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 I wonder if the reporters are of an age where they grew up with the Internet and see the phone book as an outdated product.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