What’s in the Minnesota lawmakers’ done column so far?
Bill Salisbury, Pioneer Press, April 7, 2012 –
When the Minnesota Legislature convened 10 weeks ago, leaders said there was little they had to do this session. They had erased a deficit and balanced the state budget last year, so most of the heavy lifting was done.
When they took off Thursday, April 5, for a 10-day Easter and Passover recess, they had accomplished little more.
And they blew past the goal of some legislative leaders of wrapping up their work and adjourning for the year by Easter.
A pair of ideological opposites – House DFL Minority Leader Paul Thissen and Phil Krinkie, president of the conservative Taxpayers League of Minnesota – have already labeled it a “do-nothing session.”
That judgment may be too harsh, and premature.
Lawmakers have passed and Gov. Mark Dayton has signed a bill to speed up environmental permitting, a move they hope will promote business expansion and create jobs. Last week, the Republican-controlled majorities delivered on their long-held goal of putting a constitutional amendment on the fall ballot to require voters to show a photo ID. And the University of Minnesota would be allowed to sell beer at its football stadium under legislation that’s flowing toward passage.
Dayton said last week that he’s disappointed they haven’t done more, especially regarding jobs.
But Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said lawmakers aren’t done. When they return to the Capitol on April 16, he expects them to get down to end-of-session hard bargaining with the
Democratic-Famer-Labor governor on jobs legislation and other big issues.
Here’s a look at what they’ve done and what’s left to do:
Much was made of the unveiling of a $975 million plan to build a Vikings stadium at the Metrodome site in Minneapolis. Although bills to build it have been introduced and heard in committee in both chambers, their chances of passage are uncertain.
One bill’s first hearing was in a Senate committee in mid-March. It didn’t get a vote, and there’s been no movement in that chamber since.
Key members are talking about ways to move the bill forward, Senjem said.
The House has made more progress. Two bills to finance the stadium and offer tax relief to charities involved in funding it were passed in committee last week and got the green light Thursday to move to their second committees.
The main stadium bills – backed by Morrie Lanning in the House and Julie Rosen in the Senate – ask the state to kick in $398 million from the tax revenue on electronic pull-tabs and bingo; the Vikings $427 million; and Minneapolis $150 million from extending and redirecting taxes that support the city’s convention center.
Dayton has pushed consistently for the new stadium. What happens after the break will largely depend on House and Senate Republican leaders, he said.
At the start of the session, Dayton and GOP legislative leaders said creating jobs would be the top priority. So far, they haven’t agreed on how to do it.
The governor wants to give businesses a $3,000 tax credit for each unemployed Minnesotan, military veteran or recent college graduate they hire. Republicans rejected that idea.
Instead, they want to cut taxes, especially for businesses. Their “Jobs and Tax Relief Act” would phase out a statewide property tax levy on businesses over the next 12 years. It would save business owners $800 million a year when fully implemented. Senate Taxes Committee Chair Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said those businesses would then create thousands of jobs.
But Dayton said the state couldn’t afford that plan. It would increase a projected $1.1 billion budget deficit by $138 million over the next two years and drain ever-growing sums of revenue thereafter, he said.
The governor and GOP tax committee leaders held preliminary talks on a tax pact last week, and both sides were cautiously optimistic that they can find some common ground.
In one rare area of agreement, Dayton and the Republicans enacted a law streamlining environmental permitting. Businesses pushed for it, saying it would improve the state’s jobs climate, but critics see it as an erosion of environmental protections.
A proposed constitutional amendment to ban requiring workers to pay union dues appears to be dead. Senjem said last month that he doesn’t expect to bring the proposal to a vote in the Senate because it doesn’t have enough support. It also is stalled in the Republican-led House.
House and Senate Republicans last week approved a constitutional amendment that would require voters to show a photo ID at the polls. Now it’s up to Minnesotans who will vote the amendment up or down Nov. 6.
Dayton vetoed a photo ID bill last year, so Republicans circumvented his veto by putting it on the ballot.
Republicans argued a photo ID is necessary to protect against voter fraud. Democrats claimed there’s no evidence of fraud, and it’s just an excuse to suppress voting by the elderly, poor, minorities and students who might have difficulty obtaining photo IDs.
The measure also would scrap “vouching” for persons who lack proof of residence and create a system of “provisional” ballots for voters who show up at a polling place without a photo ID. They could cast provisional ballots that wouldn’t be counted until they verified their identity.
The GOP’s top education priorities have been to start paying back $2.4 billion owed to public schools and ending seniority-based teacher layoffs, a practice dubbed “last in, first out.”
Dayton vetoed the plan Thursday. It would have shifted $430 million from state reserves to start paying back the $2.4 billion owed schools, a tactic Dayton called “superficially appealing” but fiscally irresponsible. It would have cut the state’s budget reserve from $657 million to about $227 million.
The House and Senate reached an agreement on a bill that would end the practice of laying off teachers based on seniority rather than performance, but neither body has acted on the compromise.
Dayton said he has no intention of signing the bill this session, saying Republican lawmakers are pushing a raft of bills that are “anti-public education and anti-teacher.” He also echoed DFL concerns that the bill is tied to a new teacher-evaluation system that won’t be developed until 2014.
Proponents argue the “last in, first out” practice hurts student achievement because they lose effective teachers and it forces more teachers to lose their jobs because districts have to let go of their least-expensive teachers.
A cornerstone of Dayton’s job-creation strategy is a proposal to borrow $775 million for public works projects. He said it would put more than 21,000 Minnesotans back to work.
Republicans don’t consider a bonding package a “jobs bill.” Nonetheless, they want to pass one, mainly to fix up state facilities in need of repair.
House Republicans want two bonding bills: a $221 million measure to restore the deteriorating Capitol and a $280 million proposal to finance all other state construction projects.
Republican senators have proposed a $496 million bonding bill that includes $25 million to repair the Capitol’s corroding exterior walls.
If GOP leaders can get their bills passed, which is in doubt, bonding is likely to be part of the final budget negotiations with Dayton.
CONSERVATION AND ENVIRONMENT
The House passed a bill last week that moves up this year’s game-fishing opener by a week to May 5. Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, plans to introduce a similar proposal in the Senate.
The big question will be whether Dayton signs the eventual bill, which so far contains measures he opposes.
Spending money to stop the spread of invasive species such as Asian carp has received broad support so far from legislators and Dayton.
Money for barriers and a research center at the University of Minnesota are part of Legacy Amendment bills that easily passed the House and Senate and only have to be reconciled in conference committee.
After decades of trying, legislators are poised to change how 2.5 million acres of school trust lands located primarily in northern Minnesota are administered.
But Senate and House bills seeking to generate more money from those lands and funnel it to public schools still have differences that must be worked out in conference committee.
The Legislature passed a “Stand Your Ground” bill that gives more discretion to people who believe they are being threatened. But Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed it, and the measure’s chief backers declined to pursue it further this session.
Both bodies have approved bills expanding the list of banned designer drugs and stiffening penalties for selling synthetic marijuana, or cannabinoids. The issue has broad support, but minor differences between them still need to be settled.
A group of Concordia University students pushed to lift a long-standing practice of giving lawmakers immunity from drunken-driving arrests during session. If it passes, Dayton has indicated he will sign it.
HMO finances have been a hot topic this session with committees in the House and Senate pushing forward a bill to require third-party audits of health plans. Critics question whether HMOs who work as managed-care organizations in public health insurance programs earn too much money.
The Senate audit bill includes a provision to also let the state’s nonprofit HMOs opt out of participating in public health insurance programs. The repeal of the so-called “Rule 101” requirement for health plans would be “strongly opposed” by the Dayton administration, predicted Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka.
The audit bill is moving as a stand-alone issue in the House, where the bill has yet to be taken up on the floor, said Abeler, who is chairman of the Health and Human Services Finance Committee.
Undecided is how the state should conform with the federal government’s health care overhaul, which President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010. But bipartisan support for legislation related to a health exchange – a central feature of the federal law – remained elusive.
Doug Belden, Megan Boldt, Dennis Lien and Chris Snowbeck contributed to this report.