The following information was sent via e-mail on March 29, 2013 from Elaine Keefe, MLA/MEMO Lobbyist. Additional linked information added.
The Legislature is taking its annual Passover/Easter break this week and will return to work on Tuesday, April 2, 2013. At that point the Legislature will have seven weeks to conclude its work before the constitutional adjournment deadline of May 20, 2013.
Last Friday (March 22, 2013) was the second committee deadline. To meet that deadline, bills must have passed through policy committees and have been referred to either the floor or a finance committee in both the House and the Senate. Bills that have not met the deadline cannot proceed on their own, but they can still be amended onto other bills that are moving forward.
Last week House and Senate leaders released their respective budget targets for each area of the budget (E-12 education, higher education, health & human services, transportation, etc.). Over the next two weeks committees will be unveiling their omnibus finance bills, marking them up and passing them. The deadline for passing omnibus finance bills out of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee is Friday, April 19, 2013.
The House Legacy Committee will release the Arts and Cultural Heritage article of its omnibus bill on Wednesday, April 3, 2013. We have strong support in the House and I expect libraries to do well in that bill. The Senate Legacy Subcommittee has not met yet (except for two joint hearings with the House on items unrelated to libraries) and no meetings have been announced. Mark Ranum and I have met with most of the members of the subcommittee and they have been supportive. However, we have not been able to meet with the chair, who has previously taken the position that libraries should apply to the State Arts Board for grants rather than receiving Legacy funding directly. We have submitted a proposal for funding to the Legacy subcommittee and I have met with the subcommittee staff twice. I’m told we will have an opportunity to make a presentation at some point, but no schedule has been mapped out. This is consistent with the pattern that has existed since the Legacy amendment was passed in 2008. The House comes out with its bill first, and the Senate takes a look at it and then puts together its own version.
As reported previously, our bill to increase funding for Minitex and MnLINK was heard in the Senate Higher Education Policy and Budget Division on March 19, 2013, and it was well-received by the committee. We have a very supportive chair in Senator Terri Bonoff and her committee has a fairly generous budget target, so I am hopeful we will see an increase for Minitex and MnLINK in the Senate. The House is another matter. When Mark Ranum, Valerie Horton and I met with the House Higher Education chair, Rep. Gene Pelowski, he told us flat out that this was not the year when we could expect to see an increase, even though he agrees that Minitex and MnLINK are valuable programs. His goal for this year is structural reform of what he views as a bloated higher ed system. He said that we would have our chance in the next budget cycle two years from now. The House budget target for higher education is far lower than the Senate’s target ($150 million in new spending in the House vs. $263 million in the Senate). Our bill has not received a hearing and the omnibus bill is scheduled to be unveiled on Wednesday.
I am very disappointed to report that our bill will not receive a hearing in either body. There are several reasons for this, but I think the main one is that, like the Governor, legislators are focusing resources on the big pieces in the budget — the general ed formula, special education and early learning (all day kindergarten and preschool scholarships). The chair of the House Education Finance Committee, Rep. Paul Marquart, reacted quite negatively to the idea of Homework Help when we met with him. He said, “We are struggling to find the money to adequately fund the things we already have — we can’t fund anything new.” I had hoped that he would come around after budget targets were announced. The House education target is a healthy number — $550 million in new spending. I again asked for a hearing but was told no. Senators on the E-12 Education Budget Division, including the chair, were supportive of Homework Help in our meetings. However, the Senate’s budget target for education is quite skimpy when one takes into account that legislative leaders have dictated that the bulk of the target be spent on buying down education levies and fully funding all day kindergarten. The Senate will probably have to choose between increasing the general ed formula and special ed — they don’t have enough money to do both. In this scenario, Homework Help became a casualty.
Although we have normally pursued funding for Library Accessibility and Improvement Grants in the second year of the biennium because that’s when the Legislature traditionally passes a major bonding bill, the House has been pushing hard for a significant bonding bill this year. At the urging of Rep. Alice Hausman, chair of the House Capital Investment Committee, we had a bill introduced to provide $3 million for Library Accessibility and Improvement Grants. The bill is HF 1501/ SF 1473. Rep. Mary Murphy and Senator Alice Johnson are our chief authors and we have a great bi-partisan group of co-authors. The Senate seems to be warming up to the idea of a larger than usual bonding bill in the first year of the biennium, so there may be an opportunity for us. Stay tuned.