Thursday, September 25, 2008

Late September 2008

K-12 "Second Minnesota Miracle" Proposal: The media recently covered proposals for education reform by both the Governor and the chair of the House K-12 Education Finance Committee, Rep. Mindy Greiling. The Governor's efforts are focused on teacher compensation and recruitment, "empowering innovative school leaders," and an intervention program for 8th graders who are not doing well in reading and math. Rep. Greiling's proposal would significantly boost funding for K-12 schools. Both proposals have a lot of merit. If you see below ("What works for education"), providing mentoring for students in high school is very effective in increasing graduation rates. But you have to have the funding dollars behind these ideas to make them work. Another proven tool for improving graduation rates (again, see item below) is lower class sizes at all levels of K-12 education. Keeping class sizes low means having some more teachers in your school. To sum up, the Governor wants reform without any money, and Rep. Greiling wants to provide the dollars.

I attended a meeting of Rep. Greiling's committee in Woodbury on September 23rd in Woodbury to hear more details on her bill. I'm listing highlights that affect our suburban school districts.

1. Increases the basic per pupil revenue to districts from $5,124 to $7,500, and then would index future revenue to inflation according to the implicit price deflator. Some other pots of money that provide dollars now would be eliminated (Q-Comp, for example).
2. Treats all students as one "pupil." Currently elementary school students count as more than one pupil and high school students as less than one pupil.
3. Increases debt service equalization aid to districts. (This would help Centennial that has a lot of debt for school buildings.)
4. Allows changes to calculating funding formula for districts with declining enrollment. Disticts would be able to average their enrollment over three years. (This would help Mounds View.)
5. Create a location equity index for metro area schools. This would increase dollars for metro schools where the cost of living is higher.
6. Districts not making adequate progress can file a plan with the education commissioner for "innovation revenue."
7. The state would "buy back" up to $500 per pupil in property tax levies so your property taxes would go down.

Under this proposal, we'd see increases in funding for Centennial (23.5%), Mounds View (23.7%), and White Bear Lake (27.0%). The issue, of course, is where the money comes from. The bill would be about $1.7 billion, and we are projecting a deficit for the 2010-2011 fiscal year. While Greiling hasn't proposed a specific method of funding, she has mentioned increasing the income tax on the highest earners (e.g., $200,000 and above).

I would like to hear from constituents about their thoughts on this plan (including the funding). Several local education advocates tell me that the plan--on the spending side--needs some work.

What works for MN education? I see that Growth & Justice recently posted an interesting paper called "Investments in K-12 Education Minnesota: What Works." The "reforms" that seem to show results in increasing high school graduation rates in rank order include:
* reducing class sizes in elementary school for free lunch eligible students
* high school mentoring and monitoring
* high school reform
* reducing class sizes in elementary school for all students
* high school reform with career academy model
* increasing teacher salaries
* high school program monitoring behavior and academic success (from project for Latino students)

The study also quantifies the savings for society when more kids graduate from high school.

Environmental data on-line: I've spent a lot of time working on groundwater issues. I met recently with MPCA staff who gave me a demonstration of their Environmental Data Access system. In the case of groundwater data, you can find water quality data for many wells in the state. If you click on the link above, you can search by a variety of ways. I produced a map of wells that have pollution data for my legislative district. It's pretty speedy if you have broadband access.

Atrazine found in Snail Lake in Shoreview: The MPCA and the Department of Agriculture recently completed a study to research pesticides in Minnesota lakes. Turns out that the agencies found trace amounts of the herbicide atrazine in many lakes, including Snail Lake in Shoreview. It is being suggested that the atrazine is evaporating from agricultural areas, where it is applied to corn and soybeans, and falling through rain. The Star Tribune ran an article on the issue on September 22nd. Atrazine is listed as "present" in Snail Lake and you can see the report on-line (search on "Snail Lake" in the pdf document).

Lincoln Commission: Although it is not an official position yet, I've been asked to serve as the DFLer on the state's committee for the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City) was appointed by the Governor to be Minnesota's official state representative to the national commission, and Rep. Urdahl asked me to join him for the local effort. Other state committee members include U of M historians Hy Berman and Ann Pflaum, former MN Historical Society director Russell Fridley, and Lynn Genter of the MN Council of Social Studies Teachers.

Cost to Minnesotans of the War in Iraq: Some of my colleagues, including the Speaker, held a press conference recently showing that the War in Iraq has cost $15.8 billion, or about the same as our annual budget. That's somewhere in the area of $3,150 per person if there are five million people in Minnesota.

E-waste exports: One of the bills I worked hard on in 2007 allows for free drop-off of your old electronic products like TVs and computers. One lingering issue that relies on federal action is the export of e-waste to other countries where the waste is not handled properly. We don't have as many problems with this as e-waste on the west and east coasts, but a recent General Accountability Office (GAO) report shows that the U.S. EPA is not enforcing the law on exporting this toxic material.

Visit to Paynesville: The MN Farmers Union has an "adopt-a-legislator" program where local member units invite urban and suburban legislators to their area to learn more about Minnesota agriculture. So on September 24th, I drove out to Paynesville on Hwy 23 in Stearns County to visit the Cenex Co-op, its director, a board member, and a representative of Western Co-op Transport Association from Montevideo. It was very instructive! The Farmers Union and the Farm Bureau are two of the major agricultural organizations in the state--the Farmers Union tends to be more pro-small farmer, and the Farm Bureau tends to be more pro-agri-business. We talked a lot about federal and state laws governing trucks and the general agricultural situation in greater MN.

Schedule: On Thursday, September 18th, I attended a meeting of the Legislative Coordinating Commission Working Group on Ethnic Heritage and New Americans. I'm the DFLer from the House on the working group and I head the subcommittee on Cultural Heritage. On Monday, September 22nd, I attended the first meeting of our state Lincoln Commission (see above) and then a press conference. In the afternoon, I attended an awards ceremony at Conservation Minnesota where legislators were recognized for their environmental efforts. (I'm among about 20 legislators who have a 100% rating with the organization.) On Tuesday, September 23rd, I met with MPCA staff (see above) and then visited Merrick Inc., a nonprofit in Vadnais Heights, to see their new solar panel array that provides half of their electrical needs. Merrick serves adults with developmental disabilities. Later in the day, I visited with staff at the U of M's Immigration History Research Center (IHRC) as part of my duties with the LCC Working Group on Ethnic Heritage and New Americans. Their collections take up quite a bit of the underground cavern storage areas in the bluff on the campus's west bank. In the evening, I attended the K-12 education finance committee in Woodbury (see above). On Wednesday, September 24th, I visited the Cenex co-op in Paynesville (see above). On Thursday, September 25th, I attended a summit for the Vadnais Lakes Area Water Management Organization, which works on surface water protection in several NE metro cities, including parts of Lino Lakes and North Oaks in my district, and even a few neighborhoods in Shoreview.

Monday, September 15, 2008

First Half of September 2008

Some useful resources: The non-partisan Minnesota Taxpayers Association (not to be confused with the Taxpayers League of MN, a decidedly conservative organization that participates in elections) sends us a bi-monthly newsletter outlining budget trends for the state. While I don't think you can get the newsletter on its web site, the MTA has a lot of useful information on-line.

Bio-businesses in our area: I received this from a House colleague recently.

"The BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota launched today BIOMAP, an interactive map that displays more than 2,000 unique bioscience capabilities including private sector, academic sector and public sector resources throughout the state of Minnesota.

"The tool allows you to search Minnesota by city, county or legislative district as well as by industry sector (medical device, pharma/biologics, animal health, renewable energy, food or bio materials) to see companies or institutions that fit your search criteria. The map includes address, a website link and a brief description."

Legislative Auditor releases several reports: The Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) just released several reports, including a special review of the DNR's activities related to the 2007 North American Wildlife Enforcement Officers Association Conference. The DNR (illegally it seems) raised funds for the conference using state resources, and we had a hearing on the issue in the Environmental Finance Committee during the first week of September. The auditor suggests that the state get tens of thousands of dollars back from the organization that organized the conference.

Governor's 21st Century Tax Reform Commission: This is a commission set up to change the business tax code, and it should report to the Governor by December 1st. There are public meeting notices and other information at the Department of Revenue web site. Chief among the concerns of the group is that sales taxes do not apply to services and Minnesota's economy has been shifting from goods to services in the last two decades. That has fiscal repercussions for the state treasury because sales tax receipts are likely to go down. One presentation on the web site shows tax reforms for businesses in other states. There is a lot of discussion of shifting from a corporate and business income tax rate and moving in the direction of a gross receipts tax (GRT). A GRT would be much lower than the income tax rate but would apply to a broader number of businesses. The Governor's goal is to make any changes "revenue-neutral," which means that the state would net the same amount of revenue as before.

Schedule: On Monday, September 8th, I attended a joint meeting of the House Environmental Finance Committee and the Senate Environment & Natural Budget Division. We heard testimony about the recent legislative auditor's special review about the DNR mentioned above. On Wednesday, September 10th, I met with several stakeholders at Region's Hospital concerned about anti-competitive behavior in the oncology industry. On Thursday, September 11th, I met in Circle Pines with representatives of Anoka County libraries and the cities of Lexington and Circle Pines about the transition from the Circle Pines library to one in Lino Lakes.

Constituent contacts: Shoreview resident asking about the budget for 2009; Circle Pines resident recommending a fiscally conservative agenda for 2009