The 2013 session ended in a flurry of activity as any session usually does. The legislature has always had district runs before final passage of an Omnibus E-12 Finance bill, but not this year. A last minute amendment by Rep. John Benson (DFL Minnetonka) to the omnibus Tax bill is causing a delay in getting final district runs. Here is an Initial District Run.
Rep. Benson was one of five House conferees for the omnibus tax bill and when the House and Senate decided to split $260 million in property tax relief, an opening was created for the west metro to make a play for adding a Location Equity Revenue (LER) program to the general education statute.
Location Equity has been a controversial topic for many years. MREA agreed to a location equity component to the education finance mix as a part of last year’s Education Finance Reform Working Group recommendations. That component would essentially allow metro districts to convert more of their voter approved referendum into district approved levy authority.
As part of that deal, regional center districts outside the metro would get half of that same authority. The last minute amendment by Rep. Benson was an attempt to accomplish what the Education Finance Reform Work Group recommended. But doing last minute education program amendments in the tax bill when referendum calculation changes are being made in the E-12 bill create problems.
In fact, the last bill the legislature passed at about 23:59:59 on Monday, May 20, included amendments to the Benson amendment in an attempt to “fix” problems that were surfacing as a result of the LER program.
Is the new LER levy mandatory for districts who qualify? Does it offset existing referendum authority? How does it interact with the new board approved $300/pupil referendum authority that was also created? These questions and more are being discussed by key legislative and department staff as I write this.
As Dr. Melcher makes the rounds this summer to various administrative forums, be sure that you or your district finance expert attends as we all try to understand what the game plan is for this new levy program. I think the Department is going to have to make some interpretations of the legislature’s intent for this program.