A $15.7 billion funding package for public schools is under fire from Republican lawmakers, who say the measure up for a vote Tuesday in the Minnesota House would enlarge state government.
Democratic leaders say each piece of the House K-12 Education Policy and Finance Bill, which increases state education spending by $550 million, would help improve student achievement.
The bill would establish new, separate advisory task forces to study career pathways and technical education, standard adult high school diplomas, special education caseloads and teacher licensure.
It also creates a new state position of Indian education director, a Minnesota Youth Council Committee, Regional Centers of Excellence and a School Climate Council and School Climate Center.
"Every single dollar in the bill in some way, shape or form helps us to get to the world's best workforce in helping schools reach those very high goals that we're setting," said state Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, chair of the House Education Finance Committee.
Republicans don't like the education plan because it relies on tax increases to boost funding for public schools. They're also bothered that it adds new layers to state government and point to the long list of new offices, programs and advisory panel.
State Rep. Kelby Woodard, R-Belle Plaine, said he thinks many problems can be addressed locally without growing the state bureaucracy.
"I think that's what frustrates Minnesota taxpayers when they see all these additional task forces and all the unique little niche things they try to address," Woodard said. "They spend a lot of money, send a report, the report goes nowhere. It's very frustrating to Minnesota taxpayers and to us as well."
The education bill is not unique. New offices, programs and advisory panels appear in many of the House and Senate budget bills. The commerce bill creates a new office of broadband development. The state government finance and veterans affairs bill establishes an e-government advisory council. The jobs bill creates a new office of collaboration and dispute resolution, three new trade offices and a trade policy advisory group.
State Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, doesn't like the trend.
"I mean you put a bunch of people in a room and create a commission, and typically you have more meetings than solutions," Thompson said. "I think frankly that's a way the Democrats are pushing their decision-making authority off to others, because frankly I think they know that all the tax and spending increases they're looking are not going to be well received by Minnesotans."
“I mean you put a bunch of people in a room and create a commission, and typically you have more meetings than solutions... I think frankly that's a way the Democrats are pushing their decision-making authority off to others.”Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville
Thompson and other Republicans are also raising concerns about the proposed elimination of a special panel that they created two years ago to identify outdated and ineffective government functions. State Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, said the so-called Sunset Commission served an important role.
"At least it was a mechanism in place to get rid of some of these layers of bureaucracy that make it harder for citizens to participate and express their concerns," she said.
But Democrats say the Sunset Commission was an unnecessary duplication of the oversight work that Legislative Committees and the Office of the Legislative Auditor already provide.
State Sen. Tom Saxhaug, chair of the State Departments and Veterans Affairs Division, said the commission had only reviewed the "low-hanging fruit" of government.
"The people that worked on the Sunset Commission worked hard. But I think there's a better way of doing it," said Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids.
Many of the new advisory panels created this session are intended to have limited life spans, and according to Democrats, they also have well defined missions. State Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said lawmakers often need some outside expertise on important subjects.
"We may be guilty of trying to a better job with state decision-making, but if Republicans want to turn that into growing government and expanding the levels of bureaucracy, the only result is going to be that we are not representing Minnesota, and we're not doing a good job for taxpayers and tax dollars," Winkler said.
DFL leaders in the House and Senate say they plan to pass all of their budget bills and send them to conference committees by the end of the month.