Monday, March 21, 2011

Legislative Update March 14-18

Legislative Update
March 18, 2011

House higher education committee releases budget bill with cuts to the system

Early this week, the House Ways and Means committee adopted the budget targets, including a 15 percent cut for higher education. Committee Chair Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, said, "We feel that these numbers are living within our means, and that we'll be able to meet the necessary needs of the state in the numbers reflected in this target." Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, offered an amendment that reflects Gov. Dayton's proposal of a 6 percent reduction to higher education. The amendment did not pass. With the approval of the targets, the finance committees got to work right away crafting their spending bills.

The House Higher Education Policy and Finance committee released their bill Thursday, which includes significant reductions to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. Lawmakers looked at both the 2012-2013 forecasted base as well as the 2010-2011 base, which drives different percentages. If reduced from the 2012-13 forecasted base (which is what the governor's proposal does), it's a cut to the system of 16 percent. If reduced from the 2010-2011 base, it's a cut of 13.3 percent to the system. Either way you look at it, the reduction brings the system's annual base down to $528.7 million.

The bill caps tuition and mandatory fees for a Minnesota resident undergraduate student at 4 percent per year for the state universities and 2 percent per year for the state colleges. A provision is also included that encourages the Board of Trustees to offer entering students a plan providing stable tuition for students pursuing two-year or four-year degrees.

The bill provides language that holds back 1 percent of the fiscal year 2013 appropriation to the system until after the Board of Trustees demonstrates the system has achieved at least three of five goals: increase the number of graduates or degrees, diplomas and certificates conferred; increase the enrollment of students of color; increase the number of students taking online or blended courses or the number of online or blended sections; increase persistence and completion rates; and decrease energy consumption. The Board is also required to place the highest priority on meeting the needs of Minnesota employers for a skilled workforce. They are to focus on efficient delivery of higher education, eliminate duplication throughout the system and provide an education that prepares students for the workforce needs of Minnesota.

Other provisions in the bill include reducing the age of a senior citizen in statute to be eligible to receive reduced tuition back to age 62 from 66 (the statute was changed in 2010 from 62 to 66); and language regarding transfer that reads by Feb. 15, 2012, the Board of Trustees must adopt a policy requiring every college and university in the system to grant credit for a course taken for credit at any of the colleges or universities in the system. The transfer provision also addresses the transferability of credits from 2+2 programs, including the Anoka STEP program.

In relation to the state grant program, the bill makes whole the 2012-13 state grant projected deficit of $34 million, and sets a statutory amount for the tuition and fee maximum used to calculate the state grant award to the highest tuition and fees charged by a Minnesota public college for two-year programs, and the highest average tuition and fees charged by a Minnesota public university for four-year universities. The bill also sets the living and miscellaneous expense allowance, or LME, at $7,000 each year.

The bill can be found at:

The spreadsheet can be found at:

The committee is expected to mark-up the bill Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. If they do not finish by the end of the scheduled time at 2:15, they will reconvene at 5:30 p.m. to pass the bill. The Senate is expected to release their higher education finance bill early next week. Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said it will be a busy couple of weeks as bills move to the Finance and Ways and Means committees and then to the floor. Koch indicated the finance bills would make their way to conference committee and to the governor’s desk prior to the start of the spring recess April 18.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said, “The budget is the main thing.” He continued to say that the Republican leadership thinks they have a good balance with opportunity for anyone who wants to be part of the process. Zellers said the intent of the aggressive timeline is to move the process quickly instead of waiting until the last week of session.

Elimination of higher education mandates included in omnibus bill

Committees heard multiple bills this week as they worked to put together their respective omnibus finance bills. The House Higher Education Policy and Finance committee heard HF 849, a bill introduced by Committee Chair Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls. The bill proposes eliminating four higher education mandates in statute. Nornes said as committee chair he has been looking for relief from mandates this session and chose to eliminate four that include; the prohibition of higher education institutions entering into agreements with credit card companies to market to undergraduate students; the mandate that requires notice to be provided to students regarding possible impact of obtaining a job in certain fields for students with a criminal record; the requirement that to the extent possible bookstores sell clothing made in America; and the requirement that public employers purchase or require employees to furnish uniform or protective accessories that are made in America.

Committee members amended the bill to remove the repealer of the mandate that requires notice to be provided to students regarding possible impact of obtaining a job in certain fields for students with a criminal record, and then laid the bill over for possible inclusion in the omnibus bill. With the release of the higher education omnibus bill yesterday, the committee included two of the four repealers; the requirement for public institutions to sell American-made clothing and apparel in their bookstores to the extent possible, and the requirement
that public employers purchase or require employees to furnish uniform or protective accessories that are made in America.

Congress votes to provide three more weeks of federal government operations

The U.S. House, Senate and the Obama administration will continue current fiscal year budget negotiations with the passage of the sixth continuing resolution, or CR. On Tuesday, the House approved the measure by a vote of 271-158 that will prevent a government shutdown through midnight April 8. There were 54 Republican members that voted against the bill that makes $6 billion in cuts from fiscal year 2010 funding levels, citing frustration with what they have said is too little of a reduction. House Republican leaders acknowledged that a longer-term bill
that sees the federal government through the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30 is preferable, but blamed the Democratic Senate and President Obama for failing to put forth an alternative spending bill that can
pass. The Senate passed the continuing resolution by a vote of 87-13 on Thursday. The $6 billion reduction includes $2.1 billion in rescissions of funds that have not been used; $2.5 billion in earmark terminations;
and $1.1 billion to financial services/general government programs.

Congressional members have returned home to their districts for a week-long recess, but congressional leaders continue negotiations in Washington in the hopes of finding a compromise on the current fiscal year budget. President Obama has reaffirmed his commitment to ensuring the maximum Pell Grant award remains at $5,550.

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