Coming session could be promising

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The forthcoming session of the Minnesota State Legislature could turn out to be one of the most important in years. On the other hand, it could become a complete dud.

In some very important areas, it seems as if both sides of the aisle are almost ready to make the concessions necessary to resolve some long-standing, intractable issues. But, lurking in the shadows is that 800-pound gorilla — the state budget and its overseer, the governor.

This column begins Matthew Little’s biweekly reports on the 2008 Minnesota legislative session, which will continue until the session closes.

Pawlenty has still not recovered from his “no new tax” pledge to the Taxpayers League. He has been prone to resist any three-letter word spelling T-A-X regardless of its worthiness. And, given the look of the state finance department’s revenue forecast, it appears that some very creative financing is going to be necessary.

After endless study, it does seem that two mainstay pieces of legislation are in the process of achieving some consensus and preparing to move forward. One, the K-12 education issue, has had to live with a formula that everyone knows is antiquated and ill equipped to fit the needs of today’s kids.

Secondly, there is the pressing issue of health care. Although the legislative session does not officially start until February 12, there is plenty of talk in halls of the Capitol rotunda that there is developing a high degree of consensus around two separate efforts to create some means of adequate healthcare insurance coverage for all Minnesotans.

Both K-12 education and health care have recently gained tremendous leverage in public discourse, forcing legislators to reach beyond partisan boundaries for earnest solutions. Therefore, there are reasons to believe that some accord can be reached if the financial underpinning is obtainable.

However, the only new source of income that seems to be on the horizon is at the very top of the spectrum. It is general knowledge among legislators that the top-layer income earners in the state pay about eight percent of their dough in state and local taxes, compared to 12 percent for the average Joe. The legislature and governor may be forced to deal with that inequity this session.

There is also other creative legislation that we will be peeping at when the gavel is dropped signaling the start of the 2008 session of the state legislature in February. One of the most interesting will be the Commission to End Poverty in Minnesota by 2020.

This House/Senate bipartisan commission has been working diligently during the off-season, traveling throughout the state, tracking poverty in all of its different faces. It should have some revealing insights to share and some innovative proposals toward completing its mission.

(The MSR plans to run a special article bringing you up-to-date on the progress of the commission, as well as following up on any enabling legislation that the commission might recommend enacting.)

And certainly, this legislative session cannot possibly forget the transportation issue. The 35W bridge disaster last August focused not only Minnesota, but the entire country on the inadequacy of our transportation roadways, which have failed to keep up with the advancement in vehicles using them. When the blame game regarding the bridge collapse has played itself out, there are bound to be demands for considerable improvements on our roads and highways.

And finally, two major political factors are going to visible in the background overlooking the Minnesota State Capitol this legislative session that could have considerable bearing on final legislative action. They are, first, the hotly contested U.S. Senate race, and second, the apparent national political ambitions of the Minnesota governor with his party’s national political convention slated to arrive in town in September.

Speaking of legislation, there were six bills passed in the last session that for some reason did not go in effect until this year. They are:

• American flags must be made in the United States.

• A new consumer protection law requires, among other things, that a dealer must inform the customer whenever a consumer credit report is used and provide the customer a toll-free number to obtain a copy of the report.

• Health insurers are now required, under the family health plan, to include unmarried children ages 19-25.

• Amusement park rides are now required to have annual and daily inspections.

• Several everyday products manufactured in Minnesota have to be mercury free.

• School bus safety statutes were modified so as to require seats with cushion depths of 15” and seatbacks at least 20” high.

Matthew Little welcomes reader responses to mlittle@spokesman-recorder.com.

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