Legislative Update 2016-04-29

The following information was shared via email with the library community by Elaine Keefe, Capitol Hill Associates, in her role as the MLA-ITEM lobbyist.

The legislative session must end no later than 3 weeks from Monday.  Here is an update on issues of interest:

Supplemental Budget:   The House and Senate passed their omnibus supplemental budget bills this week.  The Senate has combined all of its budget bills into one omnibus supplemental budget bill (SF 2356).

The House split the budget into three smaller omnibus budget bills, as follows:

Education and Higher Education  (HF 2749)
Agriculture, Environment and Jobs (HF 3931)
HHS, Public Safety and State Government (HF 3467)

How the bills will be conferenced has not been announced, but it is widely assumed that there will be one conference committee made up of ten members.  The conferees are expected to be appointed early next week.

Broadband:  Last month Governor Dayton proposed $100 million in Border-to-Border Broadband Grants.  The Senate included $85 million in its budget bill, while the House included $15 million for FY 17 and $25 million in FY 18.  The House also included $7 million for broadband grants for schools in its education finance bill.  Those who attended Library Legislative Day heard me describe this new grant program in detail.  For those who were not there, the proposal actually would fund two separate types of grants, as follows:

Broadband Wi-Fi Hotspots:  A school district may apply for a grant to support wireless off-campus learning through a student’s use of a data card, USB modem or other mobile broadband device that enables the student to access learning materials through a mobile broadband connection.  A school district that qualifies for sparsity revenue may apply for a grant to provide Internet access on school buses.  The maximum grant is $100,000 for a school district applying by itself or $200,000 if applying with a community partner such as a public library, community education department or adult basic education program provider.

Capacity Building:  A school district that is a member of a telecommunications cluster may apply for a grant of up to $100,000 to be used in any manner and with any community partners that will allow the district to expand telecommunications access for students, teachers and community members.

Of the $7 million appropriated, $5 million is for the broadband Wi-Fi hotspot grants and $2 million is for the capacity building grants.  This is a one-time appropriation.

Total Operating Capital:  The Senate has included in its budget $10.1 million to provide a one-time increase of $10.88 per pupil in total operating capital.  There is a list of 25 permitted uses of this funding in statute.  Among the permitted uses are:

“To improve and repair school sites and buildings, and equip or reequip school buildings with permanent attached fixtures, including library media centers”
“ To purchase or lease interactive telecommunications equipment”
“To purchase or lease computers and related hardware, software, and annual licensing fees, copying machine, telecommunications equipment, and other non-instructional equipment”
“To purchase new and replacement library media resources or technology”
“To purchase or lease telecommunications equipment, computers and related equipment for integrated information management systems”
“To pay personnel costs directly associated to the acquisition, operation and maintenance of telecommunications systems, computers, related equipment, and network and applications software”

After School Grants:  The Senate has included in its budget bill $500,000 in one-time funding for grants to after school programs.  This is the program that we have worked with Ignite Afterschool to support.

Bonding:  As you may recall, Governor Dayton proposed a $1.4 billion bonding bill, which would be the largest in state history.  It includes $2 million for Library Construction Grants.  House leaders have said they will spend no more than $600 million on a bonding bill, but have not released any specifics and are not expected to do so anytime soon.  Rep. Paul Torkelson, chair of the House Capital Investment Committee, has said that the bonding bill’s fate will depend on reaching agreement on other issues such as taxes and transportation.  House leaders have characterized the bonding bill as “dessert,” which must come last.  The Senate is scheduled to release its bonding bill on Monday.  It is rumored that it will be a little larger than the governor’s proposal.

Legacy:  The House has passed its omnibus legacy funding bill, HF 3829, out of committee.  Unlike the other three funds the Outdoor Heritage Fund appropriations are made annually, and the bulk of the bill is made up of those appropriations.  However, there is one provision of interest to libraries in the bill.  It reinforces the requirement that legacy funds are to be used to supplement rather than supplant existing funding by requiring any entity requesting funding from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund to inform the Legislature “if the entity funded the same project or program after 2006 and how the previous project or program was funded.”  This is based on a recommendation from the Legislative Auditor.

Because sales tax revenue has lagged behind projections, there are deficits in three of the four legacy funds, including the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.  To resolve the deficit, Minnesota Management and Budget plans to enact a shift by authorizing agencies to “allot only 97% of their FY 17 appropriations, holding back 3% of each appropriation for spending in the following fiscal year, FY 18.”

Elaine Keefe, Capitol Hill Associates