Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Oops!!!!! I am not a dunce, but last night I predicted that today's hearing in the Senate E-12 Finance Committee that covered the omnibus education funding and policy bill would be a snoozer and sakes alive was I ever wrong. As with every hearing like this, the minority caucus offers amendments. In the modern era of legislative activity replete with budget targets, it is difficult for the minority to mount much of a challenge against the expenditures in the bill because the bill must remain reconciled to the committee's budget target. That means that revenue must be found in one portion of the bill to fund the amendments offered by the minority. Things were going on swimmingly. The minority caucus offered mild criticism of the bill and pointed out the programs in the Governor's budget that were funded with the $400 million in revenue above what it in the Senate bill. It was then that a string of amendments were offered by the minority and after each offering, the majority offered an amendment to the minority amendment that "found" the money to fund the initiative. Needless to say, some of the spending categories used to fund the amendments that eventually passed were not particularly popular with the minority, especially the deep cuts to the Minnesota Department of Education. I wouldn't say voices were raised, but there was a tension in the air that I wasn't expecting.
I always have to remind myself that some days I forget how old I am. Having been around the Legislature as long as I have, I tend to remember an era before the advent of budget resolutions with overall budget targets not being set until bills got into conference committees. In that era, members of the minority caucus would offer scads of amendments all with the intention of making the majority look bad by proposing to spend money well beyond what the majority intended to--but was not bound to--spend. Committee meetings and floor sessions would go on seemingly endlessly and more paper than could be produced from a couple of Sequoia Redwoods was generated. For the past couple of decades, budget resolutions that are set before the omnibus spending bills are developed gives the majority a formal mechanism to rule anything that violates the committee target out of order. It has truncated the process greatly and there are is both good and bad in that fact (at least from my vantage point).
The difference between the House and Senate proceedings and the amendments offered in the House is that the minority had a couple of target appropriations they zeroed in on to move money toward other programs. The Senate bill had no such zone the minority could tap into from which they could offer amendments without complication.
Speaking of the House bill, in the Tax Committee yesterday, an amendment was offered by Representative Loon--the bill's chief author--and subsequently adopted that dropped the basic formula increase from 1.5% per year to 1.25% with the revenue generated from the decrease directed toward the school readiness program for districts currently participating in the voluntary pre-kindergarten program. The revenue would only be available this biennium and would allow for a soft landing in these districts as the House bill repeals the voluntary pre-kindergarten program.
The Senate releases its tax bill tomorrow and it is hoped that there will be some equalization in the bill. I will report on that once it is confirmed.