Friday, January 4, 2008

Week of December 30, 2007-January 5, 2008

Town hall meeting: With the legislative session coming up on February 12th, Senator Rummel and I will be holding a town hall meeting to meet with constituents on Wednesday, January 23rd at 7:00 p.m. at Lino Lakes City Hall. Directions are on the home page of the Lino Lakes web site.

Health Care Transformation Task Force: Many different commissions, task forces, and committees have been meeting during the summer, fall, and winter to propose changes to the health care system. One of the key ones is the Health Care Transformation Task Force. Expect to hear more on this blog about what might be in store during the legislative session. Of particular interest is how we can reduce costs for those people who already have health coverage. Here is a chart summarizing systemwide potential health care cost savings that could reach 17.5% by 2015. Additional reports and supporting materials for the task force can also be found on the web at the Department of Health web site.

Several other commissions have been meeting on a variety of issues, and their recommendations are located on the web.

Schedule: On Wednesday, I met with the finance director and city manager in Shoreview to learn how their water and sewer rates are set. My drinking water subcommittee is looking at how sewer and water rates create incentives or disincentives for conservation, so the meeting was very helpful! Shoreview does a pretty good job where if you use more than a basic level of water (15,000 gallons per quarter in the non-summer months) you are charged a higher rate. The same goes for sewer usage. However, water use has gone down over the last ten years in Shoreview and the "base rate" for water availability will need to be re-set so that the volume charge for water doesn't subsidize the basic connection costs. Later in the day I met with two different House researchers helping me draft two bills on drinking water and solid waste.

On Thursday, I attended an all-day retreat of the DFL House Caucus to discuss the upcoming session. (Blog readers will note that I don't give details on the contents of caucus meetings, since it is a chance for all DFLers in the House to express their frank views, and it is important to maintain the confidentiality of these meetings in order to encourage those frank discussions.)

On Thursday evening, I met with the Lexington City Council to discuss major issues coming before the legislature and to hear of those issues that affect the city. And here they are!

* Cable franchising: A bill in the legislature would create a statewide cable franchising system to theoretically create more competition (and possibly lower prices) for cable services. For example, Qwest would be able to have the right to enter the cable market to compete with Comcast in our area without having to negotiate individual franchise arrangements with local cable access commissions (like CTV 15 and North Metro 15). Local cable commissions are concerned that, as written, the bill will drastically cut the "PEG fees" that support local cable programming. They are also concerned that they will lose control over the franchising process but only wealthier communities with lots of cable consumers will get the benefits.

* Transportation: The City of Lexington and its taxpayers would benefit from a comprehensive transportation package. According to the state constitution, cities and counties receive 33% of gas tax and license tab fee revenues, which helps avoid more increases in city and county property taxes. This chart shows how it works. This is why I don't support the Governor's and House Republican proposals to bond more for trunk highways because trunk highway bonds can only pay for trunk highways, not city and county roads like the gas tax and license tab fees. We now owe about ten times more interest on trunk highway bonds than we did before 2003, when the legislature bonded for a large chunk of transportation funding. This is also why I supported increasing the gas tax in 2007--we can pay now or pay a lot more later.

* Local government aid (LGA): Lexington receives several hundred thousand dollars in LGA annually. The City of Lexington would like to see a recommitment to LGA in the 2009 budget. Interestingly, because the LGA funding formula in 2006 started giving cities with less than 5,000 population $6 per capita, the City of North Oaks gets about $26,000 in LGA, which tends to irritate other metro cities who are not getting LGA.

* Library: City Council members expressed an interest in communicating concerns about the possible closure of the Circle Pines library should a proposed Lino Lakes library get built. They would like to see some basic services remain for seniors and others who do not drive. (I just noticed that Anoka County Libraries has a Books by Mail service for homebound residents.)

* Rice Creek Trail: I'm authoring a bill to support construction of the Rice Creek North Regional Trail through the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes park in Lino Lakes and then through Circle Pines. The City Council was interested in supporting this request.

* Administrative fines: Forty percent of the city's budget is for public safety. Officers for the Centennial Lakes Police Department spend a lot of time at the county courthouse at city expense when they could issue city administrative fines for traffic violations instead. Currently the city must issue tickets through the county.

And, on Saturday, I met with parents from the Golden Lake Elementary PTA in Circle Pines.

Constituent contacts: Shoreview resident about a Cub Scout visit to the Capitol; Lino Lakes resident about an upcoming education meeting; Shoreview resident asking about the campaign finance system in Minnesota; Shoreview resident passing along article about a Mexican health care initiative that has reduced hypertension in patients; two Circle Pines residents about a proposed cable franchising bill; two Lino Lakes residents, Shoreview resident, and Circle Pines resident supporting a ban on hunting morning doves; Shoreview resident asking about upcoming drinking water subcommittee meeting; North Oaks resident about health care