Monday, January 7, 2008

Week of January 6, 2007

Additional Town Hall Meeting Scheduled: In addition to the Town Hall meeting that Senator Rummel and I will hold on January 23rd at 7:00 p.m. in Lino Lakes, we will also hold a meeting on January 30th at 7:00 p.m. at Shoreview City Hall.

Per Diem: I understand that KSTP-TV did a report on legislators' per diem and how high it is. In a previous post when all the per diem rates were decided, you will see that I voted during a rules debate to force the full House of Representatives to vote on the per diem increase to $77 per day. My own per diem is $35 per day, which is the lowest of any legislator who accepts per diem. So I'm #199 out of 201 current legislators. (#200 is a member who just won a special election, so he hasn't received any regular session per diem yet.)

Postage Returned to State: In 2007, the House alloted $1968.00 in postage for my office. (I suppose it is the same amount for other representatives.) By December 31st, I used just $820.22, which means that $1,147.78 goes back to the state treasury. I still have a bunch of stamps left over too. Anyway, it's not a huge amount, but I saved some for the taxpayer!

Income Growth Report: The U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis just reported that Minnesota was number 50 (dead last) in "seasonally adjusted personal income growth" from the second to the third quarter in 2007. You can see a press release and accompanying tables on-line.

Vikings Stadium Talk?: A constituent called me the other night reporting on activities of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission related to a possible new Vikings Stadium. While the chances for a taxpayer-funded stadium in Blaine across the highway from my district seem to have passed (FYI, I was against the stadium and supported a referendum on any proposed Anoka-County only sales tax increase), the team is looking at the possibility of tearing down the Metrodome and building a new stadium. The MSFC is touting a recently completed McGladrey Report showing the economic benefits of sports stadiums. I don't buy it and cannot support taxpayer funding for a football stadium when we have so many other needs right now. There will be an open house and public meeting in Minneapolis on January 16th at 6:30 p.m. Here's a story on the economics of the Twins stadium that will give you a flavor for any future stadium discussion.

Schedule: On Monday, I met with Senator Rummel on issues of mutual interest. In the afternoon, I attended a joint hearing of the House Environmental Finance Committee and the Senate Environment & Natural Resources Finance Committee on wastewater. Speakers included the U of M on its onsite sewage treatment program; the U of M on using phosphorus and nitrogen from wastewater treatment to create algae for biofuels; the U of M on endocrine disruptors and pharmaceuticals in wastewater; and the MPCA on wastewater project financing. In the evening, I attended a meeting and presentation by Education Minnesota members from the Mounds View and Centennial School Districts. The presentation was on their legislative agenda for 2008. Major priorities include a statewide health insurance pool for teachers and the Rule of 90 retirement rules.

On Tuesday, I participated as a Project Citizen judge at Irondale High School in New Brighton. Rep. Knuth, former Rep. Steve Dehler, and I listened to 9th grader presentations on six different issues and how those students would solve a problem. Projects included arsenic in playground equipment, phosphorus in Long Lake, E-waste recycling, the Hennepin County waste incinerator, juvenile detention alternatives, and the Mounds View Community Center. The kids did a good job, although for the rest of the day I found myself using the words "like" and "whatever" a bit too much! During mid-day, I met in St. Paul with a staffer for a Congressional campaign. In the afternoon, I spoke to a group of canvassers for Clean Water Action in Minneapolis about the work of my Drinking Water Source Protection Subcommittee. Later I met by phone with some of my House colleagues about some potential legislation on consumer issues.

On Wednesday, I visited two power plants with members and staff for the House and Senate energy committees. The first was Xcel's Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant. This is one of two nuclear power plants in Minnesota and it generates about 600 megawatts. The second was Xcel's Sherburne County Plant (Sherco) in Becker. This is the largest coal burning power plant in the state at 2,400 megawatts. (Xcel's power plants in MN generate about 15,000 megawatts by comparison, or roughly half the state's electrical capacity.) The comparison was interesting. At the nuclear plant, security was very tight. I don't want to reveal that much about it, but let's just say that security knows where you are at any moment as a visitor and the guards are heavily armed with automatic or semi-automatic weapons! The plant is upgrading so that it can produce about another 90 megawatts over the next few years. Nuclear plants make people nervous because of the possibility of an accident, but the physical footprint of the plant was quite small and the fuel rods are good for about 22 months. The Sherco plant by contrast is a sprawling site with a coal ash landfill and a huge pile of coal (about 400 tons burned an hour), it's dirty, and it is probably the biggest emitter of greenhouse gas gases--mostly carbon dioxide--in the state. As a member of the energy committee, I do the math about our electrical supply. We've set the nation's most aggressive renewable energy goal. We've passed aggressive conservation and efficiency goals. We're investing in alternative technologies. But that still won't replace big existing power plants yet because renewables and conservation won't add up to 100% of our current supply. So the question arises--if carbon emissions from coal plants are now considered really bad, and nuclear power is considered undesirable, what public policy tradeoffs will there be?

On Thursday morning, I attended a meeting in Blaine where Anoka County presented its 2008 legislative agenda. The 2007 one is on-line so perhaps the new one will be on-line soon. Later in the day, I attended a presentation of "checks" to two arts groups in our area that came from the Metro Regional Arts Council. One of the recipients was the City of Shoreview, which got a $1,600 grant for the summer concert series at its pavillion. In the evening, I attended a reception for legislators at a joint meeting of the Metro North, Anoka, and Twin Cities North Chambers of Commerce. I was sort of expecting the chambers to tell us (there were about 15 legislators present) what their platform is but they wanted us to talk.

On Friday, Senator Rummel and I attended a legislative breakfast with the Centennial School District board, administration, and parent advocacy groups. Our education budget in 2007 included a significant down payment on special education mandates for school districts, so Centennial received some much needed funding that way this year. Two other legislators in attendance brought out the issue of "equity", saying that the formula dollars currently allocated should be shuffled differently among school districts without consideration for the number of special education students or those with language issues. Respectfully, this is just code for "I don't want to put in any more money into education," and I've seen these statements before! The most compelling argument for education funding reform is from a groups called P.S. Minnesota, which is suggesting that we need to figure out what it actually costs to educate a child and work backwards from there in the budget process. The Centennial Legislative Action Committee also has a platform available on-line.

Later in the morning, I attended a joint House-Senate hearing on the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group (MCCAG), which is recommending policy options for the 2008 legislation on how to combat global warming. The MCCAG gave us tables showing us dozens of ways (no till agricultural crop management, urban forestry, lowering the speed limit, better appliance standards, etc.) to reduce carbon emissions through 2025 and the cost per ton of those reductions. Of particular interest to me are the components that involve recycling, solid waste, and composting. (Recycling gives an extremely big bang for the buck on carbon emission reductions, FYI.) The MCCAG will complete their recommendations by the end of the month.

In the afternoon, I attended another joint House-Senate hearing on state parks and trails from the DNR. The DNR showed us a list of $143,640 in projects that have not been completed due to lack of funding. They include things like facility protection, campground renovation, and the like. In addition, the agency is discussing the possibility of acquiring a new state park on Lake Vermillion for roughly $40 from U.S. Steel, which would otherwise sell the land to developers. Much discussion ensued as to whether we have the money to secure the land and meet the needs of other state parks.

Constituent contacts: North Oaks resident supporting treatment for adolescent depression and school violence; Lexington resident supporting legalization of marijuana for medical purposes; Lino Lakes resident supporting use of lottery proceeds for additional purposes; Lino Lakes resident and Shoreview resident supporting a ban on hunting of mourning doves; four Lino Lakes residents against a ban on hunting mourning doves; Lino Lakes resident supporting the Governor's latest initiative against illegal immigration; North Oaks resident about buckthorn; Lino Lakes resident asking about Met Council rules and procedures; five constituents sending form letter e-mails asking for crackdown on illegal immigration; Lino Lakes resident against taxpayer funding for a Vikings Stadium; Blaine resident about crime issues in her area; Shoreview resident regarding MN Board of Medical Practice; Lino Lakes resident supporting dedicating funding bill for the outdoors