Thursday, May 7, 2009

Weeks of April 26th & May 3, 2009

The last two weeks have seen a lot of floor activity and plenty of constituent e-mail, letters, calls, etc., so it has been pretty hard to keep up!

Earlier this week, the House and Senate passed three finance bills out of about nine that need passage. These bills were among the least controversial so the Governor and legislative leaders decided that we should proceed with these first to help "set the table" for the big bills. Two of these bills also don't have that much funding from the General Fund that is in deficit. The bills included environment & energy, economic development, and transportation. All of them had some legislation of mine that deal with bioplastics, housing, and transit for the disabled.

HF1309, the transportation bill, relies mostly on dedicated funds from the motor vehicle sales tax, the gas tax, and so on and was pretty uncontroversial. My provision in the bill will help better coordinate transit for people who cannot drive. There is a lot of room for taxpayer savings in this area because there is a lot of duplication in bus and van fleets that serve seniors, the developmentally disabled, and others. The legislation (originally from HF1373) would set up a coordinating body of the folks who operate the fleets. The Governor signed this bill just before midnight on Thursday and is now Chapter 36 of Minnesota statutes.

SF2081, the economic development bill, included a wide variety of legislation related to housing, economic development programs, funding for the Department of Employment and Economic Development, and some cultural resources programming. This bill contained controversial language about forgiving the last remaining debt that St. Paul has on the Xcel Energy Center loan. The loan forgiveness would not actually kick in for four years so it would not affect the next two two-year budgets. The city would then use the dollars to build a community ice rink across from Xcel. I am not enthusiastic about this proposal but we also have some important stuff in this bill for assisting people who are losing their homes. My provision in this bill was a revision to the manufactured housing (mobile homes) relocation trust fund so that a fund that helps these homeowners relocate when their mobile home park closes will be solvent. The Governor vetoed this bill over the Xcel Energy Center provision.

HF2123, the environment and energy finance bill, passed with a high number of votes on the House floor from both parties. It included budgets for the MN Pollution Control Agency, the DNR, and several other smaller agencies. My legislation in the bill included provisions that will boost two industries in Minnesota--bioplastics and compost. Many district residents are asked by their waste hauler to dispose of their yard waste in a rolling cart or a compostable bag because the regular plastic bags contaminate the finished compost. Haulers pay a higher fee to get rid of plastic and compost site operators can't sell their compost. The legislation has all metro area residents use certified compostable bags if they use a bag. (Carts and reusable bags are fine too.) The idea is to increase quality and streamline rules across multiple jurisdictions. We have several Minnesota manufacturers of compostable bags who will be able to meet consumer demand, and they are part of our growing bioplastic industry. The original bill was HF403. This bill was signed by the Governor on Thursday and is now Chapter 37 in Minnesota statutes.

We have several other bills which are in conference committee and are ready to go pending a few minor decisions that have to be made. The state government finance bill includes language from my HF625 that would require the state Department of Finance to allow the exporting of state budget information into a common format so that enterprising and tech-saavy people can develop third-party applications for this information. Who says that the state must be the only entity that holds data and information that we paid for? Politics in Minnesota has followed this legislation and reported on the need for this legislation for greater government transparency. They have also aggressively followed up on it in articles on May 6th and May 7th. (The state Department of Finance doesn't like it yet.)

Federal funding for local roads and bridges: Anoka County just informed me that the federal recovery program will provide funding for the 35E & Highway 14 intersection at $4.825 million. You can track the accounting on these projects at I believe that a park and ride lot will get installed there after it's all done.

The way it was: The Minnesota Legislative Library has a 30 minute documentary posted on line about the legislature in 1976. The filmmaker follows Rep. Tom Berg. The technology (typewriters!) is interesting to see, as well as all the smoking and plaid suits. Thought readers might be interested! A lot of the experience is still very much the same.

Mounds View Schools survey and article: The Mounds View School District recently performed a survey in the community, and the results can tell you about the possible results of state budget cuts.

Tax bill from April 25th: I voted against our first tax bill. While I thought there were some good ideas in it, it was really a lot to ask of almost all Minnesotans. My particular concern was the provision for allowing a local options sales tax of one-half of one percent. We have another tax bill coming on May 8th and I look forward to considering it thoughtfully.

Constituent contacts: The volume is so high right now that I can't list all of them as in the past. However, I can give you a flavor of what people are sending me. They include: weatherization funding from federal recovery legislation to be used for low-income Minnesotans (all pro); K-12 education funding (all pro); alcohol tax increase (all against, from beer distributor employees in district); state agency enforcement of law against internet gambling (all against); DNA newborn screening (several MDs for, many conservative constituents against), medical specialist reimbursement rates (all MDs against cuts); provider tax (all MDs against increasing it); mortgage interest deduction changes in first tax bill (a lot, all against); tax cuts (all pro and all form e-mails generated by Minnesota Majority website); freedom to breathe act/smoking ban (all pro); medical marijuana (all pro); tax increase on the wealthiest (all pro and all form letters)