By Vernae Hasbargen
As legislators finished up their work for an Easter break, their spending priorities reveal what could be the final outcome of the session. Both the House and Senate have chosen to spend $200 m more than the Governor on K-12 because they found his 1% and 3% increases for the next biennium were not enough. Both they also agree that all day, everyday Kindergarten should be fully-funded. Beyond that, how they spend their target will be fleshed out when they return next week.
Biggest Difference: The Shift
The biggest difference between all three is the repayment of the money school districts loaned the state two years ago. While the shift is the #1 House priority, both the Governor or Senate prefer to let the recovering economy repay schools gradually over the next two years. Then if a balance remains, the Governor recommends paying the remainder in the following biennium.
So while the House spends $854 million to repay the shift, the Senate dedicates $300 million more than the House to lower property taxes. Senate Tax Committee Chairman Rod Skoe wants that relief delivered to taxpayers in fairer school levies.
Most Promising Outcome: Property Tax Relief
Tom Melcher of MDE said Governor Dayton looked closely at property tax reforms, but wanted taxpayers to actually see the relief, so he suggested a $500 refund check instead. He has since taken his rebate proposal off the table.
K-12 Chair Paul Marquart has indicated he plans to do property tax relief in his bill while the Senate wants to fix the tax reform of 2003, which led to the state takeover of education, but resulted in an over-reliance on locally approved referenda. Newly elected Senator Alice Johnson, who chaired the House K-12 Committee in the 1990’s, put it this way, “Funding schools on property taxes is not the right way.”
Not right, and as one administrator testified, “It has left 341 school districts with less buying power today than in 2003.” That’s what legislators are attempting to change.