Monday, January 30, 2012

MSUSA Legislative Update 1-30-12

The first week of the 2012 legislative session included short floor sessions and a handful of committee hearings. One of the more contentious issues last week was the Senate Rules and Administration committee vote to approve the Senate budget, which includes cuts in staffing for the DFL and non-partisan Senate staff. Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, read a statement Friday that said it was a painful first week of session in the Senate. He characterized the budget cuts to the DFL Caucus staff as a “partisan attack on hard-working men and women that work for the State Senate.” Bakk said the majority did not cut any staff and misled members of the Rules Committee with inaccurate information. Senate Deputy Majority Leader Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said the Senate Republican caucus made their cuts in staff last year. Ortman also said she has been meeting and communicating with Bakk regarding the budget.

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system is scheduled to present its bonding request of $278 million to the House Higher Education committee tomorrow (Tuesday) at 12:30 in the State Office Building. The system will then present the request to the Senate Higher Education committee Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. in the Capitol.

The Capitol hallways will be bustling with the usual activity through Wednesday this week, then lawmakers are scheduled for a legislative break for precinct caucuses Feb. 2-7.

Gov. Dayton is scheduled to give the State of the State address Wednesday, Feb. 15 at 7:00 p.m. in the House Chamber. The State of the State is an opportunity for the governor to address both the Senate and House with a focus on his priorities for the current session. Dayton’s priorities include a bonding bill, a jobs plan and a potential Vikings stadium.

In Washington, President Obama is set to release his 2013 budget Feb. 13. Obama’s budget is the first step in the 2013 appropriations process.

House Higher Education Policy and Finance committee members heard from Director Larry Pogemiller with the Minnesota Office of Higher Education (MOHE) last Thursday. Pogemiller told members that Gov. Dayton believes there’s a higher education agenda we all can act on and spoke about the need for collaborations between higher education, K-12 education and the workforce. He discussed what he believes to be some of the challenges and opportunities for higher education, including ramping-up postsecondary readiness, assuring student access to quality choices, responding effectively to demographic changes and pending workforce shortages and evaluating and improving postsecondary quality and productivity.

When asked how he views the role of the Office of Higher Education, Pogemiller said they are an executive agency that informs the governor on higher education issues. He also said part of what he will implement is, “Beefing up the research function.” Pogemiller said it is MOHE’s responsibility to help inform the governor and legislators with the appropriate research.

Director Pogemiller also spoke to the state grant program. He described the program as balancing access and choice and allowing students and their families the ability to decide how they access postsecondary. Pogemiller spoke of the impact the federal Pell Grant changes will have for fiscal year 2013. He said the federal changes will create modest reductions, less than predicted. The total loss in Pell Grant funds to students at Minnesota institutions is estimated at $6 million. Approximately 1 percent of Pell Grant recipients will lose their full Pell Grant award; other Pell Grant recipients may see smaller awards, but some of these reductions and losses will be offset by increases to the student’s state grant.

As for the state grant, MOHE is currently projecting a spending balance of $6.9 million. Pogemiller said the number will be finalized with a report to the Legislature mid-February. He said if the balance holds, MOHE will recommend allocating it to reciprocity and the living, miscellaneous expense allowance, or LME. Pogemiller said somewhere in the range of $3-5 million would be allocated to the LME.

Thank you to Melissa Fahning from MnSCU for preparing this legislative update.

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