Senate passes school shift buy-back bill

By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol Reporter

The Republican Senate passed a school shift buy-back bill Monday, March 26, one slating about $450 million in one-time budget reserve dollars towards repaying borrowed school funding.

The legislation contains a provision crafted by Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, that would slate one percent of non school or debt service funding — about $100 million a year, Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Gen Olson, R-Minnetrista, said — towards repaying school funding shifts with permanent revenue.

On the Senate floor, Nienow said the provision “guaranteed” that legislators could not borrow school funding with little thought about when or how to pay it back.

“The Legislature will have to make a decision,” said Nienow.

Already by law, $318 million in state budget surplus has been directed towards paying back the more than $2 billion in existing school shifts.

Under the shift buy-back bills now passed in both the Republican House and Senate, the state budget reserves would shrink to about $593 million.

Some Senate Democrats said that further tapping into the reserves was foolhardy.

“I see it as another accounting gimmick,” said Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center.

Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, said the Republican bill threatened the state’s ability to absorb financial tremors for the sake of a political vote.

“This a bad bill compounding a bad idea,” said Cohen.

Democrats also said that the Nienow provision would serve to add the state budget deficit forecast for the future.

But Republicans jumped to the defense of the legislation.

“The vote should be 67 to nothing,” said Sen. Ted Daley, R-Eagan, of passing the bill.

Republicans had cleaned up the “mess” Democrats had left them with the state budget, Daley said.

Other Republicans, like Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, deemed the recent state budget surge as amazing, arguing the turnaround happened because of Republican management.

The shift buy-back bill passed on a 35 to 29 vote.

The Senate, among other education bills, also passed a Gazelka bill that emerged from the Little Falls School District.

School district officials, Gazelka said, were frustrated by the time it took to purchase food service equipment — purchases had to be approved by the Department of Education.

The bill gets rid of the need of obtaining that approval.

The legislation was carried in the House by Rep. Mike LeMieur, R-Little Falls, and now goes to the governor.