House Republicans propose to speed up repayment of school funding shift

House Republicans propose to cut deeper into the state budget reserve in order to speed up the repayment of the K-12 school funding shift.

House Education Finance Committee Chairman Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, styled his legislation as “good news” for Minnesota schools.

House Education Finance Committee Chairman Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Already, some $318 million, by law, has been designated to pay down the more than $2 billion lawmakers have borrowed in education funding to craft recent state budget agreements.

The dollars come out of recent state budget surpluses, which have replenished the budget reserve.

Garofalo’s bill would add an additional $430 million to the outgoing one-time school funding — all told, an additional $780 in per pupil funding — but also depletes the budget reserve.

“I think it’s a higher priority to pay back the debt than to have the cash in hand,” Garofalo said.

The state would still have $577 million in reserve, he said.

His bill passed the House Education Finance Committee on a 14 to 5 vote on Thursday, March 8.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, styled the bill as reflecting what Republicans have been hearing from the public. “We believe we’re on a good track,” he said of the state budget.

Zellers doesn’t believe the next state budget forecast, out in November, would show a darkening state budget picture.

But Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton on March 8 suggested the Republican proposal was an election year political ploy. “Sounds good,” he said.

But Dayton expressed concern that Republicans by “raiding” the budget reserve could force the state into short-term borrowing.

Beyond this, his philosophy on additional state spending — and Dayton considers the funding shift repayment that — is that it must be offset by additional revenue, Dayton explained. He would hold Republicans to that task, Dayton said.

Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher in a statement said while the idea of paying off the school shift as quickly as possible is laudable, “this proposal is a risky, one-time maneuver that pays off only a fraction of the money owed to schools while putting the state’s budget reserves and credit rating at risk.”

Republicans and Democrats blame each other for the school funding shifts.

Garofalo said his legislation would return the school payment schedule back to as it was in 2011.