Sen. Brown seeks to end borrowing from schools

Sen. Dave Brown is sick and tired of lawmakers using gimmicks to balance the state budget.

So the Becker Republican is setting out to do something about it.

“We have to stop playing games with money intended for our school districts,” Brown said.

And while the House of Representatives passed their education omnibus bill, which included a provision to pay back the remainder of the school fund shift from the 2011 budget agreement, the measure doesn’t go far enough, Brown says. The Senate on Monday night also passed a shift-payback program. (See story on Page 6.)

This bill does not address the root of the problem, but rather the effect of the problem, he said. Under the House bill, there is nothing stopping the state Legislature from balancing the state’s budget on the backs of Minnesota’s schools again.

“This has to stop,” Brown said.

Brown has taken steps to put the brakes on future borrowing from the state’s school districts for the purpose of balancing the budget.

He has proposed a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that bans delayed payments to school districts in excess of 10 percent of a school district’s estimated state aid package.

He wants voters to go to the polls to permanently block the Legislature from accessing that state aid.

“Using the state constitution isn’t the way I like to govern, but if it’s the only way, I’m comfortable doing it,” Brown said.

There are already two constitutional amendments heading to the November ballot: the voter I.D. proposal and the same-sex marriage ban.

Dozens of other proposed amendments have failed to make their way to the ballot, which makes Brown realize that the chances for his legislation passing are slim, at best.

“I tried to get some Democrats to sign onto my bill because they had criticized balancing the budget on the backs of our kids,” Brown said.

He was hoping Democrats would be sympathetic to his cause, but support was hard to find.

“But that doesn’t mean you give up,” Brown said. “You keep on trying.”

That’s because he says his bill is important.

“This amendment helps schools and school districts budget with confidence, knowing that they will not face a budget shortfall due to a shift,” Brown said.

“School districts deserve more stability when making budgeting decisions and my amendment would provide them with that so they do not need to tap into reserves or borrow short-term to make up the difference,” he said.

That means a lot to a school district like Princeton, which saw its state aid decrease $16 million the past two years because of the shift: $6.8 million in 2010 and $9.57 million in 2011.

The Legislature needs to stop future shifts and its recently passed education bill doesn’t do that, Brown said.

“We need to stop this so it never happens again,” he said.

Brown’s bill sits with the Senate education committee waiting for action.