be surprised if something got done.  Of course, it will have to get done quickly.

It's a little after 10 PM right now and I'm waiting to see if the conference committee will convene this evening.  House is taking up a number of bills on the floor and we may have to wait until tomorrow for the excitement to pick up again.

Supplemental Budget Conference Committee Scheduled for Today.  With less than 168 hours until the last bill can be passed, the supplemental budget conference committee is heading back into public deliberations in the next hour.  It is difficult to know what will be covered and how much progress will be made.  It appears that the lynchpin is the transportation issue.  At least that is what was reported in the StarTribune yesterday.   There is a lot of ground to cover, but as I waxed last week, with the technology available today, bills can be thrown together very quickly.  It doesn't leave a lot of time for floor debate or public input, but I'm getting ahead of myself.  There's no indication yet of what the various targets will be for any areas of the budget due to uncertainty surrounding the size of what a transportation package might cost.  If and when that decision is made, taxes and bonding would likely be next in line in the determination of targets with the supplemental bill number falling in after that.  Makes for an interesting process.

Here is a link to the StarTribune article on the transportation negotiations:  Budget Negotiations Article

So, as we continue down the path toward the end of the session, how about another song with "wait" in the title from Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Hall & Oates:

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Discussions Continue.  The conference committee finally completed a review of both bills and discussed issues relating to the higher education and corrections budgets in question-and-answer sessions with the state agencies the oversee those particular operations of state government.  It's unclear if and when the conference committee will reconvene tomorrow and what subjects they will tackle in the event that they do.

In the meantime, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers sum it up better than just about anyone when describing the life of a lobbyist at this juncture of the legislative session.

Yes, the waiting is the hardest part.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Walk-Through Is Complete.  At least the education portion of the conference committee's discussion of differences between the House and Senate versions has been completed.  The conference committee finished that discussion this afternoon before turning to an explanation of differences in other areas of the budget, particularly health and human services.  With targets for all aspects of the proceedings--taxes, spending, and bonding--yet to be determined.

One aspect that gets lost in a lot of the discussion is the role that technology plays in the legislative process these days.  I often feel like an old codger sitting around talking about the old days (but I AM an old codger who sits around talking about the old days), but in an earlier era, targets had to be given to conference committees with about two weeks left in the process because after the final decisions were made, it took several days for a bill to be put together.  With the advent of word processing, it doesn't take that long to put the finishing touches on a bill and get it produced in a much shorter time frame.  That simply lengthens the amount of time that goes into the negotiation process, both in terms of the budget targets provided to each conference committee and then to the negotiations between the House and Senate on individual spending initiatives.  Whether or not that has an effect on the final product this year remains to be seen, but I don't expect any big decisions to be made before early next week.

Story from The American Prospect.  The left-of-center periodical The American Prospect has been writing a lot about education recently and here is a story from today's on-line edition about school integration.

Learning from History: The Prospects for School Desegregation

Monday, May 09, 2016

Conference Committee Kicks Off Its Work.  The omnibus supplemental budget bill conference committee began its work today with a review of what is contained in each of the bills.  It doesn't appear that all of the provisions in each bill will be presented today simply because there is so much material in both bills.  The question of how the Senate omnibus education policy bill--which was traveling separately--will be handled has been answered.  The provisions of SF 2744 will be discussed in the negotiations of the omnibus supplemental budget bill.  In other words, we'll be lifting the final bill with a forklift.

The Legislature must finish its work by Sunday, May 22.  The Legislature must adjourn on Monday, May 23, but the Minnesota Constitution prohibits the passage of bills on the last day in which the Legislature can meet.  With the fishing opener this coming weekend, that means the weekdays from here on out will be dedicated to conference committee proceedings.  The Senate's failure to pass its bonding bill has thrown a bit of a wrench into the works, but it wouldn't be a surprise if the Senate revisited the issue by scaling down their bonding bill and picking up the additional Republican vote they need to pass their bonding bill off the Senate floor.  The bonding bill requires 60% of the Senate's 67 members (or 41 votes) instead of a simple majority in order to pass and that requires some members of the minority caucus to support the bill this year.

So it's going to be a sprint to the end and I'll try to keep you posted as things become known.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Close But No Cigar on the Senate Conferees.  I was 3 out of 5 with my predictions this morning for the Senate conferees on the omnibus supplemental budget bill.  3 out of 5 will get you in the baseball Hall of Fame as a hitter, but it would make you a below average free throw shooter in the NBA.  At any rate, the Senate has named its conferees and they are as follows:

Senator Richard Cohen-Chair of Senate Finance Committee
Senator Chuck Wiger-Chair of Education Finance Division
Senator Tony Lourey-Chair of the House and Human Services Budget Division
Senator Tom Saxhaug-Chair of the State Departments Budget Divsion
Senator Michelle Fishbach-Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Finance Committee
It's Been a Whole Week.  Because there hasn't been a lot to report on the legislative front.  No truth to the rumor that the Donald has offered me the Secretary of Education spot in his presumptive cabinet.  But make no mistake, I would be YUGE in that position and America would love me.

Seriously, the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill passed both houses and the House named its conferees yesterday.  They are:

Representative Jim Knoblach-Chair of the Ways and Means Committee
Representative Jenifer Loon-Chair of the Education Finance Committee
Representative Pat Garofalo-Chair of the Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee
Chair-Health and Human Services Finance Committee
Representative Denny McNamara-Chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee

I would expect that when the Senate names its conferees, it will mirror the same funding divisions as those represented among the House conferees.  That would mean Senators Cohen, Wiger, Lourey, Tomassoni, and Marty, but that is mere guesswork on my part.  The Senate should be naming its conferees at some point today and I will post them with links to their legislative web page when that happens.

Hard to know what will happen as this all plays out.  The Governor added $50 million to his education package last week by incorporating the maximum effort early pay-off bill into his recommendations.  As has been reported before, that generates approximately $50 million.  The Governor's revised request included the $13.1 million in the Senate bill for the Student Support Services grant program with the remaining $37 million going to facilities for school-based early childhood programs.

I will let you know how things unfold.