The snowstorm forced the cancellation of committee meetings and floor sessions starting on Wednesday, giving everyone a moment (and it’s just a moment) to catch their breath. Given the cancellations, committees will be gearing up and the coming week will feature a number of night meetings for a wide range of committees as they work to get as many bills as possible heard prior to the first policy bill deadline of March 10.
The big news this past week for SEE members was the House Education Finance Committee meeting of Tuesday, February 21, right before the snow started arriving. The committee heard four property tax-related bills including HF 1271
(Youakim) and HF 1396
(Hemmingsen-Jaeger), both of which would provide dramatic increases in the referendum and debt service equalization programs respectively. The committee also heard HF 879
(Youakim) , which would increase the local option revenue amount by $116 per pupil unit while also providing significant property tax relief to low property wealth school districts. The final property tax related bill was HF 1457
(Pursell); a bill that would provide Long Term Facilities Maintenance Revenue (LTFMR) to cooperative units. These units currently do not receive money from the LTFMR revenue stream, forcing member districts to pay for maintenance and upgrades for facilities run by the cooperatives out of their general funds.
All four of these bills point to issues related to funding and property tax equity and each was recommended to pass and re-referred to the House Property Tax Subcommittee of the House Tax Committee. Even in a year when there are ample resources available, it may be difficult to fit these proposals into the final budget and tax plans that the Legislature will pass this session. As has always been the case, equalization is tax policy that affects the education funding system. On the one hand, it is difficult to stack property tax relief up against increases in the basic formula or funding for special education seeing districts need on-going revenue that increased equalization will not automatically provide. On the other hand, the equalization of education-related levies is often viewed by the tax committees as being part of the education budget and should not be thrown in with the priorities that traditionally fall under the purview of the tax committee. That will make for interesting conversations as the session continues. For my part—and I think I speak for SEE membership—I don’t care where it ends up as long as there is some progress on the issue this session.
Perhaps the greatest plus of the discussion surrounding these bills is that they have bipartisan support. That may or may not mean anything in the long run this session, but it does show that both caucuses see this as an issue and one that needs to be addressed.
Space Odyssey? Novelist, Futurist, and all-around Smart Guy Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2010: Odyssey 2, 2061: Odyssey 3, and 3001: The Final Odyssey. The 2023 Minnesota Legislature is going to blow way past 3001 with the number of bills that they will be introducing this session and at this point, we don’t know where the Odyssey will take us (I hope there won’t be as many stops as Odysseus took on his journey home). Both bodies have already surpassed 2,000 bill introductions and there is no indication that things will be slowing down anytime soon. As stated above, committees will be meeting pretty much wall-to-wall over the next month to get as many bills as possible past the deadlines to get bills out of policy committees. The process takes a bit of a different route for the finance committees, as they will have up until the Legislative break which starts on April 5 to get the omnibus bills out of the Ways and Means Committee in the House and the Finance Committee in the Senate.
One item that is complicating matters a bit is that the language that accompanies the Governor’s budget recommendations has yet to be introduced. As I’ve written in earlier updates, there has been a mad rush of bills drafted this year starting right out of the gate which was compounded by the fact that there were so many ready-made bills left over after negotiations failed to produce a comprehensive set of funding, policy, and tax relief bills after the 2022 session. This certainly isn’t a deal-breaker and the Governor’s language that accompanies the variety of revenue increases that are being discussed can certainly be incorporated as the building of omnibus bills continues, but it would be nice to be in a position to provide input to proposed language in advance. I’m guessing the education community will get that chance and we’ll be ready when the opportunity arises.
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