Monday, December 28, 2009

Race to the Top: Report released

Postsecondary Collaboration in Race to the Top
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009's Saving and Creating Jobs and Reforming Education fund provides "Race to the Top" competitive funds to improve statewide education quality and to drive substantial gains in student achievement Achieve (an independent, bipartisan, non-profit education reform organization based in Washington, D.C.) has created a Race to the Top Higher Education Tip Sheet. Link to the tip sheet here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bonding hearings announced; President signs appropriations; Congress works on Jobs bill; Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility update

Bonding hearings scheduled prior to the start of session with the hopes of an early bonding bill

Lawmakers have been busy this fall traveling the state to gain a better understanding of the bonding projects being requested this upcoming session. The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities campuses have collectively hosted the House and Senate Capital Investment committees and Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Tom Hanson at more than 50 visits.

The 2010 legislative session does not convene until Feb. 4, but bonding presentations will begin next month at the Capitol. The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system is scheduled to present its $396.8 million bonding request to the Senate Higher Education Budget and Policy Division Tuesday, Jan. 12. The system is scheduled to be before the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Finance and Policy Division the last week of January (details are still yet to be confirmed). Once the higher education committees hear the bonding request, they will make a recommendation to the Capital Investment committees early in session.

Legislators have said they hope to pass a large bonding bill early in the 2010 legislative session in order to help the state’s slumping economy. Lawmakers are hoping the passage of a capital investment bill early in the session would put more people back to work.

You may view the complete Minnesota State Colleges and Universities 2010 capital budget request here.

President signs the consolidated appropriations bill

Late last week, the House and Senate passed the FY2010 consolidated appropriations bill that combines the Transportation; Commerce, Justice, Science; Financial Services; Labor-Health-Education; Military Construction, Veterans Affairs; and State Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. Total funding for the six appropriations bills is $446.8 billion. President Obama signed the bill into law Dec. 16.

Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Congressman Dave Obey, D-WI, said, "The bill before us today is one of the key measures Congress will pass this year to help provide relief for millions of hard-working Americans caught in a struggle for economic survival."

Highlights of the bill include nearly $110 billion to meet veterans needs, including the expansion of the GI Bill education benefits. There is also funding to help veterans transition to civilian workforce, including $6 million for a new college-based Centers of Excellence for Veterans Success initiative by the Education Department to provide academic, counseling and support services for veterans seeking to use their new GI education benefits.

The bill also funds the Dislocated Worker Employment and Training program at $1.4 billion, a 5.3 percent increase over last year, for training and support services for workers affected by mass layoffs and plant closures. $125 million is included for competitive grants to community colleges and local adult education providers to prepare workers for careers in high-demand and emerging industries. Also included is $103 million for YouthBuild and $1.7 billion for Job Corps, to provide training, counseling and educational opportunities to low-income kids.

The bill includes $400 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund, which supports school districts and states aimed at rewarding effective teachers and schools through compensation systems tied to student achievement results. Also included is $256 million to support the start-up of over 1,300 new charter schools in FY2010. And $250 million is included to transform Striving Readers into a new comprehensive literacy initiative from pre-K through grade 12 to help struggling students build their literacy skills and improve the integration of reading initiatives across the Dept. of Education.

The bill includes $17.495 billion to maintain the discretionary portion of the maximum Pell Grant award at $4,860, which, combined with a mandatory supplement of $690, is a $5,550 maximum Pell Grant in FY2010. This is an increase of $200 over FY2009 levels. $853 million is appropriated for TRIO programs ($5 million increase) and $323 million for GEAR UP ($10 million increase) to assist approximately 1.6 million disadvantaged and first-generation students prepare for, enter, and complete college.

$603 million is appropriated to strengthen the capacity of Historically Black and Predominantly black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges and Universities and Native American-serving Institutions, Asian Pacific Islander, and Native American Institutions. In addition, the bill provides for $178 million in new loan guarantees for Historically Black College and University facilities.

Adult Education received $628 million (an increase of $74 million), while Perkins Career and Technical Education funding remained flat at FY2009 levels. The bill also supports President Obama's commitment to increase the funding for scientific research and provides nearly $7 billion ($436 million increase) to the National Science Foundation. And $31 billion was included for the National Institutes of Health for biomedical research.

And the bill includes $244 million for nurse training (an increase of $73 million). The Health Resources and Services Administration estimates that the nation's nursing shortage will grow to more than one million nurses by the year 2020.

Congress works on "Jobs for Main Street" bill

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the "Jobs for Main Street Act, 2010" Wednesday by a narrow vote of 217-212. The bill includes $154 billion in funding for a number of initiatives aimed at creating or retaining jobs and extends unemployment insurance and other crucial safety net programs. The Senate is not expected to take up the bill until after the new year.

The American Association of Community Colleges reports that there is $23 billion in the bill dedicated to the Education Jobs Fund. These funds would go to the states under provisions established in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) State Fiscal Stabilization Fund. Of the funds that go to the states, at least 95 percent must be allocated to elementary, secondary and public higher education to help retain and provide on-the-job training to existing employees, and hire new employees to provide educational or related services or for modernization, renovation and repair of facilities.

Governors would have discretion on how to allocate these funds within the states, but would be required to do so in proportion to any reductions in state funds for elementary and secondary education and public institutions of higher education.

The bill also provides $1.25 billion of additional funding for Department of Labor training programs. $500 million of this total would be earmarked for summer youth employment programs and $750 million would go to competitive grants for worker training in high growth and emerging industry sectors.

Upon passage of the bill by the House, President Obama said, "All over our country this holiday season, Americans who lost their jobs in the Great Recession are looking for work. Today the House answered with some productive ideas to respond to this great need, offering new initiatives including repairing our roads and bridges, providing relief to Americans who have lost their jobs and preventing layoffs at the state and local level."

Update on Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act

In September we reported that the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which contains the community college initiative, guaranteed increases in the Pell Grant maximum, and changes in financial aid, such as simplifying the FAFSA form. Funding is available for these initiatives and others in the bill, by requiring that all institutions begin participating in the Direct Loan program by July 2010. There has been an estimated $80 billion cost savings over 10 years from moving to the Direct Loan program.

The Senate has been working on its version of the bill, but it is likely there will be no Senate action until the new year.

Conversation with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met with American Association of State Colleges and Universities presidents and chancellors late November at the AASCU Annual Meeting. The Secretary communicated the Administration priorities as they relate to public higher education and encouraged presidents and chancellors to engage in a dialogue regarding policy issues of mutual interest. You may view this conversation here.

Postsecondary collaboration in Race to the Top

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009's Saving and Creating Jobs and Reforming Education fund provides "Race to the Top" competitive funds to improve statewide education quality and to drive substantial gains in student achievement. Achieve (an independent, bipartisan, non-profit education reform organization based in Washington, D.C.) has created a Race to the Top Higher Education Tip Sheet. You may view that sheet here.

Legislative Commission addresses budget

The Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy’s Subcommittee on a Balanced Budget has been meeting to address the state's budget and the forecasted deficit. As a reminder, a $1.203 billion deficit is being projected for the FY2010-2011 biennium due to an extended weakness in the economy. For the next biennium, 2012-13, a $5.426 billion deficit is being projected.

According to Senate Lead Fiscal Analyst Matt Massman, and House Chief Fiscal Analyst Bill Marx, a 7.6 percent cut would be needed to solve an estimated $1.2 billion deficit in FY2011. If that cut was made permanent, the state would still need to cut an additional $3 billion, or 8.9 percent, in fiscal years 2012 and 2013. Legislators and the governor will begin putting forth budget recommendations in order to solve the deficit.

You may review the complete forecast materials here.

Special election to be held Jan. 26

Sen. Dick Day, R-Owatonna, is stepping down after 19 years in the Senate to lobby for state-backed racetrack gambling. He will become president of Racino Now, a group funded by horse owners to push for slot machines at Canterbury Park and Running Aces Harness Park.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has set the special election for Sen. Day's seat for January 26. If a special primary election is necessary, it will be held Jan. 12, 2010.

Government Relations goes virtual

Find up-to-the-minute information on legislative happenings on the government relations facebook page,
twitter, or the government relations blog. These virtual ports are designed to keep folks updated about legislative happenings as they relate to higher education.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

State budget released

A $1.203 billion deficit is being projected for the FY2010-2011 biennium due to an extended weakness in the economy. Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Tom Hanson said this morning that the story of the forecast is unemployment is up and wages are dramatically down. Hanson said 70 percent of the $1.203 deficit is a result of a decline in income tax.

For the next biennium, 2012-13, a $5.426 billion deficit is being projected. This reflects many one-time solutions, including the federal stimulus funds that do not continue beyond fiscal year 2011.

You may review the complete forecast, along with the press conference handouts here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Conversation with The Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met with American Association of State Colleges and Universities presidents and chancellors on Tuesday, November 24 at the AASCU Annual Meeting, The Secretary communicated the Administration priorities as they relate to public higher education and encourage presidents and chancellors to engage in a dialogue regarding policy issues of mutual interest.

Monday, November 30, 2009

State Jobs Task Force highlights System bonding

The state Jobs Task Force committee discussed bonding projects as one way to revive Minnesota’s economy. Alice Hausman, chair of the House Capital Improvement Committee said that the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities is a “poster child” for implementing projects swiftly and providing information on bonding project timelines.

Al Johnson, Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities of the System, told the Jobs Task Force Committee that for each $1 million, a conservative estimate is that 20 jobs are created.

Johnson said 11 jobs on the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities request, approved by the Board of Trustees, would be immediately ready to start (hire workers) once the funds are released. He added that repair and replacement projects could also be out early. The maximum time for repair and replacement projects to be executed was a maximum two year time frame. “When you go out to campuses, you will see that people are already working,” Johnson said.

For a recap of the meeting, please go to the hearing archives.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Enrollment of new underrepresented students increases 22 percent this fall at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities

Enrollment of new students from groups traditionally underrepresented in higher education increased by 22 percent this fall at the 32 Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, according to a new report presented to the Board of Trustees. These groups include students of color, low-income students and students whose parents did not attend college.

The state colleges and universities system enrolled 7,300 new underrepresented students. In addition, 8,000 more underrepresented students returned to the system’s institutions this fall, a 15 percent increase over a year ago. The total number of underrepresented students this fall is 94,302, an increase of 18 percent.

"These increases are important for the state of Minnesota," said Chancellor James H. McCormick. "The numbers show we have made substantial progress in recruiting and retaining more underrepresented students, although the economy also played a role in the increase."

To help the state’s employers maintain their competitive edge in the global marketplace, Minnesota needs more students from these groups to complete postsecondary programs as aging baby boomers retire and the state’s population grows more diverse, McCormick said. The system produces 33,500 graduates each year. Eighty percent of them stay in Minnesota to work or continue their education.

Though the state colleges and universities have been working to improve recruitment and retention of underrepresented students for years, a system initiative called "Access, Opportunity and Success" began in the fall of 2007. The Board of Trustees allocated $11 million a year for the initiative.

The system provided funds to every college and university to expand programs and services that have proven to be effective. The best practices include programs to help new students succeed in the transition from high school, advisors who routinely initiate contact with students, learning communities of students, summer programs and tutoring.

Brochures, posters and a Web site in nine languages also reached out to students from non-English speaking backgrounds in the 8th through 10th grades to explain the benefits of attending college and to encourage them to prepare for college.

"Underrepresented students often face barriers to entering college and succeeding once they get there," McCormick said. "The Legislature and the governor have supported this initiative, and we are grateful for their interest. It is gratifying that we are making some notable progress, but we still are a long way from eliminating the achievement gap that separates low-income and minority students from others."

Enrollment was up in nearly all subgroups. The number of new students of color this fall grew by 16 percent, new first-generation college students increased by 21 percent and new students eligible for Pell grants increased by 37 percent. Pell grant eligibility is typically used by higher education institutions as an indication of family income. The numbers released today are the official enrollment count of students taking credit-based courses on the 30th day of the fall semester. Total fall enrollment was 198,792 students.

View attached pdf of underrepresented students by institution.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Booming enrollment growth at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities sets record high

More students poured into the 32 Minnesota State Colleges and Universities this fall than ever before, resulting in the largest increase in the number of students since the system began, officials said today in releasing enrollment figures.

The state colleges and universities system now has 198,792 students or 12,641 more students than last fall when 186,150 students were enrolled. That’s nearly a 7 percent increase. Previously, the largest increase in the fall headcount was 9,023 additional students in 1999. Also, this is the fourth consecutive year that the system’s fall enrollment has set a record high.

Enrollment increases were particularly strong at the system’s 25 community and technical colleges. Thirteen colleges had increases greater than 10 percent.

“We know the economy was a major factor driving this enrollment boom,” said Chancellor James H. McCormick. “This unprecedented growth comes at a time when budgets have been cut at the state colleges and universities so faculty and staff are working harder than ever to serve students. We especially welcome the opportunity to serve displaced workers seeking to retool and upgrade their knowledge and skills.”

Enrollment was up in nearly all categories. The number of students of color this fall grew by 18.7 percent, from 27,446 to 32,585, while enrollment of white students was up 8.6 percent. In recent years, the colleges and universities have expanded programs to recruit and retain more students from groups traditionally underrepresented in higher education – students of color, low-income students and students who are the first in their families to attend college.

Enrollment of high school students in college courses, through the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options program, grew by 4.8 percent. Under Minnesota law, high school students can take courses tuition-free at the state’s public colleges and universities.

The number of students taking online courses, which includes credit and noncredit courses, grew by 21.7 percent to 47,794 this fall. The system offers about 200 programs completely or predominantly online through Minnesota Online (, the largest provider of online education in the state.

Full-year-equivalent enrollment is projected to increase by almost 5.5 percent for the current year. (Full-year-equivalent enrollment is calculated by adding the credits taken by all students and dividing by the number of credits considered to be a full-time course load – 30 credits per year for undergraduates and 20 credits for graduate students.) The colleges and universities project a full-year-equivalent enrollment of 151,805 for the current year, compared with the actual full-year-equivalent enrollment of 143,924 for the 2008-2009 academic year.

The numbers released today are the official enrollment count of students taking credit-based courses on the 30th day of the fall semester.

View pdf Thirtieth Day Headcount Enrollment

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Request for $403.6 million in building and remodeling projects approved by Minnesota State Colleges and Universities trustees

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities will seek authorization for $403.6 million in funding next year for construction and remodeling projects across the state. The Board of Trustees Thursday approved a list of 31 projects that will be submitted for funding.

The request to the Legislature is for $305.8 million in state general obligation bond financing with $97.8 million in debt service financed by the system and its institutions, bringing the total project authorization to $403.6 million.

The top priority is $110 million in repair and replacement projects for roofs and mechanical and electrical systems, as well as health and safety improvements, on nearly all 54 campuses.

"Repair and replacement projects are the No. 1 priority because we must make sure the system’s 855 buildings are, first and foremost, in good repair," said Chancellor James H. McCormick. "These projects also give us the opportunity to reduce energy by using energy-efficient materials and devices, as well as sustain these important state buildings into the future." Overall, the system is responsible for nearly one-third of state-owned building space.

Funds also are being sought for 30 other capital improvement projects, which largely would add, replace or remodel classrooms, science labs and applied technology labs.

Laura King, the system’s vice chancellor and chief financial officer, said, “We will be able to better serve the growing number of students on our campuses if we can make these renovations and improvements.” Enrollment of students taking credit courses has increased by 10,572 students between 2002 and 2008, and is projected to continue increasing.

Board Chair David Olson said, "These projects correspond directly to the board's strategic plan that calls for increasing access and opportunity, strengthening regional and state economic vitality, delivering high-quality learning options and services, and promoting innovation.

"We are optimistic that the governor and Legislature will recognize that upgrading our existing facilities, particularly for science and technology programs, will help us produce more graduates that the state’s employers need to remain globally competitive," Olson said. Legislators are expected to visit campuses around the state this summer and fall to become familiar with the capital requests.

The 31 projects were winnowed from more than $700 million in requests submitted by the system's institutions. In January, teams of representatives from the campuses and system office scrutinized and scored the proposals.

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system comprises 32 state universities and community and technical colleges serving the higher education needs of Minnesota. The system serves about 250,000 students per year in credit-based courses and an additional 140,000 students in non-credit courses.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Unallotment announced

Gov. Pawlenty today announced further cuts to state government and aid to local governments through the unallotment process in order to resolve the remaining $2.7 billion budget deficit. Many of the cuts will go into effect July 1, 2009, the beginning of the 2010 fiscal year, however many of the cuts will be made in the second year of the biennium due to interaction with the federal stimulus funds.

The governor unalloted a total of $100 million to higher education in 2011, the second year of the biennium. The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and the University of Minnesota received a cut of $50 million each.

The governor did not make across-the-board cuts and left K-12 education, public safety, corrections, the national guard, veterans affairs and nursing homes unharmed. Here is a summary of the cuts:

• $300 million Reduction of local aids and credits
• $67 million Reduction of refunds and other payments
• $236 million Reduction in human services spending
• $100 million Reduction in higher education appropriations
• $33 million Reduction in most state agency operating budgets
• $1.77 billion K-12 payment deferrals and adjustments
• $169 million Administrative actions

Details of the proposed unallotments may be found here.

The letter to Gov. Pawlenty regarding unallotments can be found here.

The unallotments are recommendations, and are not considered final. The governor and his administration will follow the process of consulting with legislative leaders for their input and reaction. On Thursday at 3:00, the Legislative Advisory Commission will hold a hearing to hear from Commissioner Tom Hanson with Minnesota Management and Budget on the unallotments. By law, the governor's administration has to consult with legislative leaders, but he does not need legislative approval.

Thursday, June 18
3:00 PM
Legislative Adivsory Commission
Room: 15 State Capitol
Chairs: Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Sen. Larry Pogemiller
Agenda: Consultation on unallotment as required by state statute.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

No global agreement

The 2009 legislative session came to an end at midnight last night with no global agreement. Legislative leaders and the governor were not able to resolve their differences, so the governor has said he will unallot the gap remaining after the line-item vetoes in the spending bills. It is anticipated that the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system will receive an unallotment of approximately $70 million in 2011, the second year of the biennium. An unallotment is considered one-time.

With minutes to spare, the House and Senate did pass a $2.7 billion tax bill that would resolve the state's deficit through a $1 billion tax increase and a one-time shift. The bill passed the House 82-47, and minutes later, the Senate approved the bill by a vote of 35-1. The bill will certainly be vetoed by the governor.

Also in the final hours last night, HF 2251 was passed that revises the tuition cap language for the system given the anticipated cut to the system in 2011. Instead of capping tuition at 5 percent each year and using federal stimulus funds to buy it down to 3 percent each year, the language now reads that tuition is capped at 5 percent each year, but federal stimulus funds are to only be used to buy tuition down to 3 percent in FY 2010. Legislation no longer requires a federal stimulus buy-down in FY 2011.

A pension conference committee met yesterday to work through the differences between the House and Senate. The pension bill originally contained an article that would have increased teachers’ pension contributions to address deficiencies in several teachers’ pension funds. The article was removed over concerns that Gov. Tim Pawlenty opposed it and might veto the bill if it were included. The conference committee report did pass last night by the House and Senate and is headed to the governor. The bill includes a provision that permits the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to establish an early separation incentive program for its employees.

DFL legislative leaders will be traveling throughout the state today to discuss the 2009 legislative session. Stops will include St. Paul, Duluth, Bemidji, Moorhead, St. Cloud, Mankato, and Rochester.

Lawmakers will return to St. Paul for the 2010 legislative session at noon February 4, 2010.

Please watch for the 2009 Mandates and Curiosities report that summarizes all legislation related to higher education that passed this session. The report will be available here at the end of June.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Final day of session

Today is the final day of the 2009 legislative session. Lawmakers have until midnight tonight to wrap things up. The tax conference committee will be meeting this morning at 9:00 in room 15 of the Capitol. The Senate also goes into session at 9:00 a.m. and the House goes in at 9:30 a.m.

On the House floor last night, members tried to override the governor's veto of the tax bill. 90 votes are needed for an override. Senator Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said on the floor that the least lawmakers could do is have a balance of compromise. The effort to override the governor’s veto was defeated 85-49.

The tax bill, HF 885, was vetoed by the governor May 8. The bill was an attempt by legislators to reduce cuts to K-12 schools, hospitals and nursing homes by creating a new 4th tier tax bracket for the state’s top earners, increasing alcohol taxes and adding a surtax on income made by credit card companies charging excessive interest rates.

The governor and the Legislature have been at odds as to how to resolve the budget deficit. The governor’s position has been no new taxes, but to rely on cuts, shifts and use of appropriation bonds. The Legislature has said that appropriation bonds would be “borrowing against the future.”

Offers and counteroffers have gone back and forth over the weekend and the governor has signed the major finance bills, although some received line-item vetoes, including the higher education bill and bonding bill. The governor has said he is prepared to unallot spending proposals if no compromise is reached.

The governor took action on the bonding bill. HEAPR projects were funded at $40 million, however all the other projects were line-item vetoed. You can see the letter from the governor at the link here.

The governor signed the higher education omnibus appropriation bill, however he did line-item veto three areas in the bill, the funding for the TEACH program, the funding for the Power of You program, which was $500,000 for the current program and the $500,000 one-time funds for the pilot expansion. He also line-item vetoed the $40,000 for the Cook County program. You can find the details here.

With the attempt to override the governor's veto of the tax bill defeated, and legislators and the governor still not having reached a global agreement, further cuts to higher education by the governor could be a possibility.

The governor did sign the K-12 Education bill and the State Government bill without any line-item vetoes. He also signed the contract ratification bill that includes the IFO contract for 2010-11.

We will continue to keep you posted throughout the day.

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Governor vows to end session on time

Yesterday at the Capitol
Gov. Tim Pawlenty said yesterday that he will use line-item vetoes and his authority to unallot to balance the state budget deficit. He said there will not be a special session or government shutdown. The Legislature has passed budget bills that leave a $3 billion shortfall between spending and revenues. The tax bill passed by the Legislature attempts to resolve that shortfall, but the governor has said he will not sign a bill with any tax increases.

Gov. Pawlenty said his intent is to sign all the omnibus finance bills sent to him, however, he has said some will be line-item vetoed. Without providing any specifics, Pawlenty said the end result will resemble his budget proposal in January.

Pawlenty did say he would rather work out a compromise with legislative leaders. "There's still a good chunk of time between now and midnight Monday. … I prefer to reach an agreed upon solution."

Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, responded to the governor's plan by saying Minnesotans expect to know where the governor is planning to cut. DFL leaders invited the governor to attend the Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy to discuss his plans in public. Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said lawmakers would like to see the details behind his plan.

Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said he thinks it's important to find a calm and reasonable solution to find an end to the session, and said this is a time to be states people and not make rash decisions. Pogemiller said the governor is showing a willingness to compromise by signing the budget bills.

We shall see what progresses today and over the weekend.

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Busy day- major bills pass both bodies

Yesterday at the Capitol
It was a busy day as both the House and Senate processed multiple conference committee reports and bills and sent them on their way to the governor.

Higher Education bill approved - heads to governor
The House and Senate approved the higher education conference committee report yesterday. After Senate author Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, explained the bill, the full Senate approved it by a vote of 54-12 with no discussion. The House then took up the bill later in the day and approved it 103-31. The bill now heads to the governor.

House and Senate pass bonding bill
The House approved the bonding bill on the floor by a vote of 109-25. Author Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said while explaining the higher education projects in the bill that higher education is the engine that drives the economy. The Senate then took up the bill and passed it by a vote of 59-8. As a reminder, included in the bill is $40 million in HEAPR for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and all five of the 2008 vetoed projects. Please refer to yesterday's daily update for further details in the bill.

Agriculture and veterans affairs bill passes with overwhelming support
The House approved the agriculture and veterans affairs conference committee report 133-0 and then the Senate approved it 62-0. The bill includes $100,000 each year for mental health counseling support to farm families and business operators through farm business management programs at Central Lakes College and Ridgewater College. Language is also included in the bill that establishes a Feeding Minnesota Task Force to study the consumption of Minnesota grown produce and livestock by facilitating the donation of harvested products to charities that pprovide food for hungry people. Included on the task force is a representative from a higher education institution.

Also included in the bill is the Green Jobs Food Production Study provision that requires the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute to prepare a detailed study of the state's food production sector in coordination with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities; urban, rural, and tribal community-based agriculture and food security organizations; members of the Legislature with service on committees created by the Green Jobs Task Force; and other interested stakeholders. The study is to define the size of the employment base and identify opportunities to increase the number of green jobs in each of the following sector segments: organics and organic value-added processing and local, conventional, natural, traditional, and urban farming.

In the Veterans section of the bill, $100,000 each year is included for the costs of administering the Minnesota GI Bill program.

E-12 Education bill approved
Both bodies also approved the E-12 education conference committee report yesterday. The House approved the bill by a vote of 85-49 and the Senate approved the bill 49-16. The bill will keep K-12 school spending flat over the next two years, compared to the Senate position that would have cut school spending more than 3 percent. The bill also removed the $1.8 billion funding shift that was a major part of the House's budget solution. The bill now heads to the governor.

Contract ratification bill passes
Both the Senate and House have passed the contract ratification bill and it now heads to the governor. Included in the bill is the 2010-11 Inter Faculty Organization contract. Also included is the 2008-09 MSUAASF contract that was not ratified last session due to timing. The 2010-11 MSUAASF and MSCF contracts and other contract and plans, will be heard by the Legislative Coordinating Commission Subcommittee on Employee Relations during the interim and ratified by the Legislature next session.

Countdown to May 18 - will a "lights-on" bill be necessary?
After the Senate passed a "lights-on" bill Tuesday by a vote of 45-19, the House took it up on the floor yesterday and passed it 88-46. The bill would keep government going if no other appropriation bills for the 2010-11 biennium are enacted. House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, called the proposal a last resort. "By adopting this bill, we can keep core services going, and money that needs to be accounted for," Sertich said.

If an agreement on how to resolve the $6.4 billion budget deficit is not reached by May 18, the bill would cap state agency spending during fiscal year 2010 at the current spending levels if the governor signs the bill. Gov. Pawlenty said he would consider signing a "responsible lights-on" bill, but he said the bill passed by the Legislature spends too much and could deepen the state's deficit.

The spending bills are in the hands of the governor now. On the House floor today, Republicans asked Gov. Pawlenty not to sign any more spending bills until decisions are made about where the money is coming from. There is a $3 billion difference between legislative leaders and the governor. Stay tuned.

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.