Monday, January 14, 2008

Week of January 13, 2008

Governor's Bonding Proposal: On Monday morning, the Governor outlined his recommendations for capital investment. You can see copies of the presentation and a list of the detailed projects at the Department of Finance website. There is a lot of good stuff in there, and the legislature will now take a look at this proposal and incorporate its own ideas as well. The bonding bill will total about $1 billion. In particular, I noticed that the state is proposing $1 million for additional groundwater monitoring wells in the Twin Cities metro area. There is also a proposal for trunk highway bonding for the Urban Partnership Agreement (UPA) that would likely provide support for park-and-rides in the north metro area, including Lino Lakes. The Governor is also proposing $225 in borrowing for local bridge replacement. The legislature may move this into the transportation bill but I'm not sure yet. I will point out that transportation still has a dedicated source of funding (the gas tax and license tab fees) while this transportation bonding has no plan for paying back the bonds. Our interest payments on trunk highway bonds have increased by 1000% in the last five years!

A Little Bit on Health Care: The documents we're given on possible health care reform in 2008 are pretty overwhelming, so I'm digesting them a little bit at a time. The legislature's Health Care Access Commission Working Group on Cost Containment has an interesting report that talks about "health care homes" or what some call "patient centered care." My colleague Rep. Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) is a co-author and she is one of four nurses in the House. The report talks about successful pilot projects where one person or clinic helps patients wade through a complex system to figure out the best care. Very outcome-based!

35-W Bridge Survivors' Web Site: Several survivors of the bridge collapse have put together a web site to encourage action by the legislature. You'll note that seven survivors come from our senate district, plus two people people who died in the collapse.

Per diem issue: I was surprised to see that the Anoka County Watchdog called me the "North Metro Taxpayer Hero" on Friday because of my low per diem rate. Usually I find the watchdog criticisms of public officials to be too subjective (and a little personal), but he does provide a valuable service in shedding some light on public records about government programs and spending.

Schedule: On Monday, I attended a workshop with the Shoreview City Council with other legislators representing Shoreview, including Senators Rummel and Chaudhary and Representatives Scalze and Knuth. The city's legislative platform included: property tax relief through an enhanced circuit breaker mechanism; commitment to the reinstatement of the homestead market value tax credit that homeowners used to get for homes valued at $400,000 or less, which the city has been funding on its own after state budget cuts in 2003; a preference that the state not impose levy limits; comprehensive transportation funding; allowing administrative fines for ordinance enforcement; opposition to any regionalized water supply system; and opposition to the statewide cable franchising bill (as currently written) discussed in a previous post.

On Tuesday, I attended a meeting of the Legislative Electric Energy Task Force. Presenters included an advisor to Governor Schwarzenegger who presented "How U.S. States Will Answer the Energy & Climate Challenges of the 21st Century," with an emphasis on cap-and-trade systems to combat global warming; a U of M professor on "Cap-and-Trade 101"; and one additional speaker from the Regulatory Assistance Project about cap-and-trade architecture. In the late afternoon, I attended a meeting of elected officials to get an introduction to Alexandra House, the only battered women's shelter in Anoka County. It was a very sobering visit. Alexandra House has 35 beds. In 2003, they lost $600,000 in funding during the budget cutting session at the Capitol and have been slowly recovering.

On Wednesday, I attended an all-day legislative policy conference for legislators at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. In the afternoon we participated in an exercise to help us learn how to negotiate with each successfully. We'll see if it actually works this session!

On Thursday morning, Senator Rummel and I met with a group of doctors at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul as part of the East Metro Medical Society Council on Professionalism and Ethics. Rep. Jim Abeler and Rep. Erin Murphy were presenting on the Governor's Health Care Transformation Task Force. The main complaint of doctors at the meeting about health care reform proposals was that doctors are being pushed to control costs when there are other things that government and society as a whole should do to make people healthier. For example, doctors do not make people obese or poor but they must deal with the health consequences. They don't like the idea of being pushed into larger organizations like HMOs where cost becomes the driving factor. Later in the morning, I attended a meeting of the Healthy Legacy Coalition, which wants the legislature to ban certain flame retardants and plasticizers. The speaker was Mark Schapiro, who wrote a new book on the topic. In the afternoon, I met a few legislative leaders and two commissioners about water policy and ethanol. Later, I attended a joint meeting of the House Energy Committee and the House Committee on Local Government and Metropolitan Affairs. Two speakers came from Portland, Oregon came to talk about their efforts to deal with "peak oil" and declining supplies of petroleum. An MPCA staffer spoke about the agency efforts on sustainability. Finally, in the early evening I spoke to about a dozen phone canvassers at Clean Water Action about my drinking water subcommittee. (Also see under constituent contacts.)

On Friday, I visited the Forest Lake School District's early childhood program. They have a very active parent advisory council and its leaders took me around with the director of the family center. They spoke to me first-hand about how their children became ready for kindergarten, including one example of how one child avoided becoming a special education student (at possibly higher cost to the taxpayer) because of pre-school screening. I represent just a small fraction of this district in Lino Lakes but I really wanted to hear from their program and it was a good visit. As one teacher said, "It's better to build children than to repair adults!" In the afternoon, I met with a staff member of the Freshwater Society about drinking water policy.

Visitors: Staff from the MN Department of Health about a proposed water supply interconnection between Minneapolis and St. Paul; a Senator about Board of Medical Practice

Constituent contacts: Circle Pines resident and Lino Lakes resident supporting early legislative approval of the MAPE (MN Association of Professional Employees) contract; Circle Pines high school student with an idea about the minimum wage; Circle Pines resident against the Q-Comp teacher's compensation program; Shoreview resident about MN Board of Medical Practice; Circle Pines resident supporting a citizen stakeholder council for the proposed outdoor heritage fund in the proposed dedicated outdoor funding sales tax bill; Lino Lakes resident supporting lower property taxes for unimproved lakeshore property; Lino Lakes resident pleased with constituent communication and blog; about two dozen constituents supporting tougher enforcement on illegal immigration (these were all form letter e-mails); North Oaks resident concerned about lack of opportunity for public comment on the MPCA's proposed amendment to a decision document on the Highway 96 landfill situation; two Shoreview residents and Circle Pines resident opposed to government intervention in health care; Shoreview resident against a gas tax increase and local projects in the bonding bill

The folks at Clean Water Action gave to me on Thursday THIRTY-FIVE handwritten letters from constituents in Shoreview thanking me for supporting the global warming mitigation act in last year's energy bill. Wow.