You haven’t received an update from me in awhile because; sad to say, little of major substance has happened over the past month on the floor of the House. I know your lives are busy so I’ll share info periodically to update you on my activities. The House has a weekly publication “Session Weekly” that summarizes all of the major action in committees and on the floor (as well as bill introductions and background pieces). Since so many subscribe to that, I try to avoid duplicating that information. To subscribe click here: http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hinfo/subscribesw.asp#bymail
The State Budget – our main responsibility
While all the major budget bills were passed off the full House floor in early April, only one budget has been signed into law and none of the major conference committees had (as of last Friday) agreed on any issues of substance. The one budget that the Governor signed is the Agriculture Bill and it represents less than 1% of the state budget. It was based on non-partisan fiscal notes that estimate costs, a key tradition that Governor Dayton, with the support of many of us, insists on.
To have no progress in a month when facing one of the largest deficits in history is hard to understand. If the time were spent exploring new options and serious analysis, I would be less concerned. That hasn’t happened yet in most of the public meetings. Last week there was an effort to ask the Governor to negotiate with the conference committees and not have them resolve House/Senate differences. While the Governor has made his priorities and concerns with each of the budget proposals clear, resolving the significant House and Senate differences is key to narrowing the options on the table. The Supreme Court in its ruling last year against former Governor Tim Pawlenty, made it clear that the Constitution directs the legislature to make the appropriation decisions. The constitutional role of the Governor is to propose a balanced budget at the start of the year and to sign or veto legislative budgets.
Speaking out on unfair reductions
Our residents, our schools, our city and our county will be especially hard hit with the proposed cuts of the Republican majority. They drastically reduce state support for our city, county, and traditional public schools in order to reallocate it to other parts of the state. They generally have offered no policy justification for this other than it represents a “reform” that “rebalances” fund distribution. While not all of the 134 members of the legislature can (or should) speak out on each of the budget proposals on the House floor, I did speak up on the impact of cuts to our city and schools, the cut to the renters’ credit refund, devastating cuts to transit funding, cuts to services that help persons with disabilities find and retain jobs, cuts to other supports for persons with disabilities, and against a proposal that significantly increases the cost for anyone paying for nursing home care for themselves or a loved one. An amendment I proposed to protect services for seniors and persons with disabilities from further cuts beyond those specified in the bill passed unanimously. (This protects them from cutting authority granted to the commissioner).
Serving on the Tax Committee, the Property Tax Division, and the Health and Human Services Policy Committee has given me opportunities to express concerns on more specific cuts in those areas.
Working with Governor Dayton and his administration
It’s been great working with Gov. Dayton and I appreciate his partnership with legislators. In discussions with Governor Dayton, I have raised issues regarding:
- health insurance company profits on public contracts (which the Dayton administration is now addressing in a variety of ways),
- the devastating impact of bus service defunding if it means cutting nights and weekend service or huge fare increases on the 20% of Northeast Mpls. households that do not have even one car,
- How few really understand the limits of their private insurance or financial planning until a devastating situation impacts their family. Not helping hardworking Minnesotans when a terrible accident, a severe crippling condition at birth or later in life, or exhaustion of a senior’s life savings leaves them in need of help is not the value system I think most Minnesotans have. Note: If you have experienced this or are one of the thousands on waiting lists for service, your personal story could help us make people understand the human impacts of these choices. Please contact me.
- I support the Governor’s proposal to raise taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans so they pay about the same percent of their income in state and local taxes as the middle class now does. I have also encouraged the Governor to reject the major cuts in the renters’ credit program.
- The need for fair distribution of the Legacy funds between all areas of the state. There are proposals that would cut back on metro funding for both parks and arts and culture funds. The arts and culture funds can create opportunities for metro children and residents to experience art performances that they could not afford to buy tickets to, even though we are blessed with many talented performing arts groups in our area. Touring by the Minnesota Orchestra and other metro arts groups are often funded by legacy programs that focus on greater Minnesota and yet many in the metro have never experienced their live performances. I would like to see more balance in support for visual artists in addition to performing groups.
To keep the newsroom attention from the lack of progress on the budget, the distraction factor has really ramped up on a lot of fronts. Despite saying that social issues, the stadium, and other non-budget issues would have to wait until the budget was finalized, it appears the majority and others just couldn’t wait that long.
No constitutional amendments can be voted on until the 2012 election and so there’s no need to act on them until next year. At this point at least 15 constitutional amendments have been introduced, many of them addressing issues that are more appropriate to legislative decision making than being put into our constitution. I believe our state constitution should be a document that guides how our government and its checks and balances works, not evolve into a repository for a constantly changing collection of policy positions that may not stand the test of time.
New requirements for voting eligibility passed
I voted against this bill last week. There is no evidence that there are problems that require this level of documentation and effort but there is plenty of evidence that this will discourage voting by some groups. It will cost millions to implement at a time when every dollar is needed to reduce tuition increases, cuts in our schools and to support services for those with disabilities. It would also increase our property taxes by putting new unfunded mandates on our local governments. Northeasters who contacted me were overwhelmingly opposed to the proposal.
While it sounds simple to ask people for a photo ID, the bill does far more than that. This will not be a simple issue for many legitimate voters who have a constitutional right to vote. If you’d like to know more, please contact me.
In the next issue I will focus on local issues and bills and amendments I have authored. Thanks to those who attended the budget briefing at Logan Park. Seven other Minneapolis State Representatives joined me in reviewing the major budget choices confronting us and participating in a lively discussion with those attending. I appreciate all the input, advice and feedback I receive via email, voice mail and in person at community events such as the Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast, the Waite Park School Fundraiser, the Mississippi River Design Community Meeting, the Northeast Network, and other local events.