Local officials and legislators rate the legislative session


Successes clouded by governor’s vetoes … In the wake of the recent legislative session — and Governor Pawlenty’s actions that followed — public officials discussed the benefits and fallout to come from what did and didn’t get signed into law. And, as the talk of a special session fades more than a month after the end of the session, it appears more and more likely that things will stay that way until the next session convenes in February.

Sen. Patricia Torres Ray and Rep. Jim Davnie held an open house roundtable with constituents, and Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin met with local media, while others spoke in interviews with The Bridge staff.

Mayor R.T. Rybak lauded the work of the new Democratic majority in the legislature, citing legislation to slow foreclosures, targeted dollars to public safety, more money for youth education and jobs, and groundbreaking work on new environmental standards, which require power companies to produce 25 percent of their energy using renewable materials by 2025. Another bill set a long-term goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota by 80 percent by the year 2050.

“All of that reflects the values of the residents that live in The Bridge area, and certainly my values,” said Rybak.

Other legislation signed into law includes a statewide smoking ban, energy and clean water legislation, increased education funding, health care coverage extended to children, and a number of newly drafted laws to protect consumers from predatory lenders, credit card debt, unethical mortgage brokers and equity stripping. Speaking at the June annual meeting of the Nicollet island/East Bank Neighborhood Association (NIEBNA), Ward 3 Council Member Diane Hofstede praised the anti-predatory lending legislation, adding that the “Hawthorne Huddle,” a public discussion in the Third Ward of predatory lending and mortgage foreclosure issues, helped give rise to the strongest such legislation passed in the U.S. “”They are using Minnesota as a model for the rest of the country,” said Hofstede.

Stadium mitigation funds bolster U, neighborhood partnership

At the top of many officials’ lists of positives was the $750,000 included in the higher education bill, seed money intended to fund specific projects to improve the quality of life in the neighborhoods adjacent to the University of Minnesota. Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller said he would like to see the new University Community partnership — which includes representatives from the Cedar-Riverside, Como, Marcy-Holmes, Prospect Park and University neighborhoods — use the money to take on very specific pilot projects to improve safety and livability in the area.

Pogemiller was also pleased that tuition increases at the University of Minnesota would be limited to 4–5 percent, thanks to what he called “one of the best higher ed[ucation] bills” in recent history. Pogemiller said Minneapolis public schools will also benefit significantly from a $330 million increase in special education funding, appropriated in the K–12 education bill. However, speaking at the June 26 NIEBNA meeting, Pogemiller did voice disappointment that education funding was not increased even more. “In my opinion, without a sales tax, Minnesota can’t fund K-12 education to the level that it should be,”” said Pogemiller. He said he felt the funding for early childhood education was inadequate to bridge the achievement gap and make Minnesota’s students the best in the nation.

“In terms of raw numbers, most of the kids in the public schools are from immigrant and lower income families,” he said. “It’s not Lake Wobegon kids anymore. And the generation coming up behind us is smaller, so we really need these kids to be productive economically and socially to move the state forward.”
Kahn noted her ongoing work to curb outdoor light pollution and create a state policy for stem cell research, although neither was acted on during this session. She was pleased that the governor signed legislation creating the honorary position of state poet laureate. Pawlenty had vetoed the bill in 2005, saying that it might lead to requests for a “state mime” or “interpretive dancer,” said Kahn.

After the session came the vetoes

The legislative successes were tempered — and perhaps even eclipsed — by several major vetoes that both Rep. Phyllis Kahn and McLaughlin, a former state legislator, said were unprecedented.

Among the full and line item vetoes were a major tax bill that would have provided $13 million in local government aid (LGA), $4.5 million for the merger of the Minneapolis and Hennepin County library systems and $40 million toward the Central Corridor LRT project. McLaughlin warned that a delay of even one year could cost the project millions of dollars in inflation.

Lack of LGA hits public safety, tax relief

Rybak said that, with the veto of LGA, the governor is going back on his promise to help the city pay for more police officers. The funding vacuum will be filled by higher property taxes, the mayor warned. “It allows him to claim on the national stage that he’s not raising taxes,” said Rybak, “but those of us paying them here at home know better.”

Despite the lack of LGA, Ward 2 Council Member Cam Gordon noted that the city did get some public safety funding for cameras and squad cars, as well as authorization for police overtime. Gordon also welcomed the $2.6 million in funding for summer youth programs.

“The real dramatic increases we need are consistent increases and the commitment to LGA,” said Hofstede. “We need to recognize that inflation is eating away at the value of the dollar.” Both she and the mayor noted that the resulting increase in tax relief clashes with the mayor’s commitment to not raise taxes.

Inflation was the hot button topic of the session and the reason for the governor’s veto of the entire tax bill; legislators wanted to account for it in budget forecasting, which the governor rejected to the very end. If inflation is not included in budget forecasts, it should not be included in revenues, either, said Kahn.

Library merger in jeopardy?

Although Pawlenty did sign legislation authorizing the Minneapolis/Hennepin County library merger, he vetoed $4.5 million to help combine the two systems.

While Minneapolis officials said they don’t expect the veto to jeopardize the consolidation — or the reopening of three city libraries, including Southeast — the next step is unknown at this point.

“I’m committed to finding the money to reopen the Southeast library and keep it open, in spite of the governor,” said Rybak, who said he didn’t know where the money would come from yet. He said he’d like to see the closed libraries reopened by next January, but that the decision is up to the Library Board.

“We’re moving ahead with planning, assuming that it’s going forward,” said Sheldon Mains, an at-large member of the Library Board of Trustees. Mains said the plan was to merge the libraries before their computers were synched, but until that technology merger happens, they’ll be operating inefficiently.