Lawmakers approve school funding shift buy-back legislation

By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol Reporter

The Legislature passed a school shift buy-back conference committee report Monday, dedicating one-time state budget reserve dollars to buying back the $2 billion in school funding shift.

The legislation slates $430 million in reserves towards the buy back, leaving about $577 million left in the reserves.

Debate on the House floor was sometimes sharp, with House Education Finance Committee Chairman Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, calling Democrats “deadbeat Democrats” for opposing the buy-back.

Democrats returned fire.

“You’re out of order,” said Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley.

“Your bill is out of order,” he said to Garofalo.

But the bill passed the House on a 75 to 56 vote.

The tone in the Senate was gentler, with Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, warning that credit rating companies would not look favorably on the state using up its reserves.

“This definitely will hurt us,” Stumpf said.

The conference committee report pass the Senate on a 35 to 28 vote.

Democrats have proposed closing perceived tax loopholes relating to off-shore corporate assets as a means of paying back the school funding shifts.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has suggested that using the budget reserves to pay back the shifts was irresponsible.

Additionally, the House passed an education policy bill containing a provision requiring that school board establish policies prohibiting the use of school district resources by employees to advocate for the election or defeat of any candidate for elective office, advocate the passage or defeat of any referendum question, or solicit funds for political purposes.

It stipulates the policies should not prohibit school district employees from engaging in political activities except when engaged in performing duties assigned to them under their employee contract.

Democrats have said the legislation treads on First Amendment rights. They also criticized the legislation as being a mine field of state mandates.

In other action, the House approved legislation authored by Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, providing for staggered, four-year terms for Metropolitan Council members.

On the House floor, Scott said that having governors appoint entire new councils meant the functions of the Met Council tended to staff-driven rather than council-driven.

“I think it’s a good first step,” said Scott of her bill.

While some lawmakers said the bill did not go far enough, others questioned, if council members no longer would serve at the pleasure of governors, how could one be removed for malfeasance?

Scott indicated that issue could be explored in conference committee with the Senate on the legislation.

Rep. Sandra Peterson, DFL-New Hope, said that she had carried a similar bill several year ago and former Republican governor Tim Pawlenty had vetoed it.

Dayton has expressed qualms over having staggered terms for Met Council members.

In other actions, the House passed a bill by Rep. Ernie Leidiger, R-Mayer, requiring state officials use the federal E-Verify program in hiring.

The program verifies that a given person can legally work in the United States.

Some Democrats said that while the idea behind Leidiger’s bill was commendable, E-Verify was a flawed system.

Some day, said Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, it may be perfected.

“It isn’t yet,” he said.

A June 2009 legislative auditor’s report on E-Verify noted the accuracy of the system was improving, with only about one percent of verifications being erroneous.

But some Minnesota businesses are subject to a patchwork of state and federal E-Verify mandates, the auditor notes.

The bill passed the House on a 77 to 53 vote.