Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Week of January 25, 2009

Governor's Budget Recommendations: The Governor's office has released his proposed budget and you can see it on-line. I have to sift through the details before commenting further.

Recovery legislation: On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the "American Recovery and Investment Act." This is the so-called "stimulus plan." You can read the details of the plan on-line.

Anoka County-Blaine Airport update: On Thursday night I attended a meeting of Concerned Citizens of the North Metro, recently formed to oppose any potential expansion of the Anoka County-Blaine Airport. I thought several of the organizers did a very good job of determining what the potential increased noise impacts would be if the airport runway was expanded to 6,000 feet.

Phone books: Several people have asked me why there is so much publicity about my proposal to allow consumers to opt out of getting phone books. This was to be a pretty minor piece of legislation that should take a back seat to solving the huge $4.8 billion state budget deficit, but for whatever reason, local reporters have been calling me up to ask about it. I wonder if the reporters are of an age where they grew up with the Internet and see the phone book as an outdated product. Anyway, readers should know that I am working on a bunch of other stuff that helps make specific state-funded programs more efficient but the legislation isn't ready yet. As one of my colleagues says, "Good legislation takes a while to draft properly."

Legislation: Here are two pieces of legislation that help reduce costs to taxpayers. HF298 is a bill that would make it easier for nonprofits that serve the disabled to use their vans and buses to pick up clients at other locations. These day training & habilitation (DT&H) providers have their own fleets but if they pick up other clients when their vans are idle, they are considered "for hire" and are subject to much higher insurance rates. My bill would seek to remedy the problem and would allow these fleets to be used more efficiently.

HF403 is a bill that would help boost the bio-based plastics industry in Minnesota by cleaning up our yard waste compost sites in the Twin Cities metro. Right now, taxpayers and ratepayers are paying much higher tip fees through their waste hauler to get rid of leaves and grass at the curb when they use plastic bags. If metro residents used a compostable plastic bag instead of the non-degradable plastic bag, the value of the finished compost would rise, waste haulers and counties would reduce tip fees, and Minnesota's compostable bag industry would see added business. The private sector would also be enticed to establish compost sites instead of government because high quality compost sells very well. Dakota County already has an ordinance that does this, but the legislation would require that one would have to use a compostable bag in the seven-country metro. It sounds a little weird at first, but when you get the facts you can see how the economics work.

Managing expectations: Our biggest task at the moment is to manage expectations for the budget. It is clear that not a lot of people realize how huge our deficit is and how limited our options are. Many groups are asking for new money or asking not to be cut. The groups that get our attention are ones that say, "I hope you don't cut us, but if you do, we have some ideas for how we can save money in the long term." These savings usually come in the form of streamlined or reduced state mandates or consolidation of certain functions. I have received a bunch of good ideas from the Anoka County attorney, the Association of Minnesota Counties, and MN School Business Officials so far.

Schedule: On Monday I stopped by a forum held by the Association of Metropolitan School Districts on the future of education funding, attended a short floor session, a caucus meeting, and a joint meeting of the K-12 Education Finance Committee and Taxes Committee (on the use of Other Post-Employment Benefits--or OPEB--bonds). OPEB bonds are used by school districts to borrow money to pay for retiree health care benefits. There is no referendum requirement for these bonds and some districts are using the short-term cash to pay for operations, which sounds like a disaster waiting to happen!

On Tuesday, I attended the Taxes Committee, two committee caucus meetings, a Health Care & Human Services Policy (HCHS) meeting, an Environment Committee meeting, and a meeting of the Mounds View School Board. I chaired the Environment Committee since the topic was on drinking water issues and I was going to end up asking most of the questions anyway!

On Wednesday, I attended two committee caucus meetings, the Taxes Committee, the HCHS committee, the Early Childhood Education Summit on the House floor, and a reception held by the Rochester delegation in the St. Paul Armory.

On Thursday, I attended a meeting held by Congresswoman McCollum about the federal stimulus package, a short floor session where we approved an extension of unemployment benefits, an HCHS committee meeting (about developmentally disabled waivers) an Environment Committee meeting (on fish and animal diseases), and a meeting of opponents to an expansion of the Anoka County-Blaine Airport.

On Friday, I attended a caucus meeting and a meeting of stakeholders working on a plan to change how we pay to recycle and safely dispose of used paint. Rep. Sailer and Sen. Doll had a bill last year that the Governor vetoed that would shift the $5 million that taxpayers pay statewide to handle the paint to those who actually buy paint using a small fee. They will bring this bill forward again in 2009.

Visitors: lobbyist for MN Oncology and Hematology (MOHPA) opposed to new moratorium on radiation facilities in the metro area; lobbyist for Xcel Energy; lobbyist and members of MN Beverage Association about solid waste and recycling issues; lobbyist for Medica introducing their organization; about ten staff of MN's credit unions, including three constituents; representative of MN Licensed Beverage Association; staff from Eureka Recycling about composting legislation; lobbyists for SEIU and TakeAction MN about universal health care legislation; lobbyist for Allina about ambulance issues; lobbyist and representatives of MN Works, a group that coordinates employment for disabled adults on recycling projects; staff and lobbyist for MN Credit Unions; staff from Environment MN about phone books; staff from Healthy Legacy about toxic products legislation; lobbyist on organ and tissue donation issues; lobbyist for MN building officials about building code and home construction legislation

Constituent contacts: Lino Lakes resident about domestic violence issues; Circle Pines resident against Q-Comp; Lino Lakes resident about data sharing between the state and insurance companies; Shoreview resident and Lino Lakes resident suggesting that phone books is not an important issue; Circle Pines small business owner asking that health coverage for MN Care not be cut; Blaine resident upset about recent actions of the Obama administration; Shoreview resident supporting tighter welfare requirements; Shoreview resident with an idea to promote green jobs; two Shoreview residents asking that education be the top priority in the state budget; Shoreview resident and Circle Pines resident supporting MN Health Security Act; Shoreview? resident leaving message disappointed about a recent education vote (we're not quite sure what vote that was since I haven't voted this year on education yet--no phone number left); Shoreview resident urging a spending freeze and that the state not accept any federal money from the stimulus package; Circle Pines resident against airport expansion; Shoreview resident asking "exactly" how I am going to balance the budget; Lino Lakes resident supporting early childhood education; Shoreview resident about a charitable gambling issue; Lino Lakes resident supporting phone book legislation; Circle Pines resident upset with my vote for the federal stimulus package (I mentioned that Congress voted on this bill not the state legislature); Shoreview resident supporting puppy mill legislation; Lino Lakes resident supporting phone book legislation; Shoreview? resident supporting marriage equality legislation; North Oaks resident against deep cuts to state health care programs; North Oaks resident supporting instant runoff voting; Shoreview? resident asking about long-term care legislation; Circle Pines MAPE member supporting agenda for public employees; Lino Lakes resident asking that cancer prevention and health care access be #1 on state agenda; two Lino Lakes residents, Shoreview resident, Circle Pines resident asking that K-12 education be the #1 state priority; Shoreview resident supporting findings of the Budget Trends Commission; Lino Lakes resident supporting repeal of changes to the Green Acres legislation from last year (she was REALLY mad!); Lino Lakes resident against airport expansion; Lino Lakes resident asking for a balanced budget; Shoreview? resident sharing views on "reverse" racism and sharing quotes from Thomas Jefferson

Monday, January 26, 2009

Week of January 18, 2009

Lots of info stacking up! I will add some other issues soon!

Schedule: On Tuesday, I attended a meeting of the Taxes Committee where we had a discussion about "maintenance of effort" legislation. In the afternoon, I went to a meeting of members on the Health Care and Human Services (HCHS) Policy Committee about federal and state health care programs, followed by a meeting of DFLers on the committee and then a meeting of the full committee where the Department of Human Services discussed their outcome measures and priority areas. Late in the day I had a meeting of the Environment & Natural Resources Policy Committee, where we received a program overview from the Board of Water and Soil Resources. On Wednesday, I participated in a caucus meeting for the Taxes Committee, a full meeting of the Taxes Committee where we voted on "maintenance of effort" legislation. In the afternoon, the HCHS Committee met and we heard about county-based purchasing for health care. Many rural counties are providers of health insurance because private providers don't operate there. On Thursday morning, I attended a meeting of Schools for Equity in Education (Centennial School District is a member) and a floor session where Rep. Eastlund asked for an "urgency" to skip the first and second readings of his bill and vote to repeal the Green Acres law changes from last year. (I would like to have hearings on this legislation rather than vote in a knee-jerk fashion.) In the afternoon, the HCHS committee heard speakers on nutritional labeling as a means to combat obesity. Listing calories on fast food menus in places like New York City does lead people to make better choices but there aren't any studies showing that actually leads to lower obesity rates.

Visitors: lobbyists from Health Partners about state and federal budget impacts on health care and on Regions Hospital; lobbyists for Medical Transportation Management about non-emergency medical transportation; Sierra Club staff about their legislative agenda; two staffers from Congresswoman's Bachmann's office about how they can help constituents with federal issues; lobbyist for day training & habilitation providers for adults with developmental disabilities; staff and clients of MN Federation of the Blind; lobbyist and volunteer from Friends of the Boundary Waters about sulfide mining in northern Minnesota; lobbyist and staff from Apple Tree Dental, a nonprofit that provides critical access dental services in the state; lobbyist for Clean Water Action about legislative agenda; lobbyist and staff from MN Dental Association about advanced dental practitioners; co-chairs for the MN chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program promoting single-payer health care; representatives of Fair Vote MN promoting instant runoff voting; lobbyist from Yellow Pages Association about my phone book opt-out bill; staff from Audubon MN about their legislative agenda; staff from Environment MN about their legislative agenda; lobbyist for Flint Hills Resources about low-carbon fuel standard

Constituent contacts: Shoreview resident supporting House Republican proposal to limit welfare benefits for those who come from out of state; Shoreview resident asking that education be the top priority for 2009; two Shoreview residents supporting legislative agenda of the MN Association of Public Employees; Shoreview resident with an idea for the U of MN to participate in the economic recovery; Lexington resident asking that I adopt the political approach of Ron Paul (and a few other choice words); Lino Lakes resident asking me to co-author HF45 requiring higher penalties for aggressive and reckless driving that results in death; four teachers from the district asking me to support K-12 education; district resident asking for a pay freeze for all public employees; Lino Lakes resident and Shoreview resident supporting SF97 that permits medical use of marijuana; Shoreview resident about a licensing matter; Lino Lakes resident supporting instant runoff voting; Lino Lakes resident supporting increased funding for the judicial system; district resident asking for no tax increases; district resident supporting Governor's proposal to reduce business taxes; North Oaks resident supporting legislation that would better regulate puppy and kitten mills; Shoreview resident against tax increases; North Oaks resident supporting full funding for special education; North Oaks resident supporting legislation allowing cities to pass an ordinance requiring buckthorn treatment; Lino Lakes couple supporting education as top priority; Shoreview resident supporting Rep. Dittrich's bill (HF105) that requires schools to have fiscal literacy as part of high school economics offerings

Friday, January 16, 2009

Week of January 11, 2009

DTV conversion: Our telecommunications committee heard from experts about the impending conversion to digital television signals. There is a ton of information available about what you may need to do on-line.

My transportation project for the session: Senator Dibble and I are working on an initiative to find efficiencies for community based transit (CBT). CBT is transit that serves seniors and the disabled. Because of all the "silos" of money from the federal government that fund different programs, many of the vans and buses for these services are idle when they could be serving additional people. CBT is expensive--dial-a-ride service is often $20-$25 per ride one-way, although riders usually only pay a few dollars so that they can afford it. This is three or four times as expensive as mass transit. State agencies have been working on this so we have an opportunity to save money and improve service. More to come!

State of the state: The Governor gave his State of the State address on Thursday. During the last speech I heard from Tim Pawlenty at the Chamber of Commerce two weeks ago, I agreed with 95% of what he said about the need to get smarter with state and local government spending. Another time in the last month or so he suggested that a fiscal crisis can bring people together and the barriers that we put up to good ideas will be lowered out of necessity. Another good speech that focused on problem solving. However, I was pretty confused with the State of the State. The Governor said that taxes are out of the question (no surprise) and talked about removing a lot of costly state mandates for local governments. But then he outlined a bunch of new mandates for school districts, additional spending for K-12 schools, and a cap on tuition for higher education. I look forward to seeing how are we going to pay for these new projects and mandates in about two weeks when his budget is released.

Per diem: WCCO did what seems like an annual story about legislative per diem. Yours truly is third from the bottom out of 201 legislators.

Suburban DFL co-chair: At a meeting of the DFL Suburban Caucus on Monday, I was elected co-chair along with Rep. Bev Scalze and Rep. Mike Obermuller. There are 39 Democrats from the suburbs out of 87 members.

Revenues down for last two months of 2008: We received an update from Minnesota Management & Budget (the old Department of Finance) that shows that tax revenues in the last two months of 2008 were below forecast, or more than $100 million, or down 4.5% percent overall, with sales tax down 4.4%, corporate tax down 42%, and income tax down 3.3%. That means that there could be additional budget cuts before the end of the current fiscal year that ends June 30th.

Budget trends commission: The Budget Trends Study Commission issued its recommendations this week. The legislature asked a group of former finance commissioners and other experts to help figure out how to even out Minnesota's tax revenue over time. Their report covered a variety of issues including: the impact of Minnesota's changing demographics on the budget; revenue volatility; trend growth rates; current spending pressures; long term revenue forecasts; and projected expenditure obligations. The recommendations included boosting our budget reserves so that the state can weather a major deficit without cutting major services or raising taxes excessively; taking note of a long-term demographic shift to an older population with fewer taxpaying workers; and reining in health care costs. The Commission noted that it will be hard to change the tax system to provide more even revenue flows and even then the volatility will not go away. The U of M has commented more on this on-line.

One Minnesota Conference: All legislators were invited to attend a conference on Wednesday to hear about global and economic trends that affect what we do at the state. One of the better speakers talked about how states and regions have done well economically when they figure out what they are good at and then create "clusters" of businesses and industries that feed into that strength. Other speakers talked about how states can boost economic development of these clusters--like "green jobs"--with tax credits, grants, and investment in higher education institutions. So I had to ask a question, "In a time of fiscal austerity, how can the state boost the green economy without tax credits, grants, and investment in higher education?" The audience burst out laughing, mostly because it correctly characterized our fiscal situation and lack of options. Dark humor I guess. The panelist responded that even without funding, government can set rules of the game for the market.

Blaine airport public meeting: A citizen group called Concerned Citizens of the North Metro Area is having a meeting regarding the possible expansion of the Anoka County Airport in Blaine. The meeting is Thursday, January 29th from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Mounds View Community Center. Blog readers will recall that citizens were not happy about Anoka County trying to push for expansion at the legislature without much public input.

Schedule: Monday included a meeting of the DFL Suburban Caucus, a short floor session, a meeting of the Tax Committee, and a meeting with local Education MN members; Tuesday included meetings of the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, the Tax Committee, and Health Care & Human Services Policy, plus meetings with Healthy Legacy about their legislative platform and DFLers on the Environmental Policy Committee. On Wednesday, I was at the Humphrey Institute for the OneMinnesota Conference. Thursday included meetings of the Environmental Finance Committee, the DFL House Caucus, Health Care & Human Services Policy, and Environmental Policy, plus a floor session for the State of the State address and a meeting of the Ramsey County legislative delegation. Friday included a meeting of the Telecommunications Regulation and Infrastructure Division, and a training for committee chairs and vice-chairs.

Visitors: Representative of Parks & Trails Council of MN; representatives of bio-degradable plastics industry about compost issues; DNR staff about drinking water legislation follow-up; lobbyist for Coalition of Greater MN Cities about local government aid; lobbyist for MN Paratransit Association about legislation; former district resident about internship; staff from Chief Clerk's office about tracking legislation in omnibus bills; House Research staff about legislation I'm working on

Constituent contacts: Lino Lakes resident pleased that I'm third from the bottom in per diem; Shoreview resident who liked the Governor's speech; district resident about workers comp issue; North Oaks resident against allowing the school year to start before Labor Day; Shoreview resident against higher per diem; Shoreview resident against cuts to K-12 education; Shoreview resident against tighter licensing of interior designers; Lino Lakes resident against requiring private homes to have sprinklers (the Pioneer Press ran a story about some experts proposing this); Lino Lakes resident commenting about the $700 billion bailout and how it should go to regular people instead of banks; Shoreview resident suggesting that property taxes should be replaced with a 2% income tax to local governments; Shoreview resident about internship; Shoreview resident against Rep. Rukavina's idea of an income tax surcharge; Lexington resident with ten suggestions for balancing the budget; Lino Lakes resident wanting the state to get subsidies back from Northwest Airlines and against per diem; Shoreview resident about a matter with drivers and vehicle services; Shoreview and North Oaks residents sending cards with legislative platform of MN Utility Investors

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Week of January 4, 2009

New committee assignment: On Friday, the Speaker's office added me to the Telecommunications Regulation and Infrastructure Division of the Commerce and Labor Committee. It meets on Friday mornings. Last session, the committee discussed plans for greater broadband access statewide.

Stimulus: This week, we've been hearing about what projects in Minnesota might be funded by a possible economic stimulus bill under consideration in Congress. One of the projects is the widening of 694 between 35W and 35E. More info as I get it.

Phone books: KARE-11 did a news story about my past efforts to empower consumers to "opt out" of getting multiple phone books. I did not think that this was anything newsworthy but I have been bombarded with e-mail from people around the state who support this.

Yellow Book: Yellow Book, one of those yellow pages directory publishers, now allows you to opt out by going to their web site. You can also opt out from Dex directories (or request additional ones) at the Dex web site.

Schedule: On Tuesday, I attended a DFL House Caucus meeting and then we had our first floor session where we were all sworn in to the legislature. The first day is a little dull; the swearing-in takes about thirty seconds. We had about five voice roll call votes, where the clerk goes down the list of members and asks for each member's vote on the choice for Speaker, Chief Clerk, other officers in the House, etc. It takes about 10-15 minutes to get through the whole list each time! Guests can attend so my mom sat on the floor with me and my stepdad and wife sat up in the gallery. My mom was visiting from Annapolis, MD. On Wednesday and Thursday, DFL members of the Health and Human Services Policy Committee met to discuss session priorities for the committee. In the evening, I attended the Session Priorities Dinner convened by the MN Chamber of Commerce at RiverCenter. The Governor was the keynote speaker and legislative leaders participated in a panel discussion afterwards. On Thursday, I attended the DFL House Caucus. On Friday, several other suburban legislators and I attended a briefing from the Municipal Legislative Commission about their legislative platform. Shoreview is a member of this group. Later in the day I spoke to about 40 members of the MN Council of Nonnprofits about the legislative process.

Visitors: Shoreview resident supporting Health Security Act; Senior Fellow at Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs about green chemistry; MnDOT staff and Senator about increasing efficiency of community based transit; Senator about legislation to promote composting; House researchers about energy and environment issues; representatives of the MN Manufactured Housing Association about mobile home legislation from 2007.

Constituent contacts: Circle Pines resident supporting Health Security Act; Shoreview resident asking (again) exactly how I will solve the deficit; Lino Lakes resident against a public utility competing against other firms for non-utility business; Shoreview resident supporting charging parents of public school students a fee for attendance; Shoreview resident with idea for balancing the budget; Shoreview resident upset about the idea of extending unemployment and suggesting that if women would stay at home there would be no need for unemployment benefits; Shoreview resident concerned about recent change in property taxes; North Oaks resident against taxes and fees of any kind

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Weeks of December 21st and 28th, 2008

Committee assignments: On Wednesday, December 31st, I received my committee assignments. They include Environment and Natural Resources Policy, Health and Human Services Policy, and Taxes. I'll be the vice-chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee under Chair Kent Eken. The Health and Human Services Committee was a bit of surprise but I am looking forward to active participation.

Schedule: On Monday, December 29th, I met with the warden at the Lino Lakes prison to get a background briefing on corrections. It costs $81.56 per day to keep someone incarcerated at Lino Lakes. Minnesota also has one of the lowest incarceration rates per capita in the U.S., in part because we don't keep a lot of people in jail for minor non-violent offenses. Less than three percent of our state budget is spent on corrections, which puts us at number 49 out of 50 in the U.S. (Oregon spends 10.9% at the number one position.) Lino Lakes can house up to 1247 medium security and 87 minimum security inmates.

Visitors: None during the holiday break

Constituent contacts: Shoreview resident and North Oaks resident asking for protection of programs for the most vulnerable Minnesotans; Shoreview resident seeking a get-tough approach on illegal immigration; North Oaks resident supporting GLBT rights; North Oaks resident suggesting a revenue source to balance the state budget; Lino Lakes resident upset about higher property taxes for cabins; Lino Lakes resident supporting physical education requirements for public school students