Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Week of January 20, 2007

Schedule: On Sunday, I attended a meet-and-greet for a candidate for U.S. Senate. On Tuesday, Senator Rummel and I met with the Circle Pines City Council. Issues we discussed included the proposed Lino Lakes library, a statewide cable franchising bill, the Rice Creek North regional trail, transportation, and education funding. We then proceeded to a meeting of the Mounds View School Board with several other legislators. As you may know, there is a bit of a flap going on because a new board member might have a conflict of interest because her husband is the lead negotiator for the Mounds View custodians. Apparently the district's attorney believes that the new member could be ousted instead of just recusing herself from voting on the custodians' contract or from contract negotiations. Personally I think this legal interpretation of a state statute is overkill but there will be a hearing soon on the matter, and I hope the board can get back to business soon.

On Wednesday, I attended a meeting of legislators and some metro county commissioners who are part of the MN Inter-County Association (MICA). It is not clear what this organization accomplishes that the Association of Minnesota Counties or the individual counties do not, so I wonder why it exists other than to have additional lobbyists down at the Capitol for county issues. In the evening, I held a town hall meeting at Lino Lakes city hall. There were five people in attendance. (It was pretty darn cold out, so I suspect that kept the attendance down despite pretty good publicity in the local papers.) Issues included climate change, transportation funding, taxes, and a few other local items. There were a few people there who were on totally opposite sides of issues, but we had a very respectful discussion.

On Friday, I attended a meeting at the MN Pollution Control Agency on how the new electronic waste law is working out for MN's counties. There was a discussion about how we can work to make sure that electronic waste is handled in an environmentally friendly fashion. There are several states working with the U.S. EPA on recycling standards, which Minnesota may adopt later this year. In the afternoon, I attended a five-hour hearing of several House and Senate committees on the opportunities and challenges of mining in Minnesota. Apparently some environmental committee chairs wanted to have a hearing on mining pollution, based on a recent research report commissioned by two environmental groups. Then legislators from the Iron Range objected and asked for a joint hearing to talk about the economic development opportunities of mining copper and nickel near Babbitt. Not all the legislators stuck around for the whole hearing, but I was there for the whole time and asked a lot of questions. The economics of mining is related to the economics of recycling, so I had questions about the connection of global market pricing to the viability of the project, financial assurance for environmental liability, and the whole love-hate relationship that the Iron Range has with development--e.g., it welcomes the jobs but chafes under out-of-state ownership and resents Twin Cities environmental groups meddling in local issues. Rep. Rukavina and Senator Tomassoni gave very good responses to me about the latter issue. Apparently it struck and nerve--the main Iron Range newspaper carried a story about it.

It is interesting to note that royalties from mining on some state lands goes to the Permanent University Fund (PUF). Every student at the U of M receives a benefit from this fund through lower tuition. Our local school districts in 53A receive about $200,000 to $300,000 a year from mining royalties as well through the Permanent School Fund. These dollars replace general fund dollars, so if it was not for this mining royalty funding, we would be raising taxes to put the same amount money into education.

Visitors: advocate from Legal Aid about that organization's legislative platform for 2008; MPCA staff and House researcher about recycling and solid waste legislation; DNR staff about how to consolidate reporting requirements to the legislature to save money and resources; advocate for MN Coalition for the Homeless about proposed hospice care legislation; staff from Eureka Recycling and the Isaac Walton League about the Governor's Climate Change Advisory Group and how recycling and composting can help lower our carbon emissions;

Constituent contacts: North Oaks resident about the Highway 96 landfill situation; Lino Lakes resident against all kinds of taxes; Lino Lakes resident preferring that town hall meetings not conflict with church meetings on Wednesday nights; Lino Lakes resident against taxpayer funding for abortions; Circle Pines resident against the Q-Comp system for teacher compensation; Circle Pines resident against closure of Circle Pines Library in favor of Lino Lakes location