Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Higher education bills pass Senate, House; Schedule posted

Yesterday at the Capitol

Both the House and Senate took up the respective higher education omnibus bills on the floor yesterday. In the Senate, Higher Education Chair Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, explained SF 924 to members. She said there was a 10.3 percent reduction for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, with cuts to the central office and campuses. Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, offered an amendment that implements Gov. Dayton's higher education proposal of a 6 percent cut to higher education. In order to pay for the increase in funding, Pogemiller proposed a new fourth tier on the income tax that effects 2.3 percent of all tax filers. Pogemiller said the budget is about priorities this year, and higher education is a priority. After much discussion about the germaneness of the bill (raising an income tax in the higher education bill), the amendment was not adopted.

Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, said lawmakers have failed to demonstrate that they believe in higher education. She said higher education is the economic engine of the state and provides a return on the state's investment and contributes to the economy. Sheran said a yes vote for the bill advocates for increased tuition payments, canceled courses, faculty lay-offs and a significant brain drain in the state.

Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, offered an amendment to repeal the language in the funding policy statute 135A.01, that states it is the intent of the Legislature to provide at least 67 percent of the revenue to public postsecondary institutions in state appropriation. Members spoke that even in times of budget reductions, it is still the intent of the Legislature to support high quality public postsecondary education. The amendment failed unanimously.

Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said lawmakers are jeopardizing the future of higher education campuses with the cuts in the bill. In response, Chair Fischbach said the committee was able to put a little more money into the state grant program for students, and make reductions that will not cut so deep. After much discussion on the bill, the Senate higher education finance omnibus bill was approved by a vote of 37-27.

The House later took up their version of the higher education finance omnibus bill, HF 1101. Higher Education Policy and Finance Committee Chair Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, explained the bill and said making the reductions in the bill were not easy, but he believes it's a better alternative than Gov. Dayton's bill that increases taxes. Nornes said the goal for this bill was to make sure students do not bear the brunt of the reductions. He also said the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and the University of Minnesota are expected to make up one-third of the lost revenue through tuition increases. Rep. Linda Runbeck, R-Circle Pines, said that maybe the bill will send a message to higher education institutions that they need to start controlling their costs.

Also in his remarks, Chair Nornes recognized Chancellor Jim McCormick and President Bob Bruininks in their retirement this year and thanked them for their leadership to the state of Minnesota.

Three amendments were adopted and incorporated into the bill. The first was a provision introduced by Rep. King Banaian, R-St. Cloud, that prohibits the use of state or federal funds to support human cloning, or to pay for any expenses incidental to human cloning. The Senate version of the bill carries this provision.

Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, introduced the other two amendments that passed. The first amendment sets the salary for the chancellor, vice chancellors and presidents at or below the governor's salary of $120,000; and prohibits the chancellor, vice chancellor and president contracts from providing a bonus payment. The amendment passed by a vote of 89-38. The other amendment authored by Rep. Pelowski requires the Board of Trustees to do a comprehensive evaluation of the structure of the system and report to the Legislature with recommendations for improvements to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of delivering postsecondary education.

The House higher education omnibus bill was approved as amended by a vote of 69-60. The next step in the process is conference committee, where the House and Senate will meet to iron out the differences in the two bills.

Today at the Capitol

9:00 AM
House Ways and Means
Room: 200 State Office Building
Chair: Rep. Mary Liz Holberg
HF440 Omnibus judiciary finance bill
HF853 Omnibus public safety finance bill

10:00 AM
Senate in Session
Omnibus State Government Innovation and Veterans Affairs Bill Omnibus Health and Human Services Bill

12:00 PM (or call of the chair)
House Taxes
Room: 200 State Office Building
Chair: Rep. Greg Davids
Agenda: HF1049 (Gunther) Omnibus jobs and economic development bill.

4:30 PM
House in Session
Omnibus Agriculture Finance bill

Looking Ahead

Thursday, March 31

12:00 PM
House in Session

Time TBD
Senate in Session

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