Friday, February 6, 2009

Week of February 1, 2009

Budget breakdown: I've had a chance to review the Governor's budget. The media is picking up on some of my colleagues who are saying, "So what is your plan?" or "This budget is terrible!" but most of us are looking through the details so that we can put something together that blunts the worst of the cuts and/or allows us to avoid future deficits. However, when you look at the big numbers, it is pretty overwhelming.

Here's how the Governor's budget breaks down. The deficit is $4.847 billion.

Proposed cuts: $2.521 billion
Federal stimulus funds: $920 million
Shifts/Deferring K-12 payments from June 2011 to July 2012 (to the new fiscal year): $1.294 billion
Borrowing against future tobacco settlement funds: $983 million
New spending: $323 million (adds to deficit)
Tax cuts: $287 million (adds to deficit)
New tax or fee revenue: $0
Budget reserve: $250 million

That adds up to $4.858 billion with $11 million left over. Roughly half of the deficit reduction comes from cuts and the rest is one-time money. If the state were to raise taxes in some way, it would likely not exceed $1 billion, which still leaves us with big cuts, more borrowing, and putting off about a billion dollars to the next budget, creating an automatic deficit for the next legislature.

Listening session in White Bear Lake: The leadership of the House and Senate are planning budget listening sessions around the state. Members of the GOP are also being invited. The one in our area will be on Wednesday, February 25th at 6:30 p.m. at White Bear Lake High School - South Campus, 3551 McKnight Rd N. I hope that you can join us to talk about what issues are important to you as we balance an unprecedented budget deficit.

Broadband links: At a recent committee meeting, Connect Minnesota presented a MN broadband service inventory map and some useful web links. At their web site, you can look at a map of the state to see who can get high speed internet service and also enter your address to see what service providers you can find in your area. You can also test your internet speed at a separate site to see how well you connect.

Funding for the disabled: On the health policy committee, we heard from parents who have been on a waiting list for services for developmentally disabled children. Many people assume that human services funding from the state goes to people in the inner cities or to people who don't want to work. In our suburban district, I have met many people who receive funding to keep their kids at home instead of having them institutionalized, where services are more expensive. Having a group house on my block, I have seen how residential living is really helpful for these disabled Minnesotans. Once those kids get to be adults and can't live on their own, the parents can no longer lift them if the kids can't walk. The funding program for things like chair lifts, personal care assistants, etc. is called the "DD waiver." There are 5,000 people on the waiting list statewide for this program. The average household cost for this is $66,138 and the cost for having that person at a nursing home is around $92,000.

Local government efficiency: Rep. Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth), chair of the Property Tax Division of the House Taxes Committee, has created three working groups to promote reform, accountability, value, and efficiency in local government. The three working groups include state property tax system benchmarks and critical indicators; local government performance measurement and improvement; and local government decision-making flexibility and mandate reduction. I'm hoping to work with the latter group to assist in some consolidation initiatives I am pursuing.

Schedule: On Monday, we held a short floor session and a caucus meeting. In the afternoon, I attended the Taxes Committee where we continued our briefing on sales and corporate taxes. Later, I spoke to a class of environmental policy students at the U of M about policy and the legislature. Tuesday brought three caucus meetings and a cable TV interview, along with meetings of the Taxes Committee (federal tax conformity bill), Health Care & Human Services (HCHS) Committee (Rep. Knuth's toxic children's products bill), and the Environment & Natural Resources Policy Committee (also Rep. Knuth's bill). In the evening, I attended my DFL Senate District meeting in Lino Lakes. On Wednesday, the Taxes Committee heard a presentation from the Revenue Commissioner on the Governor's proposed budget. I attended two caucus meetings as well as the HCHS committee (Rep. Norton's bill to require coverage of autism disorders by health plans). Thursday brought a floor session where we set policy committee deadlines at March 27th. (You have to get your policy bill through committee by that date for the legislation to proceed). In the afternoon, the HCHS Committee heard Rep. Emmer's bill to allow the courts to amend a death certificate in case of incorrect or mistaken cause of death, and the Environment & Natural Resources Committee we heard bills from Rep. Hansen on drainage regulation and dog parks. In the evening, several legislators and I spoke to about 30 students and local residents at Century College about climate change. On Friday, I attended the Telecommunications Division where we learned about the state's broadband mapping project and attended meetings with other legislators about better paratransit coordination and homeowner protection legislation. During the week I also worked with two interns from the district who are helping me on various projects.

Visitors: Senator about environmental legislation; Shoreview resident for physical therapist day on the hill; lobbyist for MN Multi Housing Association about phone books; North Oaks and Shoreview residents promoting healthy communities; YMCA staff and volunteers with their legislative agenda; lobbyists supporting medical marijuana bill; citizen lobbyists supporting continued funding for natural health practitioners; Senator about compost legislation; staff from MN Department of Health giving overview of department; House researcher on capital investment legislation; Shoreview resident with Education MN legislative agenda; staff from St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce about shared services proposal; Department of Administration staff on Capitol recycling issues; House member about shared services proposal; League of Women Voters about off-road vehicles issues; lobbyist for MN Builders' Association about HF239; Isaak Walton League staff about low carbon fuel standard; North Oaks residents with MN Medical Association legislative platform; MPCA staff on closed landfill cleanup program
Constituent contacts: district constituent asking for cuts to balance the budget; Shoreview resident against government intrusion into health care; Shoreview resident about a licensing bill for interior designers; Circle Pines resident about high cost of MS drugs; Lino Lakes resident supporting early childhood programs; North Oaks resident asking that education be the #1 state priority; Shoreview resident supporting HF359 to require health plans to cover autism treatment; Shoreview resident against state employee salary freeze; Shoreview resident inquiring about an insurance matter; Lino Lakes resident against phone book bill; North Oaks resident supporting the arts; district resident against state employee salary freeze; Lino Lakes resident supporting school counselors; North Oaks resident against dissolution of the Health Care Access Fund and supporting public health care programs; Lino Lakes resident against taxpayer-funded abortions; Shoreview resident against the state accepting federal stimulus funding and for large budget cuts; Shoreview resident supporting charter schools; Shoreview resident supporting allowing school districts to start classes before Labor Day; Shoreview resident supporting legislation that protects victims and children from domestic violence