The 2012 Minnesota legislative session gets underway January 24 for what promises to be another bruising clash between the widely divergent views of the Republican majority in the legislature and DFL Governor Mark Dayton, allied with the legislature’s DFL minority.
Working families and their unions stand to gain or lose by the outcome.
A state revenue forecast released December 1 showed a modest $876 million projected budget surplus, which means the state likely won’t need to make additional budget cuts (pending an updated budget forecast in February).
Even-year legislative sessions typically are shorter than the odd-year budget-setting sessions. In these even-year sessions, lawmakers normally consider a bonding bill to finance state infrastructure investments and also take up policy issues.
Bonding, policy and possible constitutional amendments will be the focus of this year’s legislative debates. And whether and how to help fund a new Vikings football stadium.
Add a likely stalemate between the Governor and legislature over legislative redistricting — which will bring a late, court-ordered plan — together with the backdrop of the coming 2012 elections and this year will be lively indeed.
Will any lessons learned from last year’s budget stand-off make the legislature’s Republican majorities any more willing to compromise with the Governor?
“No. It’s going to be worse,” predicted Jennifer Schaubach, the Minnesota AFL-CIO’s legislative director.
“We would hope the legislature would consider the needs of middle class families and workers ahead of big corporate interests,” she said.
Labor opposing amendments
Schaubach said a chief focus of the Minnesota AFL-CIO this year will be “a lot of member education around constitutional amendments.” Several anti-worker amendments were introduced in the 2011 session — which means they are still on the table and could move forward this year. “We do not want any of them passed,” Schaubach said.
Defeating these amendments in the legislature — before they move on to the November ballot — will be critical. (Governor Dayton has no veto over constitutional amendments. Once passed by a majority of both houses of the legislature, constitutional amendments move directly to the general election ballot in November).
Stopping a so-called “right to work” amendment is at the top of the state labor movement’s concerns.
Labor also will work to stop any constitutional amendments requiring a “super-majority” of lawmakers to pass budget solutions.
Labor also will oppose a proposed amendment requiring photo identification for voters at the polls.
That’s a solution in search of a problem — Minnesota has no problem with voter fraud. The result of such a measure would be to disenfranchise the poor, college students, and seniors — groups who tend to favor Democrats over Republicans. Given Minnesota’s recent history of very close statewide elections, stripping away even a few thousand votes from the DFL column could sway election results.
Building trades urge bonding bill
“Elected officials should not make their decisions based on party lines, but rather for all the constituents they represent,” said Harry Melander, president of the Minnesota State Building and Construction Trades Council.
Melander said building trades unions will be reaching out to legislators from both major parties “looking for a needed and large bonding bill.”
Funding a new Vikings stadium, which Melander said is “a huge community asset,” also will be a goal.
“We believe that Republican and Democratic legislators will do what’s best for Minnesota and Minnesota workers and focus on creating jobs and employment opportunities rather than focusing on those issues that are counterproductive,” Melander said.
“Our members want the legislature to do something on jobs,” said Kyle Makarios, political director for the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters. “With the construction industry just starting to recover from the worst recession in our lifetimes, jobs will be center stage.”
‘What’s past is prologue’
“I do expect there will be some fundamental and contentious issues including a continued assault on collective bargaining and organized labor, building on what we saw last session,” warned Representative Paul Thissen, the DFL’s house leader.
“I hope we don’t see the kinds of attacks on public employees that we saw last session,” said Senator Tom Bakk, the DFL’s Senate leader. “It’s a very divisive discussion and I hope we don’t continue doing that road.”
With Republicans in the majority in both houses of the legislature, “they’re going to set the agenda. They’re going to set the tone,” Bakk noted.
“If they continue to pursue this extreme right-wing agenda, it will only help us further mobilize our members,” said Jim Niland, legislative and political action director for AFSCME Council 5.