Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Good Primer on the Gas Tax and Where It Goes

House Research at the Capitol put together this very good document explaining where state funding for roads and bridges comes from and where it goes. The only change from this 2005 document is that within five years, 100% of the motor vehicle sales tax (MVST) will go to transportation. Of that MVST money, 60% will go to roads and bridges and 40% will go to transit. The biggest chunk of money on the chart is the gas tax, however, which is dedicated by Article XIV of the State Constitution to roads and bridges only.

Here's the link:

Energy Efficiency at Mounds View Schools

Energy efficiency junkies might be interested in a summary recently published about energy efficiency initiatives by the Mounds View School District.

Help for Veterans and Their Families

The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs has a toll-free number at 1-888-546-5838 (LinkVet) for veterans and their families.

"LinkVet is a toll-free, one-stop customer service line for all Minnesota veterans. The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, along with Crisis Connection, will provide information referral, immediate crisis intervention and psychological counseling 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"MVDA [Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs] staff will manage the lines Monday through Friday 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

"Crisis Connection, a crisis support line with masters-level trained social workers, will field all crisis calls during business hours, after business hours, on weekends and holidays.

"Callers will connect to this service utilizing Link Live, a secure, encrypted communications tool that provides internet phone calling, Live Chat and secure email.

"Visit MDVA's one-stop website for on-line information at:"

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Bridge

Obviously the issue the legislature is grappling with now is the 35W bridge collapse. Certainly readers were as shocked as I was to hear the news and to see the footage of the collapse. Of course the first priority in the hours after the collapse was to help the injured and locate the victims. Having been an emergency medical technician in college, I can certainly vouch for how difficult that work is. Many of those killed were from the north metro, since they were commuting home on the bridge. One in particular, Sherry Engebretson, was from district 53A; I did not know her personally, and I cannot imagine how difficult things are for her family right now.

Now the task ahead of us is to figure out how to replace the bridge, to consider other actions related to transportation funding in a special session, and to figure out what went wrong.

Replacing the bridge: The federal government is pledging $250 million toward replacement. Minneapolis would like to see a bridge that can carry light rail or at least bus rapid transit. The city and the Governor believe that a ten-lane bridge is desirable. Many believe that federal dollars will be slow in actually getting to Minnesota and that the state will foot the bill in the meantime. Personally I would like to see us build a bridge that takes into account what we might do in ten to twenty years, and that might be rail to the northern suburbs. Some major bridges including 169 at Bloomington Ferry apparently were built with footings to support rail in case that became necessary, which would reduce the future cost of rail. However, I recognize that there could be a substantial delay to rebuilding if rail is considered. I am waiting for updates from my colleagues on the transportation committee on what the trade-offs will be.

Your thoughts would be appreciated.

Special session: The Governor and the leaders of the House and Senate believe that a special session of a few days duration would be appropriate. Letters are going back and forth to determine areas of agreement so that we can act quickly and cooperatively. All members of the House of Representatives and the Senate were on a conference call with Senator Pogemiller and Speaker Kelliher about a week ago to update us on the situation and we get updates every day or every other day. I suspect we will see a special session that will focus on a comprehensive transportation package and perhaps some modest bonding proposals related to roads and bridges, as well as a modest property tax relief proposal.

During the regular session I supported an increase in the gas tax since it is constitutionally dedicated to roads and bridges and cannot be used for any other purpose, because the backlog of transportation projects is so huge, and because more and more of our property taxes are going to fix up local roads (and 38% of the gas tax pays for local roads). Some legislators, like Rep. Marty Seifert, say we should wait for the November forecast and put any surplus toward the 35W bridge replacement. But what about the other 1,000 bridges in Minnesota that are "structurally deficient"?

July and August 2007 Summary

Since things have been going slower in the summer, I'll provide this summary of my activities for July and August. I decided to take the summer off to be at home with my six and nine-year old children, so I haven't been at the Capitol much lately, but I do visit the office weekly to pick up mail.

On Sunday, July 8th, I met with several medical professionals (mostly doctors) in North Oaks to hear their ideas for health care reform. They also gave me a certificate from the Minnesota Medical Association thanking me for voting in favor of the workplace smoking ban.

On Monday, July 9th, I attended a public meeting in Bloomington by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on the new electronic waste recycling law. In attendance were representatives of electronics manufacturers, electronics recyclers, cities, and counties. I also attended a meeting of the Lino Lakes City Council with Senator Rummel to update them on our activities during the legislative session. Council members expressed interest in Anoka County's proposal for a new library on Lake Drive.

On Tuesday, July 10th, I met with the legislative affairs staff of the Met Council to discuss bus transit in District 53A. Of particular interest to me was the long term vision for how our area would be served by buses that feed into suburban rail stations or park and rides, such as those on the Northstar Commuter Rail line and the Rush Line along Highway 61. In the evening, I attended a meeting of the District 53 DFL.

On Friday, July 13th, I was interviewed on MPR's MidMorning program during the last ten minutes of the 10:00 a.m. show. The topic was on the recently passed electronic waste recycling legislation. In the afternoon, I helped staff a booth for the Ramsey County DFL at the Ramsey County Fair in Maplewood.

On Monday, July 16th, I attended a meeting of the Centennial School Board along with Senators Betzold, Rummel, and Vanderveer to update board members on the legislative session.
On Tuesday, July 17th, I met with a representative of Clean Water Action to talk about groundwater and drinking water pollution issues.

On Saturday, July 21st, I met with a large number of my suburban DFL colleagues.

On Tuesday, July 24th, I visited (with members of the Senate & House Energy Committees) the High Bridge power plant in St. Paul that is converting from coal to natural gas. We also visited the MISO facility in St. Paul. MISO stands for Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, Inc. MISO is one of several organizations nationwide that monitor electrical generation and transmission and then move power from areas of low demand to areas of high demand in order to increase reliability of electrical generation in the Midwest.

On Friday, July 27th, I attended the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life event in White Bear Lake, where Rep. McFarlane and I received certificates thanking us for voting for the Freedom to Breathe Act. I have to confess that I was not aware of this event before. I was expecting about 30 people and there were about 1,000 people preparing to walk around the high school track all night to raise money for the American Cancer Society!

During the weekend of July 27th-29th, I set up the recycling program for the Slice of Shoreview and marched in the Saturday parade with campaign volunteers. The recycling program collects about six cubic yards of cans and bottles and six cubic yards of cardboard, or about 20% of the volume of waste from the Slice. It's a messy job but I've been doing it for six years and it is very satisfying at the end!

On August 21st, I attended a DFL House Caucus fundraising event in St. Paul. This event--a type held by both political parties--was a golf scramble followed by a reception. Attendees included DFL members of the House, some staff, and lobbyists who I assume made contributions to the DFL House Caucus. I am not a golfer but I came for the reception. For the record I will reiterate that my own personal campaign does not accept contributions from PACs or lobbyists.

On August 29th, I attended an Anoka County "local government officials meeting" at Chomonix Golf Course in Lino Lakes. City council members, county commissioners, and local mayors were mostly in attendance. I was the only legislator. Discussion items included emergency preparedness and the status of Anoka County's technical colleges, including Anoka Technical College and Anoka-Ramsey Community College. One proposal being thrown around is that there should be a four-year university in Anoka County because of growing population, increased congestion, etc. I was also asked to speak about a potential special session.

On August 30th, I met with three Anoka County Commissioners about a proposed special session and a proposed Minneapolis to Duluth rail line. I also toured North Metro TV in Blaine and met with staff about a bill I am co-authoring to allow more competition for video services in Minnesota.

Constituent contacts: Shoreview? constituent asking that the truck restrictions on 35E be lifted to help with congestion after the bridge collapse; Blaine resident proposing an entertainment tax in Minneapolis during rush hour to discourage non-business commuting near the 35W bridge site; Shoreview resident against rail and for extra lanes on 94; North Oaks resident asking about hospital pricing rules; Shoreview resident against light rail; Lino Lakes resident and allergy sufferer seeking flexibility in legislation restricting over the counter sales of pseudoephedrine; Lino Lakes resident concerned about Congress's possible failure to support a Skilled Nursing Facility market basket increase and against low increase in support for nursing homes; Shoreview resident supporting special pet-friendly license plates; Lino Lakes resident supporting federal legislation for the disabled; Lino Lakes resident about a traffic incident; Lino Lakes resident about possible job discrimination issue; Shoreview resident about bus service; Shoreview resident supporting tougher DUI penalties; Shoreview resident and vet against Rep. Lesch's proposed ban on certain dog breeds; Shoreview resident supporting bus transit; North Oaks resident supporting nuclear power; Lino Lakes resident supporting single-payer health care; Circle Pines resident supporting light rail on the new 35W bridge and supporting an increase in the gas tax; Shoreview resident against a gas tax increase and light rail on the new bridge; Shoreview resident against an increase in the gas tax; Blaine resident against light rail and supporting a deduction on the income tax should the gas tax be raised; Shoreview resident against a gas tax increase and wanting additional tax cuts for Minnesotans in the top 20% of income earners; Shoreview resident upset with MN Board of Medical Practices; Shoreview resident against bill to allow higher debt limit for Anoka county libraries; Shoreview resident against "sanctuary" laws for illegal immigrants; Shoreview resident supporting dog and cat breeder bill; Blaine resident against wheelage tax for roads; Shoreview resident against gas tax increase; North Oaks resident supporting an increase in the gas tax; Shoreview resident hesitant about gas tax; Circle Pines resident supporting light rail on the new 35W bridge; Shoreview resident and doctor supporting vote on smoking ban; Lino Lakes resident against a gas tax increase; Shoreview resident about prescription coverage under Minnesota Care

Met Council Response about Poor Bus Service on Route 262

Several district residents have complained to me about poor and unreliable bus service on Route 262, which goes up Rice Street and Hodgson Road through Shoreview and Lino Lakes. This route is run by a private company, Lorenz, Inc.

The Chairman of the Metropolitan Council copied me on a July 11th letter that he sent to a constituent to respond to these problems. Here's an exerpt.

"...the Metropolitan Transportation Services (MTS) staff will:
1. Conduct a comprehensive vehicle maintenance audit of all vehicles operated by Lorenz to assure the Council approved maintenance plan and procedures are being strictly adhered to
2. Consider the age, mileage and condition of these vehicles, then re-evaluate whethere the expectations being made of the contractor are reasonable
3. Search for funding to replace three forty-foot buses in 2007. ... [There is quite a bit after that about the need for legislation action on transit funding.]
4. Expand on-street supervision to more closely monitor service problems
5. Work with Lorenz to correct deficiencies in their driver training program and documentation...."

Anoka County Library in Lino Lakes

Plans are underway by Anoka County to build a new regional library in Lino Lakes off of Lake Drive near I-35W. This would effectively replace the Circle Pines Library, which is pretty small. After speaking with officials from Circle Pines, Lino Lakes, and the Anoka County Library Director and board members, I will be authoring a bill in 2008 to allow changes to library levy limits. Minnesota Statute 383E.20 puts a ceiling on capital bonding for Anoka County Libraries, but since the law went into effect in 1984, the dollar figure ceiling is now pretty low because of inflation. The bill would eliminate the dollar ceiling but keep the percent limit in place.

New Appointment

The Speaker of the House appointed me to the Legislative Coordinating Committee Working Group on Ethnic Heritage and New Americans. I'm not sure what is involved yet, but I believe that Rep. Pat Hamilton is the chair and we will probably only meet a few times.