Friday, March 30, 2012

MnSCU Legislative Update March 30

This week in Washington D.C., the House Budget Committee approved the fiscal year 2013 budget resolution last week, which sets broad overall spending policy. The budget resolution cuts discretionary spending by more than $1 trillion over 10 years below the Budget Control Act spending caps agreed to last summer. The House budget calls for a $19 billion reduction (2 percent) in discretionary funding in FY 2013, as well as reducing individual and corporate tax rates, increasing defense spending, and restructuring a number of large entitlement programs, including Medicare and Medicaid.

The blueprint of the budget resolution makes a statement on education and job training, “Globalization and technological advances have made the modern economy more complex and dynamic. The new reality is workers at all levels must be ready to update or learn new, more specialized skills to match the changing needs of employers competing in the global economy. Federal higher education and job-training programs must be reformed to help workers adapt to this new challenge.” There is mention in the budget resolution that there is a need to put the Pell Grant program on a sustainable path.

The resolution will guide spending decisions to be made by the House Republican majority later this year, likely after the November election. Senate leadership has already announced they are not planning to pass a budget resolution this year, making the House legislation more a statement of policy. The House budget resolution is expected to go to the floor for a vote this week.

The House Ways and Means Committee took up the bonding bill and laid it over for further discussion and action. The bill includes $280 million in capital projects around the state, with $56 million for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU). Rep. Kathy Brynaert, DFL-Mankato, asked the author of the bill Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, how he determined the MnSCU projects that were included in the bill. Howes said he looked at the moderately priced projects so he could include as many projects on the MnSCU list as he could given the amount of the total bill.

Committee members also took up HF 2754, the State Capitol restoration bill for $221 million. Author of the bill, Rep. Howes, said the funding will be split up over four years, with $60 million for fiscal years 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, asked Howes if the full amount of $221 million can be staged over the four-year period to free up room for other projects. Carlson said, while restoration of the State Capitol is important, paying the full amount up front crowds out other needs, whether it’s higher education or other projects. Committee members passed the bill and sent it to the floor.

The Senate passed the voter identification bill off the floor on Friday by a vote of 36-30. The bill is different than the House version passed earlier in the week, so the House could either accept the Senate language or go to conference committee to work through the differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill. If a compromise is reached between the two bills and the full bodies pass them again, the question would be put to voters in the November election.

Author of the bill, Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said he believes some people are voting illegally and that the proposed constitutional amendment would stop that; however, opponents of the bill, said those fears have been blown out of proportion and that voter fraud is almost nonexistent. Opponents said there will be a negative impact; with thousands of people having trouble voting.

The Senate Capital Investment Committee met on Thursday and took up the $496 million bonding bill, which includes $127.028 million for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. Included in the bill is $32 million for higher education asset preservation and replacement (HEAPR). The college and university projects include:

$13.389 million for the Minneapolis Community and Technical College workforce program renovation;

$13.851 million for Ridgewater College, Willmar technical instruction lab renovation;

$4.606 million for Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Worthington renovation and addition;

$13.315 million for South Central College, Faribault classroom renovation and addition;

$0.980 million for Anoka Ramsey Community College, Coon Rapids bioscience and allied health addition;

$26.292 million for North Hennepin Community College bioscience and health careers center addition;

$0.500 million for Southwest Minnesota State University science lab renovation;

$1.5 million for Saint Paul College health and science center design;

$5 million for Century College academic partners classroom design and construction;

$7.230 million for Dakota County Technical College transportation and emerging technical lab renovation;

$2 million for the system wide STEM renovation;

$2.065 million for Minnesota State University, Mankato clinical science building design;

$4 million for St. Cloud Technical and Community College medium heavy truck and auto body addition and renovation; and

$0.300 million for Northland Community and Technical College aviation maintenance facility expansion

The Senate Finance Committee took up multiple bills on Thursday, including the bonding bill. Committee members also took up the higher education omnibus bill, and deleted sections 14 and 15 of the bill, which was the appropriation for leveraged equipment and workforce alignment for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. Higher Education Committee Chair Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, testified that she would still like to see some funding for the leveraged equipment program included in a different bill. The committee adopted the bill and sent it to the Senate floor. The House higher education omnibus bill is scheduled to be heard in the Ways and Means Committee Monday.

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