Whirlwind Days. The education funding and tax bills are off the floor in both the House and the Senate. Last Friday, the House passed the omnibus education funding and policy bill on a vote of 75-54 with one DFLer voting in favor and no Republicans voting against. The debate on the House floor took about two hours and wasn't as acrimonious as I expected. There weren't many amendments. Part of that is likely due to the small target, which it makes it difficult to move money around in the bill without taking it out of the basic formula. You may recall that last week the House lowered the annual basic formula increase from 1.5% to 1.25% to move money into school readiness to help those districts that are currently participating in the voluntary pre-kindergarten program a soft landing as the program is repealed. The DFLers were likely reluctant to move any further dollars out of that program and into anything else. I should also mention that $11 million was moved into the bill in the Ways and Means Committee to pay for improvements to the transportation sparsity formula.
The discussion of the omnibus education bill took a little longer in the Senate, logging in at about four hours. As was the case in the House, there were no major amendments added to the bill, which passed on a vote of 38-28 (four DFLers supported the bill).
Both the House and Senate omnibus education bills are less than half of what the Governor has requested. The Legislature has set its sites on a big tax cut package and in order to do that, they have had to keep spending in the various areas below the Governor's recommendations. Add to that, the recently-passed and soon-to-become-law health coverage reinsurance plan will take $542 million off the bottom line for the biennium which will make end-of-session negotiations very tight. That said, here's hoping that more will be added to the E-12 budget target and we can get back to the 2% annual increases that the Governor recommended and some additional assistance with solving the TRA funding problem. It will be important for the education community to speak loudly and with a unified voice to get the target where it needs to be.
It was on the Senate tax bill that things got exciting. Senator Matt Klein offered an amendment that would spend $29 million annually on referendum equalization by raising the equalizing factors on the first and second tiers. At that point, Senator Carla Nelson moved to amend the amendment, designating the source of the revenue needed to fund the amendment as local government aid for the city of Minneapolis. That obviously picked a scab and the amendment to the amendment passed by a one vote margin on a straight party-line vote with all DFLers in opposition. The amendment then passed on a 35-32 vote, with three DFLers voting in favor and two Republicans voting against.
The bottom line is that there are now at least place holders for both referendum and debt service equalization in the Senate tax bill. The House has no such provisions, but the Governor does have debt service equalization in his tax recommendations, so equalization is in play and that's all one can ask for.