The ground for the governor’s vetoes of the supplemental budget and tax bill this week was sown a year ago. It started with a special session tax bill that would have unfunded the Revenue Department if Gov. Mark Dayton did not sign the bill. He signed it, but line item vetoed the appropriation for the Legislature. The Legislature then sued and the issue went all the way to the Supreme Court with a ruling just in November.

That left bad feelings and little trust going into this session. A year ago, Gov. Dayton, House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka spent many hours together crafting the outlines of the special session. This year, they met very little.

Further complicating the picture was the federal tax changes that affected the Minnesota tax accounting and impacted individuals and business.

Despite all this, the session felt normal with hearings and bills moving through the process. Unfortunately, it has become a practice in the non-budget (even numbered years) to roll all the bills into one mega-omnibus bill.  The faults of that process, with the Legislature under the control of one party and the Governor in the other party, were all too apparent this year.

E-12 Issues

The education articles filled 167 pages – long enough to stand as a separate bill. Gov. Dayton in his veto message specifically addressed elder abuse and opioid epidemic as reasons for vetoing the bill, saying nothing specifically about education.

View score card of the education provisions this session.

Read the governor’s veto letter.

Teacher Pensions

Fixing TRA within the pensions bill was MREA’s No. 1 priority going into the 2018 session and it passed unanimously in both the House and Senate in the final minutes of the legislature.  That demonstrates the support and value of teachers, support staff, administrators and all public servants in Minnesota.

School Safety

Our nation is in an epidemic of school shootings.  The session was bookended by Parkland and Santa Fe.  House Education Finance Chairwoman Jenifer Loon showed creativity in proposing funding for school safety in both districts and cooperatives, flexibility in Long-Term Facility Maintenance (LTFM), and in proposing grants to K-12 school districts through the bonding bill.

The E-12 Senate Committee, led by Chairwoman Carla Nelson, was reluctant to have spending tails (spending in the next biennium) and extremely reluctant to have tails in property tax impacts. As a result, the vetoed supplemental bill only included school safety funding of $5.50 per district and $3.50 per cooperative ongoing beyond 2019.

MREA supported Chair Loon’s effort to get $25 million in grants up to $500,000 to school districts to harden their facilities and increase student safety.  Schools rarely get into the bonding bill, and certainly not in general like this.

MREA recommends the Governor sign both the pensions bill and bonding bill.

Communicating Needs

The attention that Gov. Dayton brought to the budget deficits in schools and the fact that the Legislature responded—although done in the vetoed tax bill—is a net positive.  It demonstrated a recognition that 2% increases per year are not enough to fund the quality education our children need and deserve.

The ever increasing SPED costs, which got some attention this year, and the increasingly tight labor market make for higher than inflationary costs. The $57.73 per ADM in 2019 and the flexibility to use community education fund balances and the staff development 2% set aside would have been welcome in many of our MREA districts, but fall far short of truly funding schools in ways that our youth can thrive.

SPED funding in FY ’18 was collateral damage done by the failure to come agreement in St. Paul.  The appropriation from 2017 falls a net $22.8 million short of forecasted entitlement for FY ’18.  This will result in a 98.3% proration of SPED aid for FY ’18.  See the impact and details  in a memo from Tom Melcher, Director of Finance for the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE).

What’s Next?

All of this leads to the 2019 session and how important this November’s elections will be. Join us this fall at out platform meetings as we prioritize issues, including SPED, teacher shortages, funding, cooperative facilities for high need students and other issues.

Greater Minnesota’s voice will be needed more than ever in 2019.