Friday, February 20, 2009

Week of February 15, 2009

Lots of things happening this week.

Town Hall Meetings: Legislators (mostly the committee chairs and other leadership) are holding public meetings around the state to hear public testimony about the budget. Each of the meetings start with a presentation by non-partisan legislative staff showing how the deficit is addressed in the Governor's budget and where existing tax dollars go by program. The data here is pretty good and I would encourage you to see the presentation slides on the House web site. There has been much talk that the meetings would be a "beat up the Governor" exercise but from what I can tell from press reports my colleagues are not editorializing but are listening to the public, and the public is giving a variety of views.

Don't forget that on Wednesday the 25th there will be a town hall meeting at 6:30 p.m. at White Bear Lake South High School and Senator Rummel and I plan to be there. At the other meetings it has been standing room only and there is a 2-3 minute time limit for speakers. However, there will be cards where you can give your input in writing if you choose. You can sign up to speak at the House web site. Sen. Rummel and I plan to have "office hours" or other types of meetings with the public in the weeks to come.

Shared services: One of the ways that public agencies can cope with budget cuts this session is to consider sharing services. Many cities, counties, and school districts have done this already. For example, Shoreview and Arden Hills combine efforts for their semi-annual cleanup events. Lexington, Circle Pines, and Centerville use the Centennial Lakes Police Department instead of having their own police departments. But there are likely some other ways that we will need to think of before this budget session is over. Lately I've been meeting with the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce about their survey of east metro governments who have successfully shared services. The Governor has also proposed consolidating many back-room functions for county human services agencies into 15 offices instead of 87 by rewarding those counties that comply with less of a cut in county program aid. When the revenue commissioner described this to the Taxes Committee, I kind of rankled some of my DFL colleagues by saying that this was a good idea! If you have any ideas for how local governments can be more efficient, send them along!

MPR Budget Idea Generator: Minnesota Public Radio has set up an "idea generator" about the state's budget. You can make suggestions and also send an e-mail to your legislator showing how you balanced the budget. Check it out!

E-waste law working, creating jobs: One of the bright spots for employment in Minnesota has been the recycling of electronic waste. Because of the law we passed in 2007, consumers have been able to get rid of their old TVs, computers, etc.--usually without a fee--and have them recycled properly. Under the law, electronics manufacturers pay recyclers to have the material recycled, and in the first year, 33 million pounds (that's million) have been recycled. That exceeds the projected volume by 10 million pounds. We may be tweaking the law in the coming weeks to improve some technical details.

Tax Cuts: Part of the Governor's budget proposal that we've heard in Taxes Committee includes a reduction in the corporate income tax over the next six years by 50%. This is not a bad idea because the corporate tax is a regressive tax on employers who could hire more people. However, the proposal comes as we have a $5 billion deficit and the idea would cost tens to hundreds of millions in tax revenue in the next few years. In committee, Republican members asked the revenue commissioner if his department had done any projections to see how the tax cut would result in increased employment. Surprisingly he said it had not, and he then planned to talk to another agency that uses a software program (the "REMI model") to project the impacts of this policy. This is one reason that the legislature takes a long time to work on a budget--we have had six different hearings with this commissioner to get the details on the Governor's budget proposal and only by asking direct questions can we figure out how "real" an idea is based on data.

Stimulus Watch: Like all Americans I'd like to know that the federal economic stimulus money is going to be spent wisely. There is an independent web site called Stimulus Watch that lets you see what projects will be funded, and you can search by state. Among the projects listed are $40 million for the public infrastructure to upgrade the TCAAP arsenal property. (It would pretty much wipe the army's buildings off of the site and install the utilities to be ready for re-development, creating 7500 jobs according to the web site.) Utility projects are also listed in Hugo.

My bills: I have a bill (HF418) that would allow cities to pass an ordinance to control buckthorn on public and private property. A North Oaks resident brought the idea to me and it passed the Agriculture & Veterans Affairs Committee this week. (The Agriculture Committee hears anything related to "weed control" and pesticides.) It now goes to the Local Government Subcommittee of the Government Operations Committee.

White Bear Lake School District Annual Report: I received this report recently.

Q-Comp: The non-partisan Office of the Legislative Auditor recently issued this report about the Q-Comp teacher compensation system. Major findings report that a lot of people like Q-Comp but that most teachers get the Q-Comp pay and that there is no evidence yet that the system results in higher student achievement.

Transit costs moving off of property taxes: Anoka County copied me on a letter last week reporting that the 1/4% sales tax increase dedicated to transit has lowered the total county levy by $3,249,856.

U of M staff and alumni in 53A: The U of M has asked supporters to send us mail about funding for the university system. In the mail it reports that there are 566 faculty and staff from the U of M in my district, and 6,250 alumni who have 8,166 degrees. (That's a lot!)

Some helpful health reports: I've had a look at several helpful factoids and reports on the Health Care & Human Services Policy Committee including:

  • Transform 2010-Preparing for the Age Wave related to the rapid aging of MN's population
  • Financing long-term care for MN's baby boomers
  • Every one dollar spent on family planning saves a minimum of $4.02 in Medicaid birth costs (from MN SAFPLAN-Statewide Association for Family Planning)
  • The cost of sexual violence is $8 billion JUST IN MINNESOTA and in 2005 there were 61,000 people reported to have been assaulted in 77,000 cases
  • 325,000 Minnesotans are enrolled in health savings accounts, or 9.2% of people under 65 with private coverage; these HSAs have higher deductibles, higher out of pocket expenses, and higher chances for inadequate coverage
Schedule: Monday included an impromptu meeting of the state Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, a caucus meeting, a short floor session, a meeting of the Taxes Committee, and a bill hearing on my buckthorn ordinance bill (HF418). On Tuesday, I spoke to a meeting of the Arden Hills/Shoreview Rotary Club about the budget and attended committee meetings for Taxes (on the Governor's tax proposals), Health Care & Human Services Policy/HCHS (bills on medical transportation), and Environment & Natural Resources Policy (presentations on household hazardous waste and product stewardship), plus two committee caucus meetings. On Wednesday, I met with some community leaders about the proposed Anoka County-Blaine Airport runway expansion and attended a joint Taxes-Health and Human Services committee on maintenance of effort (MOE) issues and the HCHS Committee (medical marijuana-I voted in favor of allowing it--and rural health cooperatives). Afterwards the DFL House Caucus met into the evening. On Thursday, we had a lengthy floor session to pass a tax conformity bill so that our tax law matches recent federal tax changes. (The minority offered amendments for tax cuts totalling $1.7 billion that would have increased the size of the budget deficit by 35%--this is why it is a bad idea to make policy on the floor and not in committee.) Friday has become clean-off-my-desk day.

Visitors: Senator about recycled waters bill; lobbyist and staff from Organic Technologies Inc. about HF403; lobbyist for Comcast about cable regulation; candidate for U of M regent; several constituent pharmacists with platform of MN Association of Pharmacists; constituent member of SEIU about health care legislation; lobbyist for Association of MN Counties about solid waste tax legislation; Century College Student Senate members about higher education; teachers from Mounds View School District with Education MN legislative platform; two constituent electricians with legislative platform for the IBEW; teachers from Forest Lake School District with Education MN legislative platform; another representative about single-payer health care; another representative about the Blaine airport and transit for the disabled; Centennial Legislative Action Committee with K-12 legislative platform; lobbyist for MN Electrical Association about HF239; staff from Natural Conservancy about conservation easements for Upper Mississippi Forest Project; delegation from St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce about shared services ideas; staff for All Parks Alliance for Change about HF356; two citizen activists supporting transit for the disabled; Senator Rummel on items of mutual interest; lobbyist for Key Aviation

Constituent contacts: North Oaks resident about abuse in home health care programs; Shoreview? resident against spending; Shoreview resident in favor of voter ID; Shoreview resident asking about legislative pay cut idea; Shoreview resident against Governor's proposed cuts to rehabilitative services; Shoreview resident against MN Faith in Action bill (HF0760); Lino Lakes resident about mileage-based gas tax idea; Blaine resident against legislation that would close "gun show loophole" for background checks; Shoreview resident against current single-payer health coverage bill; HR manager from City of Shoreview on HF612-paid sick leave bill; Shoreview resident and Lino Lakes resident supporting HF359 that would require that health plans cover autism therapy; Circle Pines resident who might lose health coverage under Governor's proposal; Circle Pines resident against mandatory vaccination, dental mercury and restrictions on free speech about nutrition; two Shoreview residents supporting puppy mill legislation; Shoreview resident about licensing issue; Lino Lakes resident against Governor's budget proposal for K-12 education; North Oaks resident supporting charter schools and the Perpich Center for the Arts; three Shoreview residents supporting the arts; North Oaks resident against illegal immigration, for tax cuts, and against "global warming madness"; North Oaks resident supporting comprehensive sex education