Monday, March 14, 2011

Legislative Update 3/7 - 3/11

Legislative Update
March 11, 2011

Legislative leaders propose reductions of 16 percent to higher
education

Republican leadership announced the budget targets this week. Senate
Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said government needs to live
within their means. She said leadership implemented aggressive budget
deadlines, and now the targets are turned over to committee chairs who
will work to meet the March 25 deadline.

For higher education, the budget target is about a 16 percent
reduction, which brings the proposed spending level for all of higher
education to $2.505 billion. Gov. Dayton's budget proposal for higher
education puts the fiscal year 2012-13 spending at $2.745 billion, a
difference of $240 million.

We now turn our attention to the higher education committees in the
Senate and House to see how they recommend spreading the cut. Republican leaders said today that the finance committees will be working overtime to put together the budget bills. The Senate Higher Education committee has said they expect to pass a budget bill March 23, and the House Higher Education committee has indicated discussion of a budget bill in committee on March 22. Senate Finance Chair Claire Robling, R-Jordan, said, "This earlier deadline will allow us to get done on time, and I
think you are going to see that."

In addition to the state government cuts, the House’s budget plan
includes cuts of $300 million in income taxes for low and middle class
Minnesotans, and the Senate plan includes $200 million in tax cuts for
businesses.

Gov. Mark Dayton’s spokesperson Katharine Tinucci said the governor
believes a budget is a reflection of values and priorities, and these
cuts will hurt school children, taxpayers, businesses and seniors. House
Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville,
described the dilemma facing lawmakers and the governor, "We have very
diverse beliefs about what is best for the state. I’m not sure how we
are going to resolve it."

Tuition freeze bill receives second hearing

The bill that freezes tuition for the 2012-2013 biennium at the
Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and the University of
Minnesota, was heard in the House Higher Education Policy and Finance
committee this week. The bill was heard previously in the Senate Higher
Education committee. HF 856, introduced by Rep. Chris Swedzinski,
R-Ghent, also holds tuition increases to the annual percentage increase
in the Consumer Price Index, or CPI, for every year thereafter.
Swedzinski said the bill provides long-term tuition guidance for
students and their families.

Travis Johnson, President of the Minnesota State College Student
Association, or MSCSA, said his organization does not support a tuition
freeze, but rather a tuition cap, and said he would like to see a
predictability measure in place going forward. Johnson said tuition
increases should be limited to ensure a college education remains
affordable.
Andrew Spaeth, Chair of MSUSA spoke to the growing concern of tuition costs. He said, “If we continue on the same path as we have been going my youngest brother will pay double what I paid for my college education.”

Russ Stanton, Director of Government Relations with the Inter Faculty
Organization, or IFO, testified against the bill and said the IFO
advocates for low tuition. Stanton said the Minnesota State Colleges and
Universities system is a highly efficient system and tuition rates are
among the lowest in the state. He said the IFO does not like the idea of
setting tuition rates in the public arena, but rather should be left up
to the Board of Trustees.

Dawn Reimer, Chief Finance and Facilities Officer at North Hennepin
Community explained to committee members that a tuition freeze will have
a significant impact on the college's students and employees. Reimer
said students come to the colleges and universities in the Minnesota
State Colleges and Universities system because of the system's high
quality instructors, innovative programs, and state-of-the-art
facilities, labs and technology. With a tuition freeze and cuts to state
appropriations, Reimer said growth in innovations and new programs at
the college will be limited, physical improvements will be stalled, and
quality education will be compromised.

Remier told committee members that the Board of Trustees currently
makes final tuition decisions based on data provided by the colleges and
universities, and the Board requires each institution to consult with
its students concerning its tuition and fee proposals. Remier said at
North Hennepin Community College, Budget Task Force meetings are held with employees and students to work on the budget; and ensures budget cuts, operating efficiencies and other revenues are incorporated into the budget before tuition rates are determined.

As the committee begins to craft its omnibus bill, this bill was laid
over for consideration.

Higher Ed Veterans Assistance Program Receives Hearing in the Senate
The Senate State Government Innovation and Veterans Committee heard SF449 this week. Representatives from The Dept. of Veterans Affairs and MSUSA and MSCSA testified in favor of extending the program. MSUSA Director of Government Relations reminded the committee that passing the bill does not mean the program gets funded and that the Committee should work hard over the next few weeks to ensure the funding for this crucial program remains intact. Gov. Dayton included funding for the program in his budget.
All eyes are on Washington as March 18 draws near

With Congress passing a continuing resolution last week to fund the
federal government at fiscal 2010 levels until March 18, the U.S. House
and Senate work to pass a bill before next Friday. Senate Appropriations
Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, introduced a continuing resolution
that maintains funding for many higher education programs at fiscal year
2010 levels. You may recall the House passed legislation that cuts $61
billion in spending, including higher education.

Today, House Republicans released a three-week continuing resolution to
keep government operating that cuts $6 billion in spending. In order to
avoid a government shutdown, a short-term funding bill is almost
unavoidable, especially with negotiations between the House Republicans,
Senate Democrats and the White House at a stalemate. House
Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, said, "This is simply an extension to give negotiators more time." The House bill is
expected to be voted on Tuesday.

Public policy agenda for the American Association of State Colleges and
Universities

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities, or AASCU,
has released their legislative priorities and positions on higher
education issues at the federal and state levels. AASCU has said their
advocacy efforts in 2011 will focus on the policy principle of
"Delivering America’s Promise" in four policy areas including;
affordability, access and attainment, accountability, and
competitiveness. To learn more about the four areas of AASCU’s public
policy agenda, go to: http://www.aascu.org/ppa/2011/.
This week at the Capitol MSUSA Director of Campus Organizing will testify against the Voter ID proposals in the Senate.
Expect most of the focus to be on budget work now, and we’ll soon see how drastic the cuts to MnSCU will be.

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