Once again, there was a whirlwind of activity in St. Paul.
Friday marked the first deadline, requiring House and Senate policy bills to have been passed out of a policy committee in at least one of the bodies. Authors of bills now have one week to have the bill passed out of the corresponding body. As you can imagine, this has made the committee agendas packed with bills, and has each member intensely focused. I had several bills up this week and found myself out of breath at times running from committee to committee.
In addition to hearing several important bills (including the DREAM Act) in Higher Education, President Kaler was in on Tuesday to report the University’s “Spans and Layers” analysis; a study done in response to the widespread WallStreet Journal article. In addition, Thursday, the Governor released his supplemental budget proposal.
This came in reaction to the positive news we received from the February Forecast a few weeks ago as well as his decision to move away from the sales tax expansion.
The Governor’s new budget not only omits any sales tax expansion but also removes the property tax rebate provisions. The Governor’s revenue number is slightly less than he had previously proposed. The new revenue in this proposal comes from his fourth tier expansion which brings the top rate to 9.8%. In addition, the Governor does increase the tobacco tax and makes some changes to the corporate tax.The entire budget detail is available for your review.
As I have said previously I do not support the fourth tier expansion, but do expect it to pass this session. I would hope that the legislature brings the rate down and does some base expansion. I anxiously await our Senate tax proposal and will report on that as soon as I know. I continue to get your ideas and that is helpful. Given my responsibility as higher ed chair and my overall commitment to education, I am relieved to see that the Governor did not reduce his proposed investment in education.
Hollydale Transmission Line:
The proposal to require the alternative distribution solution rather than the proposed new 115kv power lines passed the Senate committee and awaits floor action. This alternative would use lower voltage underground feeder lines instead. I am certain that having over 60 members of the Plymouth community show up in support of this bill was the critical factor in its’ passage.(click to watchA). A big thank you to all who came to the Senate hearing.
Workforce Data Pipeline:
With reports that by 2018, 70% of Minnesota’s jobs will require some form of higher education, as well as the current information we have regarding the existing workforce skills gap, we saw an issue that must be addressed. In order to deal with this projected shortage of skilled labor, we proposed a bill that requires DEED, OHE, and workforce center boards to publish labor market analysis supply & demand reports, statewide and by region. This report will allow front-line workers at DEED, OHE & MnSCU to steer students and families towards identified high-demand jobsand programs to help build a 21st century workforce in Minnesota. In addition this bill includes a pilot project proposal that utilizes our workforce center staff as supplemental career counselors forour high school students. This innovative approach partners our best resources with where our greatest needs lie.
On Thursday, Senate File 723, more popularly known as the DREAM Act, was presented before the committee on Higher Education/Workforce Development. This bill, Chief Authored by Senator Sandy Pappas, would allow undocumented students who have attended high school in Minnesota and who are applying for citizenship (as soon as they are eligible) to pay in state tuition at Minnesota Colleges and Universities. This bill is supported by the University of Minnesota and MNSCU as well as organizations such as the Citizens League and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. The hearing was emotional, with hundreds of proponents showing up to express support for the bill. I am proud to say that the bill passed through our committee with unanimous bi-partisan support. Committee members, from both parties, agreed that Minnesota kids need to have Minnesota futures. In addition, the committee agreed that the passage of this bill is consistent with our commitment to both close the achievement gap and solve our future workforce needs.
President Kaler’s Report:
In January, in response to the Wall Street Journal article that highlighted the University of Minnesota for its high administrative costs, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and I requested that President Kaler undergo a thorough analysis of these costs and report back. On Tuesday, President Kaler came before the committee on Higher Education andWorkforce Development to present this report. I appreciate President Kaler’s responsiveness to both this request and the urgency of the issue. I have made public comments in a brief video clip which can be viewed here (link ). In summary, there is much work to be done in terms of achieving optimal efficiency and the University appears to be determined to tackle that challenge.
Lastly, I have written about my dissatisfaction with the proposed Health Exchange. We will hear the conference report on Monday. I am not satisfied with the changes, as I strongly disagree with the decision to exclude the carriers from having a seat at the table. There was minor compromise regarding active purchaser language whereby all eligible carriers can have their products on the exchange the first year. I will most likely vote for the bill as I do think having a Minnesota exchange is better than accepting the Federal version. Yet I will continue to express the dissenting view and hope that over time we can make changes. In addition I will urge the Governor to choose the Board members with the utmost scrutiny and an eye towards expert knowledge.