Thursday, March 31, 2011

Legislative Update 3/28-4/1

This was a big week in the 2011 Legislative Session and MSUSA students were very active advocating for their peers. On Tuesday, both the House and Senate heard and passed the Higher Education budget bills. Bemidji State had 8 students and Southwest had 4 students that met with more than 10 legislators to let them know our opposition to the highest cuts to higher education in the history of the state. On Wednesday, 8 more students from Winona State lobbied at the Capitol and met with a few more legislators to advocate on the behalf of the students.

Below is a recap of the activities at the Capitol this week:

Both the House and Senate took up the respective higher education omnibus bills on the floor on Tuesday. 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 is proposing 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.

On Monday, the House of Representatives passed it’s omnibus tax bill that included a reduction in the renters tax credit from 19% to 12%. This will mean a person paying $500-a-month in rent for the year will have their tax return cut by $420.

On Wednesday, the Senate passed the State Government Innovation and Veterans Affairs bill. This bill included $945,000 for the Higher Education Veterans Campus Centers program. MSUSA worked very hard this year to have this program funded in whole and maintain services to veterans on MN college campuses.

Today, the Senate is hearing the K-12 funding bill and the House is working on Judiciary and Public Safety.
Conference Committees on the Higher Education bill should start early next week as the House and Senate begin to work through the differences between the two bills.

No comments:

Post a Comment