Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Weeks of December 7th & 14th, 2008

Unallotment: As part of the effort to balance the FY2009 budget (the current fiscal year runs through June 30, 2009), the Governor exercised his ability to "unallot." That means that he will make unilateral cuts to the budget to meet the $426 million deficit. Before he can cut spending, he has to use up the state's budget reserve of $150 million, and that leaves a deficit of $271 million or so. MPR listed the cuts in detail. Higher education took a hit of $40 million, health and human services were at $73 million, and local government aid and the homestead tax credit were at $110 million. The legislature itself also was cut by $2.2 million. There were not really a lot of good choices here.

[This is an updated paragraph as of 12/23/08]

In our cities, Shoreview lost $139,069 that it was expected to get to fund the Market Value Homestead Credit (MVHC), Circle Pines lost $56,281 in MVHC, Blaine lost $420,891 in MVHC, and Lino Lakes lost $120,481. The MVHC is a tool where homeowners get a credit on their property taxes if their property is valued at less than $413,000. North Oaks will lose $13,677 in both local government aid and the MVHC, and Lexington will lose $55,013 in both LGA and MVHC.

Track agency results: The state has set up a web site where you can track how agencies perform against their stated goals. The Accountability Minnesota website is a good start but it's a little light on data in some areas and is skewed toward areas where the state is already doing good stuff.

Conservation rate structure: Lino Lakes did a utility rate study in 2007 and the city adopted a water conservation plan in October 2007 to help avoid wasteful use of groundwater. Now it is going through with a new ordinance that codifies new requirements for a conservation rate structure, which I got passed as legislation in 2008. The ordinance proposes new tiered water rates. 98.7% of residents in Lino Lakes use less than 40,000 gallons per quarter, but there is a small fraction of residents who use a lot more than that and they would pay a higher rate.

Property taxes: The December 7th Star Tribune listed changes in median property tax values and property tax rates in metro communities with more than 5,000 population.

Here is the breakdown by city for percent change in market value and percent change in tax since last year.

  • Shoreview: market value -3.6%; tax +1.6% (Mounds View SD)
  • Lino Lakes: market value +3.0%; tax +2.3% (Centennial SD) & +2.8% (White Bear SD)
  • Circle Pines: market value -4.4%; tax -7.8% (Centennial SD)
  • Blaine: market value -0.6%; tax -1.5% (Centennial SD)
North Oaks and Lexington have fewer than 5,000 people and were not included in the article. My property taxes in Shoreview are going down by 1.7% and the market value declined by roughly (don't have the statement in front of me) 4%.

Waiting for answers: A Shoreview constituent recently wrote a letter to the Shoreview Press expressing impatience that I have not said exactly how I plan to balance the state budget. Look for my rotating column in the Press next week (or maybe the week after) for a more thorough description of just what kind of sacrifices we will have to make during this difficult economic recession.

Truth-in-taxation letter: Another Shoreview resident wrote a letter to the Shoreview Press while I was out of town suggesting that I author legislation about truth-in-taxation notices and meetings. He was upset that cities, counties, and school districts have their public meetings after the election, and he felt that the legislature should require them to be before the election. I think this is a GREAT idea. I looked into it and it was in legislation in the last session before eventually getting cut out of the final omnibus tax bill. I would like to pursue this legislation in 2009.

Schedule: On Saturday, December 6th, I participated in an all-day meeting of the House DFL Caucus. Governor Pawlenty and former Governor Carlson both came to talk to us, which I thought was a good thing. From Sunday, December 7th to Tuesday, December 16th, I was in Washington, DC and environs. The purpose was to attend a three-day meeting of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL). My airfare was covered by a scholarship from NCEL funded by the Joyce Foundation. I stayed with family members in the DC area, so no taxpayer dollars were spent on the travel. My family also came with me so we had a chance to see a few things downtown on the days when I was not at the conference. We were underwhelmed by the newly re-opened Smithsonian American History Museum other than the refurbished Star-Spangled Banner. However, the Smithsonian Natural History Museum got a big thumbs up from kids and adults alike for its new Ocean Hall. The U.S. Capitol has a new visitor center built underground on the east side. Very posh. I knew that two prominent citizens of each state are represented by a sculpture, but I didn't know that Minnesota's two are Henry Mower Rice and Maria L. Sanford. Save that for Minnesota Trivial Pursuit!

The NCEL meeting was excellent. There were presentations on mercury, energy efficiency, water quality, climate change, the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River, etc. Legislators who attended were from the Great Lakes states and the province of Ontario. Rep. Hornstein and I had a long conversation at lunch with the Canadians to understand how their provincial parliament works. Very different! They rely on stricter party loyalty than in the U.S.

I stuck around for two days afterwards so that I could do some family history research. During the last 15 years, I've tracked down various branches of my family and I've spent quite a bit of time on my Gardner ancestors. The first one to come over from Ireland arrived in about 1811 and settled in Millersburg, Pennsylvania. So on Monday I did some deed research in Harrisburg and discovered the location of his house, which I photographed in the afternoon--if indeed it is the same building. (Long story there.)

On Thursday, December 19th, I attended a meeting with legislators and Anoka County about the county's legislative agenda for 2009; met with representatives of the phone book publishing industry and their lobbyist; staff at Great River Energy about waste-to-energy issues; and Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett on issues of mutual interest. On Friday, December 20th, I attended a meeting of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts (AMSD) for legislators.

Visitors: None

Constituent contacts: Circle Pines resident about recent publicity about Otter Tail Power Company competing with private firms; Lino Lakes resident supporting more physical education in public schools; Lexington resident supporting an end to ethanol blended fuel in MN; North Oaks resident concerned about funding cuts to Meals on Wheels; Blaine resident supporting tax cuts for businesses; Circle Pines resident concerned about local government aid cuts to that city; Shoreview resident supporting spending freeze; district resident requesting that "you Democrats need to stop spending our money like drunken sailors"; Shoreview resident supporting spending freeze, corporate tax cuts, and cutting services; Lino Lakes resident supporting spending cuts; North Oaks resident supporting spending cuts

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Week of November 30, 2008

Budget forecast is grim: On Thursday, December 4th, the state released a budget forecast for the fiscal biennium beginning July 1, 2009 and ending June 30, 2011. The projected deficit is $4.8 billion. There was also a forecast for the fiscal year (the current one) ending June 30, 2009, and there is a deficit there of $425 million. So the total deficit is $5.2 billion.

You can see the whole forecast at the web site of Minnesota Management and Budget. Video archives of the news conference by the finance commissioner and state economist are also on-line.

Legislators are being interviewed by the media or are holding their own press conferences to share some ideas for balancing the budget. I would not hold your breath on some of these ideas, like selling the Minneapolis airport. We have a long way to go to the end of session in late May, so I and others here are trying to be patient, look at all our options, and talk to constituents and stakeholders about what effects our actions will have. I look forward to your ideas in the weeks and months to come.

Drinking water profiles for cities in District 53A: The Met Council has produced a draft Master Water Supply Plan for review before the legislation session. There are city profiles for each city in the seven-county metro area, and they project how much groundwater they will need through the year 2050. The data profiles are in appendix 2 in the report link above. Here are what the six cities in 53A may have to do between now and 2050.

Blaine: 13 new groundwater wells necessary through 2050!
Circle Pines: No additional groundwater wells necessary
Lexington: No additional groundwater wells necessary
Lino Lakes: One new additional groundwater well necessary every ten years through 2050
North Oaks (using data from White Bear Township): No additional groundwater wells necessary
Shoreview: One new additional groundwater well necessary about 2040

Subcommittee dissolved: On Friday, the Speaker announced our committee structure for the next session. The number of committees has been cut by 15%, and a lot of subcommittees have been eliminated. The purpose was to simplify our committee process. At my request, the Speaker eliminated the Drinking Water Source Protection Subcommittee that I chaired. We could never find a regular time to meet and it was hard to get a quorum, and I figure I can get just as much done on protecting our drinking water by working within our existing environmental policy and finance committee.

Twin Cities Best for Business: MarketWatch, a web publication of the Wall Street Journal, just recognized the Twin Cities for the second year in a row for being the best metro area for business.

Schedule: On Monday, December 1st, I attended a meeting of the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission at the State Office Building. My Republican colleague Dean Urdahl leads the group and I'm the other legislator on the group. In the evening I attended a fundraiser for the DFL House Caucus. On Tuesday, December 2nd, I attended a presentation by the Met Council on their drinking water supply plan. In the evening, I attended a meeting of our local DFL Senate District. On Wednesday, December 3rd, several legislators and I participated in a conference on "Assessing, Managing and Communicating Environmental Risk" hosted by the Center for Science, Technology & Public Policy at the U of M's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. On Thursday, December 4th, I attended a meeting of the Legislative Coordinating Commission Working Group on Ethnic Heritage & New Americans, where I made a presentation giving a historical perspective on immigration in Minnesota. In the afternoon, I participated in a meeting at the MN Pollution Control Agency where staff sought input on a report I requested on product stewardship.

Visitors: State Revisor on progress toward greater transparency on omnibus bills; Met Council staff regarding community based transit (e.g., dial-a-ride) services; four high school students asking for input on an environmental legislation proposal; staff from MN Department of Veterans Affairs about a constituent issue; student reporter from Hamline University about recent political developments; staff from a human services agency in the northern suburbs about transportation issues; lobbyists from Waste Management, Chamber of Commerce, and chemical companies about environmental issues coming up before the legislature; another state representative about transit issues; staff from the MPCA and Ramsey County about safe disposal of unused pharmaceutical products and how to avoid having them get in our drinking water

Constituent contacts: Blaine resident asking that human services budget be spared when balancing the budget; Shoreview resident interested in the opt-out option for phone books; two Shoreview residents against tax increases to balance the budget; Lino Lakes resident supporting a new Vikings stadium (although not necessarily built with public funding); Shoreview resident seeking bike lane on Highway 49; three Lino Lakes residents asking for revisions to last year's Green Acres law