Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Week of February 17, 2007

You Tube Video on Transportation: This week I released a three-minute You Tube video that outlines the case in support of the legislature's comprehensive transportation package.

Transportation summary: Obviously most of the political buzz this week was on the transportation bill. The video above sums it up in about three minutes, but here are the facts if the bill becomes law:

* During the next ten years, new revenue will invest about $7.7 into our roads and bridges, including $650 million for bridges--including the 13 "fracture-critical" bridges like the Hastings bridge that are in danger of collapsing if there is just one fracture.
* The revenue comes from a five-cent per gallon increase in the gas tax, an increase in license tab fees ONLY on new vehicles, and a 1/4 percent increase in the sales tax dedicated to transit in the seven-county metro area (down from a 1/2 percent increase).
* Minnesotans in the lowest income bracket will qualify for a tax credit to help defray the increased gas tax.
* The new gas tax revenue will be distributed in a way that will benefit the metro area more than Greater MN, which is a change from the existing allocation formula (the so-called "CSAH formula" or County State Aid Highway--pronounced ka-SAH).
* The new investment is estimated to create 33,000 jobs, most of them within the next few months, in the construction industry which has been particularly hard hit.
* Cities in our district will receive funding for local roads from the bill due to the constitution's allocation of revenues from the gas tax and license tab fees. For example, Lino Lakes would see $2.275 million in additional funding for roads over the next ten years; Shoreview would see $2.493 million; and Circle Pines would see $438,000. That's money that won't have to come from property taxes to fix your city streets.

The politics of the bill:
* Early on Thursday, the MN Chamber of Commerce announced its public support for the plan. This was a major step, since the Chamber has been concerned that its members are losing a lot of money each year from congestion and unsafe roads around the states. The Chamber and Speaker Kelliher had been negotiating a deal so that we get something done this year. This was also interesting, because the Chamber seemed to abandon negotiations with their usual allies--the Governor and the House Republicans--in order to get the deal done. I commend the Speaker and the Chamber for taking this gutsy move.
* As I have stated publicly and as I did last year on the previous bill, I supported an amendment for a referendum on the metro sales tax increase. I did not want my desire for the referendum to break the deal and so I supported the final bill despite the lack of a referendum.
* There is a lot of e-mail and phone calling going on to my office and my colleagues. The conservative callers and e-mails say that we should sit down with the Governor and negotiate. Unfortunately, that is what our leadership did for several months in 2007 without any results. It became clear that the Governor would never sign a bill that had a gas tax increase in it. The House Republicans also suggested an idea for alternative funding at the last minute but it would result in a $1.5 billion cut to other programs and there was no plan for what would be cut. Our plan will be in effect separate from the rest of the state budget because the gas tax and license tab revenue is dedicated by Article XIV of the state constitution to roads and bridges.
* There is no other viable bill on the table.

The Governor vetoed the bill on Friday morning and we will likely vote to override on Monday.

Schedule: On Monday at 8:00 a.m., I outlined three solid waste bills I'm working on to the Solid Waste, Recycling & Resource Conservation Working Group in the House. I'm still waiting for some feedback from stakeholders on some details before I put the bill in the "hopper" to get a bill number and a formal hearing in a committee. There were about 30 people in the room--the other members were surprised that there were that many people interested in the subject! In the afternoon, I attended a caucus meeting and attended our short floor session. Afterwards, I attended the Energy Policy & Finance Committee where we voted on our bonding recommendations to send to the Capital Investment Committee. We also heard an update on recent activities from the Deputy Commissioner of Commerce who is heading up the Energy Security Office at the Department. I left a little early to meet a den of Cub Scouts from Shoreview visiting on the holiday. We took a short tour of the Capitol. At 4:00 p.m., I attended the Heritage Finance Committee where we heard bonding proposals from about 20 different bill authors. I'm the Vice Chair and so when the Chair was out of the room for about 30 minutes I chaired the meeting. At 6:00 p.m. I joined the Environmental Finance Committee to hear all the trail bonding requests. I testified with Anoka County Parks staff on our proposal for the completion of the Rice Creek North Regional Trail in Lino Lakes. Got home at 9:00 p.m. or so.

On Tuesday, we started with Environmental Finance for more bonding proposals at 8:00 a.m. In the middle of that I visited the E-12 Education Committee to present HF2785, a bill to resolve the conflict of interest issue related to the Mounds View School District. I asked for a revision to the original bill to reflect comments from the Mounds View attorney, the MN School Boards Association, and the League of Minnesota Cities. The changes are not yet on the legislative web site as of Wednesday night. The bill passed unanimously and now goes to the floor. Later I visited the office of a Senator about HF1665 that I carried last week, hoping to get Senate action. I then attended a short floor session. By 1:30 I filmed an interview for cable TV on the latest legislative developments. At 2:15, I chaired my Subcommittee on Drinking Water Source Protection, where we heard three bills related to bonding requests and two bonding proposals by the MN Pollution Control Agency. They included cleanup of the Washington County Landfill in Lake Elmo, cleanup of the Albert Lea landfill, the construction of a combustor at a waste-to-energy facility in Alexandria, drilling of drinking water monitoring wells, and bonding for industrial re-use of wastewater. At 4:00 p.m. it was off to the Environment & Natural Resource Committee, where Rep. Lanning had a bill on creating a basin-oriented water management structure. For example, Rep. Lanning is from Moorhead, and the cities and counties in the Red River Valley have banded together to organize their river-related issues, and he wants to see this duplicated statewide based on river basins. At 6:00 p.m. I reported the actions of the Drinking Water subcommittee to the full Environmental Finance Committee and dashed to my kids' school to pick up my son and daughter in time for my daughter's science fair!

On Wednesday, I attended three caucus meetings, a short floor session, the Energy Policy & Finance Committee, and the Environmental Finance Committee. We heard from other Commerce Department staff in the energy committee about banking regulation. (This committee also has jurisdiction over some regulated industries.) Department staff told us that there are 300 state banks in Minnesota, and 10% of them are facing severe financial difficulties due to the sub-prime mortgage loan crisis. They told us that several banks are likely to fail in the coming year as a result. Yikes! Depositors who have more than $100,000 in those banks will not have their deposits over that amount insured by the FDIC. In the Environmental Finance Committee our bonding recommendations were laid out, including funding for the Rice Creek trail!

On Thursday morning we passed our bonding recommendations in the Environmental Finance Committee. We said no to a lot of spending and focused on a couple of key areas, including trails like the Rice Creek trail in Lino Lakes and Circle Pines! The recommendations now go to the Capital Investment Committee. In the Heritage Finance Committee, we also passed our bonding bill and sent it to Capitol Investment Committee. The committee did not pare down the list, however, like in Environmental Finance. Afterwards, I attended our pre-session caucus meeting and then a floor session, where we passed our comprehensive transportation bill. After session (about 7 p.m. or so) I met with several other suburban DFL legislators working on homeowner protection bills.

On Friday morning about seven or eight of us from the burbs held a press conference on homeowners protection bills. I am carrying the bill (HF3091) that would allow people who cannot live in their homes while they are being repaired under warranty to recover short-term housing costs. Just after that the group of us presented our bills to the Labor & Consumer Protection Division of the Commerce & Labor Committee. I made an amendment and then some oral amendments (where we change the bill without having a written amendment), and then the committee passed it unanimously on a voice vote. Next stop is the Commerce & Labor Committee. Later in the morning, the Solid Waste, Recycling, and Resource Conservation Working Group (I'm Vice-Chair) heard several recycling bills, including Rep. Lesch's bill on plastic bag recycling and Rep. Hortman's compact fluorescent bulb recycling proposal. MPCA staff gave recommendations on how the House can reduce energy, paper usage, and SAVE MONEY for taxpayers at the same time. Several of us had requested this work. I attended a caucus meeting in the afternoon.

Visitors: Shoreview resident about nonprofit organization issues; staff from Department of Administration about my solid waste bill; operator of a construction and demolition waste landfill and recycling center about my solid waste bill; committee chair and staff about the drinking water subcommittee agenda; Lino Lakes resident and high school page from Centennial High School; staff and volunteer from Northwest YMCA about the Y's legislative platform; staff from Clean Water Action about their legislative platform; Lino Lakes residents about health care; directors of both the Minneapolis and St. Paul water utilities about proposed interconnection between the two cities' water supply and its potential effect on water table levels in North Oaks; two Circle Pines residents and Shoreview resident presenting legislative platform of consulting engineers; Lino Lakes resident visiting on U of M day at the Capitol; two Shoreview residents and a Lino Lakes resident visiting on credit union day at the Capitol; Circle Pines resident presenting legislative platform of National Federation of the Blind; reporter from Shoreview Bulletin about HF2785; lobbyist for Xcel Energy about my solid waste bill; lobbyist for Anoka County on Rice Creek trail bill; lobbyist for Ramsey County about buckthorn bill; lobbyist for Met Council on HF2903 on wastewater; two chiropractors from the district with the legislative platform for MN's chiropractors; Sierra Club lobbyist updating on staff changes

Constituent contacts: WAY too many automated e-mails and phone calls this week due to the transportation vote--will be a few days before I can update this.