Sunday, March 2, 2008

Week of March 2, 2008

Follow-up on Transportation Bill: The Pioneer Press ran a front-page article about how the transportation bill will channel more money to the suburbs. This will help keep the lid of property taxes because cities and counties will have to levy less for local roads and bridges.

Capital Investment/Bonding bill: This week we passed the House's bonding bill. Every two years the legislature puts together a bill for capital investment, or bonding. What goes in the bonding bill? Usually top priorities include infrastructure for the University of MN and the MnSCU campus system--leaky roofs, elevator replacement, bringing buildings up to code, etc. or what we call "asset preservation." There is usually funding for other university items like reconfiguring buildings to accommodate changes in technology or in the case of this year, a biomedical campus to attract the best talent for biomedical researchers to help build a stronger industry in the state. There is transportation stuff there too, like replacing the Rice Street bridge over Hwy 36 in Roseville in order to accommodate growth by St. Jude Medical on the other side of the highway, and money for the Central Corridor in St. Paul. This year there is funding for three items in our district. One is the Rice Creek Trail that would complete the final link in a larger north regional trail network. The second is money for Metro Parks that would upgrade some facilities in the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Reserve in Lino Lakes. The third is money for a park and ride in Lino Lakes at Lake Drive and 35W. (I had mistakenly said that this money was in the transportation bill before but it is in the bonding bill.) Now a conference committee will meet to reconcile the House and Senate version.

You might ask about why bonding for roads was not OK but it's just fine to have a $900+ million bonding bill. There's a difference. First, our bonding/borrowing for roads took place even though there was a dedicated funding source for roads and bridges--the gas tax and license tab fees. In addition, the legislature and Governor did ALL bonding in 2003 and 2005 with no new cash to pay off the interest. This led to a 650% increase in interest payments for our state roads in less than five years.

The bonding bill has a guideline that we should not borrow more than 3% of the state's uncommitted general fund. That means we have a plan for paying off the bonds. The difference is a little like using a VISA card and not paying more than the minimum every month while interest builds up vs. an American Express card or a fixed rate house mortgage, where you have to have a plan to pay your bill every month.

Schedule: On Monday I attended a caucus meeting and a lengthy floor session on a tax conformity bill. We had to recess so that committees could meet and we came back at 9:30 p.m. and went until 1:00 a.m. on Tuesday. Argh. On Monday afternoon I attended the Energy Policy & Finance Committee and the MN Heritage Finance Committee. In Energy, the committee passed my bill HF2903 that would allow wastewater effluent to count as renewable energy (except if you incinerate wastewater sludge). On Tuesday morning at 8:00 a.m. (after I got home at 1:30 a.m.) the Environmental Finance Committee heard a presentation about the use of water for energy production and the LCCMR funding bill which takes proceeds from the lottery and spends it on environmental purposes. I also attended a caucus meeting. In the afternoon, I chaired a meeting of the Drinking Water Source Protection Subcommittee to hear from four cities about how they interacted with the state to deal with well contamination. The Mayor of North Oaks and a constituent testified and they did a good job talking about the stress of dealing with the Highway 96 landfill situation in that city. In the afternoon, we had a short floor session and then in the Environment & Natural Resources Committee I presented two of my bills, HF2777 and HF3540. The first deals with dedicating the Solid Waste Management Tax (SWMT) to the PCA's environmental fund. Thirty percent of it now goes to the general fund and never comes out. It doesn't have a chance of passage in a deficit year but I want to point out the problem. The second bill is my big solid waste bill that would promote more recycling and composting. It was well received and passed on a voice vote at about 7:30 p.m. to the energy committee on Monday. On Wednesday, I filmed a cable TV interview and attended two caucus meetings. We had a short floor session. In the afternoon, my drinking water bill HF3238 passed the Local Government & Metropolitan Affairs Committee in about two minutes. (The Realtors and the Health Department were huddling around me later about some suggested language changes on the well disclosure issue.) Finally, in the afternoon and then later in the early evening we had the Energy Policy & Finance Committee where we voted on several small bills. On Thursday morning, we passed the LCCMR funding bill out of Environmental Finance and considered a bill related to the governance of school trust fund lands in northern MN. We had a lengthy floor session on the bonding bill. (See info about the bonding bill above.) On Saturday I attended our senate district DFL convention where I was re-nominated for the House seat.

Visitors: Lobbyists from MN Realtors about the seller's disclosure component of HF3238; lobbyist for Manufactured Housing Association (owners of mobile home parks) about HF3477; lobbyist from MetroCities about HF3238; constituent who was a high school page this week; two constituent physical therapists for their day on the hill; pro-choice constituent for pro-choice day on the hill; lobbyists in favor of medical use of marijuana; lobbyist of MN Inter-County Association concerned about a provision in HF3540; constituent owner of liquor store against Wine with Dinner bill; Lino Lakes resident for MN Chamber of Commerce day on hill with interest in insurance issues; Shoreview resident for AARP day on the ill; lobbyist for SKB Environmental on my solid waste bill HF3540; lobbyist for Yellow Pages Association on HF3540; Blaine college student constituent for MN Private Colleges day on the hill; constituent for American Cancer Society and American Heart Association; staff from Department of Administration about HF3540; Senator Olseen about HF3540; lobbyist and staff from a construction waste recycling company about a solid waste bill; lobbyist for Rock-Tenn Company on HF3238

Constituent contacts: Not enough time this week to complete this part!