Column: Minnesota legislators finally demand answers from U of MBecause the Minnesota Legislatures likely won’t take final action on money issues until next month (and Wisconsin won’t until later), the matters discussed below are all in limbo — but worth considering anyway.
By: Virgil Swing, For the Budgeteer News
Because the Minnesota Legislatures likely won’t take final action on money issues until next month (and Wisconsin won’t until later), the matters discussed below are all in limbo — but worth considering anyway since readers may want to send guidance to lawmakers in St. Paul and Madison.
The Minnesota Senate passed its $2.8 billion higher education budget on April 17 and included a requirement that the university freeze tuition and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities limit tuition hikes to
Both systems were told to provide more information to state officials on five measures, including how they’re increasing graduation rates and holding down administrative costs. The House has no such provision in its higher ed money bill, but it could be included in May when final action is taken.
This is a long way from what’s needed, but at least some tougher talk is finally being heard.
It’s good that DFL state senators were squeamish about the 35 percent pay increase they voted themselves on April 16. You could tell they were anguished because the bill barely passed and there was no floor debate before the 34-32 vote.
All five Northeastern Minnesota senators managed to overcome their squeamishness to vote for the big pay raise. In fairness to lawmakers, this would be the first pay hike in nearly 15 years and wouldn’t take effect until 2015.
However, the new $42,000 pay will go to folks who spend only one-third of their time in St. Paul doing the public’s business. If you ask them, though, they’ll describe all their public-service work in between sessions.
A better vote would have been to have some outside panel look at lawmakers’ duties and pay and decide if the Legislature should be considered a full-time or part-time job.
Regular readers of this column and the News Tribune know that the fund from which Duluth teachers’ pensions are to be paid is woefully short of where it should be. The Legislative Commissions on Pensions and Retirement, which recommends action to lawmakers, is dominated by traditionally union-friendly DFL legislators.
It recently urged the state to spend $6.3 million a year to shore up the fund. I’m skeptical lawmakers will provide such a bailout, but DFLers dominate the 2013 Legislature.
However, it is hard to fathom how that the commission — struggling to keep the statewide pension fund solvent — could seek to enrich the benefit formula at the same time. Yet that’s what it recently did, suggesting that legislators boost one formula for pension payouts from
1.7 percent to 1.9 percent (per year of service), or nearly 12 percent higher.
Lawmakers who have been paying attention know the state has lots
of other public pension deficits and should nip this enrichment plan in the bud so these problems don’t become harder to fix.
I’m a big fan of the charter school movement, which can give parents more choice among public schools and provides incentives for the traditional schools to try to improve. But I hope Wisconsin lawmakers don’t pass either of two other efforts to expand parental choice.
Gov. Scott Walker wants to expand a private-school voucher program beyond Milwaukee and Janesville to nine other school districts — and no doubt to the rest of the state eventually, though he doesn’t say that. And other Republicans, who control both houses of the Legislature, want to adopt tax credits for families with students in private schools.
Thankfully, some of Walker’s fellow Republicans are balking at the expanded voucher plan, and neither proposal has passed yet.
Expanding vouchers across the state or giving generous tax credits to parents of private-school students would eventually gut the public schools, leaving a shrunken system that would serve only the poorest families or those indifferent to their children’s educations. No state with a conscience should ever do that.
Budgeteer opinion columnist Virgil Swing has been writing about Duluth for many years. Contact him at email@example.com.