May 27, 2005Nothing moving
The Memorial Day weekend is nearly here and there's no movement toward an agreement to end the special session. Gov. Pawlenty's gamble to call lawmakers back into session immediately has not generated the pressure he thought it would to get a deal done. The June 30 end of the biennium is the actual deadline, and at this point it's hard to see what will spark an agreement before then.
All that is by way of saying there's not much Capitol news to talk about today. So let me get to a few things I've ignored. Remember last year when KMSP-TV made a big splash by reporting about drinking at the Capitol at the end of the session? They tried to follow up this year, and frankly, didn't make much of a splash this time.
The FOX 9 Investigators didn't see open drinking either. We can't say who drained these wine bottles. We found them in the recycling bins in the Republican office complex in the State Office Building.
Yes, what about this year? They found a few bottles in the trash, but nobody caught in the act. I guess that means there was either less drinking or people learned to hide from their hidden cameras.
There's more to report about people who want to run for Gov. Pawlenty's job. Brian Bakst of the Associated Press has this story:
Two more potential challengers to Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty took steps this week toward running; the Independence Party's Peter Hutchinson filed papers Monday forming a campaign committee and DFL state Sen. Steve Kelley scheduled a kickoff event for next week after filing his papers Wednesday.
This is an indication of how slow things really are at the Capitol. Rpeorters are now looking ahead to November of 2006. Have a good Memorial Day weekend. Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:32 AM
May 26, 2005Tax versus fee
I got a call the other day from a listener who asked me why we weren't calling Gov. Pawlenty's cigarette "fee" a "tax." Actually, this sharp-eared listener had heard a newscast that referred to a "75 cent charge" on a pack of cigarettes. I had to confess he was right. A "charge" certainly didn't make any sense. Most of the people who work on tax policy at the Capitol say the governor's proposal is a tax, even though Pawlenty insists it's a fee. So we've made a decision at MPR that we will generally refer to it as a tax and do our best to put it in context.
Now that we have that out of the way, the debate has begun at the Capitol about what should be done with a higher cigarette tax. MPR's Tom Scheck has the story:
Gov. Pawlenty's office hasn't released a specific bill yet on the proposed tax, but he says he would dedicate the entire $380 million to treat smoking-related diseases. What troubles health care advocates is that Pawlenty also wants to shift $280 million from his original health care budget proposal and dedicate that money to public education. Minnesota Human Services Commissioner Kevin Goodno says the proposal should satisfy Senate DFLers who want increases for schools and health care. "The net effect is it helps provide revenues and helps us move toward the position as an administration move closer to the Senate's position on education and the Senate's position on health and human services," said Goodno.
And there may be some progress in negotiations on health care. Teeny, tiny progress, yes, but progress. The Star Tribune reports on an idea proposed by Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis:
Specifically, the Senate plan would cut state spending on the General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) program -- now funded by the state general fund -- by moving most of its enrollees onto MinnesotaCare. MinnesotaCare is funded by a separate fee paid by health care providers.
On the political front, MPR's Laura McCallum has news of Attorney General Mike Hatch raising more money to run against Pawlenty:
Hatch says he won't make a final decision on the race until this summer, but he clearly relishes the chance to challenge Pawlenty.
McCallum says another DFLer, Bud Philbrook is also actively campaigning.
And more confirmation that Minnesotans like to vote. The Pioneer Press has the numbers to prove it:
It's official: Minnesota had the highest voter turnout — 79 percent — of any state in the nation in the 2004 general election, the U.S. Census Bureau reports today.
You know what they say: if you don't vote, you can't complain. So 79 percent of you, gripe away. The rest of you 21 percent, pipe down!Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:45 AM
May 25, 2005Dogs and ponies
Did Gov. Pawlenty really think opening negotiations to the press would result in a breakthrough? Probably not. Maybe he hoped to embarrass DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson or to show that Johnson is not interested in real negotiations. In any case, the first negotiating session of the special session resulted in squatski. MPR's Michael Khoo has the story:
Gov. Tim Pawlenty convened the 45 minute discussion his reception room -- and extended future invitations to keep meeting throughout the week and into Memorial Day weekend. But judging from the barely concealed frustrations and occasional tensions, the offer may not bear much fruit.
So basically things are exactly where they were Friday night. Except the governor has called a special session. As noted yesterday, if the goal of calling the session immediately was to put pressure on Johnson, it didn't work. The working deadline is clearly the June 30 end of the biennium. If there isn't a deal by then parts of state government shut down.
The Star Tribune notes that at least some lawmakers hope to save taxpayers a little money on the special session:
Most members of the large class of 17 new DFLers elected to the House last fall -- beneficiaries of a wave of anti-incumbent anger after the failure of the 2004 legislative session -- will not accept the $66 per diem payment to which legislators are entitled each day of the special session.
Sooner or later someone at the Capitol will bring up that $20,000 figure. Remember, the Legislature failed to get the job done, but the governor chose to call the special session before there was an agreement on the big picture.
Shifting to Washington, should Minnesotans be wondering why neither of our Senators was among the group in the middle that engineered a deal to preserve the filibuster? Minnesota seems to be a "purple" state, not quite red and not quite blue, but the two Senators are reliable votes for their parties. MPR's All Things Considered talked to both Senators Tuesday. This item boils down what they said:
When it comes to nominees to the Supreme Court, Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman says he's not convinced Democrats would allow a confirmation vote.
So in other words Minnesota's Senators agree on one thing. Their votes will continue to cancel each other out.
Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:46 AM
May 24, 2005Poor closers
Did Gov. Tim Pawlenty make a mistake by calling lawmakers back so soon? You've probably heard by now that Pawlenty called the Legislature back into special session one minute after they adjourned the regular session. It played well on the early TV news. "Get back to work," he said. But will it help get a deal done on the budget? Maybe not, according to MPR's Laura McCallum:
Gov. Pawlenty says he decided to call a special session immediately so that Legislators wouldn't go home and forget about the need to finish the budget.
Similar sentiments are heard in the Star Tribune's story:
Meanwhile, some Republican legislators fretted openly about the prospect of a "runaway" special session. That's because while only the governor can call a special session, only legislators can agree to end one.
And while there will no doubt be a series of stories featuring ordinary Minnesotans griping about the Legislature's inability to get its work done, the Star Tribune editorial page takes a "glass half full" view of the ninth special session in 11 years:
Irritation with another lawmaking session going into overtime is understandable. But Minnesotans should also understand this: The issues that remain to be resolved at the Capitol -- education, transportation and human services funding, and the taxes to pay for them -- are the big, thorny ones. They are central to the challenge state government confronts in the next several decades: How can Minnesota best position itself to compete in a knowledge-based global economy, at a time when its population is both older and more diverse than ever before?
Wow, and I thought it was just income taxes versus cigarette fees. I need to start thinking bigger.
Away from the Capitol now to the 2006 campaign. The Associated Press reports America's most famous whistleblower is once again pondering a run for Congress:
Coleen Rowley is considering a race for Congress in Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District, the former FBI whistle-blower told The Associated Press Monday.
It's good she's already thinking about the big issues. What's that got to do with the knowledge-based global economy?
Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:36 AM
May 23, 2005Deadline day
So, after five months the session must end. And once again lawmakers have not finished their work. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
On the bad thing side, the major accomplishments of the regular session will be the bonding bill and the public safety bill--in other words, the work they were supposed to have done LAST year. On the good thing side, they're arguing about big issues: education spending, health care, taxes and transportation. Those are the issues we want politicians to deal with, and they're not ducking them, even if progress is slow.
Is it more important to finish on time or to come up with a good product? Well, last year they finished on time, but they got nothing done. And a bunch of GOP incumbents lost their seats.
So let's go to the news. The governor's proposal of a new 75 cent per pack fee on cigarettes was meant to get negotiations going. It didn't, at least over the weekend. In the Pioneer Press Patrick Sweeney notes that special sessions aren't so special after all:
This will be the third time in a row that Minnesota lawmakers have failed to approve a biennial budget by the constitutional deadline. Pawlenty's spokesman, Brian McClung, said Sunday the governor was "weighing his options" about when to call legislators back to the Capitol for a special session.
But what about that cigarette tax, um, fee? Shouldn't that have broken the gridlock? Not necessarily, says MPR's Michael Khoo:
Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says the Pawlenty tobacco fee should be enough to lock up a budget deal.
More than 1,000 Democrats from around the state have selected Brian Melendez as the new state party chair. At a DFL central committee meeting in St. Cloud Saturday, delegates chose Melendez over former state representative Betty Folliard and former Wellstone staffer Josh Syrjamake. Melendez chairs the Minneapolis and Fifth Congressional district DFL, and says he looks forward to the new challenge.
And as for the fate of this column, I guess I'll keep writing until the end of the special session. After that, who knows? Would you like me to keep going? Let me know.Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:42 AM
May 20, 2005Gov. Roadblock vs Sen. Stall
Gov. Tim Pawlenty Thursday made good on his promise to veto the transportation budget bill, and in doing so set off a war of words with Senate majority Leader Dean Johnson.
Let's start with the veto and MPR's Michael Khoo:
In an unusual public veto ceremony, Gov. Pawlenty restated his long-held opposition to raising state taxes -- and said his veto should come as a surprise to no one.
Something tells me you may hear that "Gov. Roadblock" sobriquet again. But Pawlenty along, with House Speaker Steve Sviggum and Senate Republican leader Dick Day (both of whom have said they personally support a higher gas tax) are blaming the end of the session pile-up on Johnson. This is from the Pioneer Press:
Pawlenty said it was Senate DFLers who were unwilling to compromise. "Rather than working on a bill that could pass and be accomplished, they want to spend time and resources and energy — wasting it, I might add — on this exercise to make a political point," he said. He expects them to "try to blame me for traffic congestion, even though they haven't done diddly in 15 years."
Amid the rancor over the transportation bill comes the admission that a special session is now all but inevitable. Patrick Sweeney has a story in the Pioneer Press that raises a possible way out:
Many lawmakers — most Democrats and a significant number of Republicans — say the key to breaking the budget impasse is for Pawlenty to accept a new wholesale charge of 50 cents to $1 a pack on cigarettes and pledge the proceeds to health care. He would call the charge a fee; Democrats and probably many other people would call it a tax.
It's still unclear whether the governor would accept the measure which would raise about $470 million over the biennium. Keep an ear to the radio over the weekend. MPR's reporters will be at the Capitol following everything.
One final note, it looks like Al Franken is serious about running for Senate in 2008. The Star Tribune has this item:
Franken, 53, said he and his wife, Frannie, bought a townhouse in a new development on the edge of downtown Minneapolis late last month.
Franken tells the Strib that if there's a DFL candidate with a better chance of beating Norm Coleman in '08 he'll campaign for that candidate.
Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:35 AM
May 19, 2005Gas, guns and good guys
Gov. Tim Pawlenty says he'll veto the dime a gallon gas tax increase headed to his desk, he still expects part of the bill to become law. Democrats in the Senate seem to think there's still a chance the governor will change his mind and sign the bill...at least that's what they say in MPR's Michael Khoo's report:
Of the state's eight major budget bills, transportation is now the only one to pass both houses and head for Gov. Pawlenty's desk. But it's not likely to get much further than that. Pawlenty has restated his intention to veto the bill, primarily because of the 10 cent gas tax hike. DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, however, said he thinks Pawlenty can be prevailed upon to change his mind.
That part of the bill the governor thinks will survive is something he proposed in the first place. As Khoo explains, if voters approve it, other areas of state spending will suffer:
Pawlenty has also proposed constitutionally dedicating the sales tax paid on car purchases to roads and transit. That idea, actually, is contained in the bill which he's about to veto. But since governors aren't allowed to veto potential constitutional amendments, Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said it will survive the veto pen.
And opponents will certainly point that out if the provision ends up on the ballot next year.
In a move that surprised no one, the House passed a new version of the handgun permit law and sent it to the governor's desk. Pawlenty says he'll sign it, and had this to say about the popularity of the bill on MPR's Midday program Wednesday:
"More people have been injured by light rail than the concealed carry bill."
Two people have been killed in light rail transit accidents. We know for sure that one person has been killed, allegedly by someone who got a permit under the concealed carry law. But I also found this on the Minnesota Safety Council Web site:
In 2001, 72 children ages 14 and under died from unintentional firearm-related injuries. Children ages 10 to 14 accounted for 54 percent of these deaths.
Comparing the safety record of handguns to LRT may not be the best strategy. The House held a moment of silence for Billy Walsh, the Nye's bouncer killed by a handgun last week, before they voted to re-pass the gun permit bill. I wonder if any votes would have changed if they had had a chance to read the column by Walsh's friend Harry Kaiser in today's Star Tribune:
I wouldn't be writing any of this if Billy hadn't been shot. Ever since conceal-and-carry passed, however, I have feared some awful crime of convenience, especially involving alcohol. I know that conceal-and-carry is in front of the Legislature right now as lawmakers try to make it technically constitutional. I would like to argue against it coolly, cleanly and rationally. But I'm just so angry.
Click on the link and read that whole column and then talk to me about LRT.
Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:20 AM
May 18, 2005Casino R.I.P.?
Could this really be the end of Gov. Pawlenty's casino plan?
Admitting that they faced imminent defeat, Gov. Tim Pawlenty and his allies Tuesday withdrew their plan for state-sponsored casinos at Canterbury Park racetrack from a House committee hours before a scheduled showdown.
But you know what they say about the Capitol--nothing is ever dead until lawmakers go home. MPR's Michael Khoo has a look at how the casino bill might return:
What might come up next is a plan that focuses solely on a Canterbury casino without any Native American participation. Such a "racino" plan passed the House two years ago and is widely believed to have more support than options that include Indian bands.
The House is scheduled to debate the handgun permit law today, and this unsettling note comes from the Pioneer Press:
Members of the Minnesota House on Tuesday received a threatening e-mail that purported to be from a supporter of an effort to allow Minnesotans easier access to gun permits. But the supporter and Capitol Security said it was a hoax.
Something tells me whoever sent the message will realize what a dumb move it was when the FBI shows up.
Finally, a long-time fixture of Minnesota's public police scene has died. Former Minneapolis Mayor Art Naftalin was 87. This is from MPR's Art Hughes:
Art Naftalin referred to himself as an "unreconstructed liberal". In a 1985 interview with MPR he traced his political roots to growing up Jewish in his hometown of Fargo, North Dakota. He remembered his father receiving the first loan in the state under a depression-era federal program which saved the family's home from foreclosure.Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:39 AM
May 16, 2005One week to go
Is there any way to avoid a special session? Does anybody care? There are so many major issues to be resolved it seems impossible for the governor and lawmakers to reach an agreement by May 23. Stranger things have happened, I guess, but let's look at the list again. Taxes, K-12 spending, health and human services, and transportation are the big areas of fundamental disagreement. On the positive side, the big three have reached an agreement on public safety funding, as reported by the Associated Press:
Gov. Tim Pawlenty and legislative leaders agreed Sunday night on a $1.685 billion target for the main public safety budget bill of the session but said the details of that, and targets for bigger spending bills, must still be worked out.
The legislative leaders seemed quite optimistic they can finish in the next week, but they seem like the only ones. Maybe they know something the rest of us don't.
Other issues I haven't mentioned include casino gambling and the proposed new Twins stadium. Both are scheduled for hearings in House committees Monday. The Star Tribune has an interesting take on campaign contributions around the gambling issue:
Legislators expected to cast key votes as early as today on Gov. Tim Pawlenty's latest casino plan received more than $12,000 in campaign contributions last year from gambling interests.
The story raises the classic chicken-and-egg question: which came first, the lawmaker's position on gambling or the money that supports that position?
Finally today a story on which I want to admit a bias. Maybe you heard about the bouncer at Nye's Polonaise Room who was shot in the back last week by a patron he had ejected from the bar. It turns out the man who allegedly shot him had a permit for his handgun. It's not clear when the permit was issued or what criteria were used to judge the suspect's fitness to carry a handgun. Shouldn't the media run this down before the Legislature takes a final vote on whether to re-pass the permit law, which was thrown out by the courts?
Here's my bias. The bouncer who was killed, Bill Walsh, was a high school classmate of mine. He deserved better than to end his life face down on the sidewalk with bullets in his back. The Senate was debating the handgun bill Friday as the story emerged about the shooting.
Maybe the handgun permit and the "concealed carry" law had nothing to do with what happened, but I would hope legislators think very carefully and get all the information before they vote on life and death issues. They owe at least that much to Bill Walsh.Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:33 AM
May 13, 2005Democracy breaks out at the Capitol
It was quite a scene on the House floor Thursday. Just hours after proclaiming he would strip a provision to raise the gas tax from a transportation funding bill, it became clear that Speaker Steve Sviggum couldn't stem the tide in favor of the tax increase. Ten Republicans ended up voting for the bill which includes the 10 cent a gallon gas tax increase. They voted for it despite Sviggum's opposition, despite a veto threat from the governor, and despite delaying tactics by the GOP House leadership that left Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, delivering a filibuster while Republicans met behind closed doors. So what happened? Here's what the Star Tribune said:
"This is a historic opportunity to relieve congestion and take care of rural roads and bridges," said House Majority Leader Matt Entenza of St. Paul, whose 66-member DFL caucus posted only four no votes on the bill. "We haven't seen this in a generation."
Yikes! Does the speaker help himself by ripping his own members? Is it really insane to support a gas tax increase, a tax which Sviggum himself has been saying for months should be higher?
Assuming the DFL-controlled Senate accepts the House bill and sends it to Gov. Pawlenty, it's up to the governor to decide if he sticks with his "no new taxes" pledge or goes along with a majority of the Legislature. MPR's Tom Scheck says Pawlenty will stick with the pledge:
Pawlenty is not willing to waver on his pledge. Pawlenty's chief of staff, Dan McElroy, said Pawlenty would only support a gas tax if it receives voter approval.
The Pioneer Press used a better quote from McElroy:
Asked if there was even a sliver of a chance that Pawlenty would sign a gas tax into law, Pawlenty’s chief of staff, Dan McElroy, said:
Good quote--but it is worth noting that no matter what other states have done, there is no requirement in Minnesota that a public vote be held in order to raise the gas tax. The only thing constraining the governor is that pledge he signed for the Taxpayers League.
So what does it all mean? Probably that the chance of a special session is even greater than it already was.Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:27 AM
May 12, 2005Revolt in the House
It finally happened. Enough Republican House members joined DFLers to actually surprise everybody and pass a gas tax increase. House Speaker Steve Sviggum's reaction was to instantly promise to strip the gas tax increase from the transportation budget bill. This all happened in the middle of the night, so you won't read about it in the morning paper. But MPR's Michael Khoo doesn't worry about newspaper deadlines:
It passed on a bare 68-66 majority with seven Republicans joining 61 Democrats, but it was enough for supporters to declare a new shift in the political landscape. Rep. Ron Erhardt, R-Edina, offered the gas tax amendment. He says the bipartisan consensus, cobbled together from the rank-and-file, could be extended to other areas of state government despite large differences between legislative leaders in the House and Senate.
Plus it will give him time to twist some arms. Sviggum's argument is basically this: why bother sending the governor something he will veto? The answer from supporters of the tax increase would be: because the state needs more money for transportation, and the governor's "no new taxes" pledge is what's holding up progress.
It's interesting that majorities in both the House and the Senate (although the Senate hasn't voted yet) will soon be on the record in favor of increasing the gas tax, and it will not happen because of the governor's pledge. It's a rare example of lawmakers voting against the public opinion polls and taking an unpopular stand. It's too soon to say what the fallout might be for Sviggum and Pawlenty.
It's also too soon to say whether this centrist coalition seen by Rep. Erhardt is really ready to flex its muscles, but it sure would be fun if they start pushing on other issues.
A good place to start would be taxes. Its clear how far apart the Senate and the House are now that the House has passed its bill. MPR's Laura McCallum has that story:
The House passed a tax bill on Wednesday that, among other things, would extend alcohol and car rental taxes set to expire.
But it doesn't raise income taxe like the Senate bill.
Finally, I'm not quite sure why this is a story, but the AP is reporting it, so I'll pass it along to you:
Gov. Tim Pawlenty was involved in an ATV accident over the weekend that caused about $2,500 in damages, according to an accident report.
If you can figure out why that's news please drop me a line. Jesse Ventura probably does three times that much damage every day before breakfast.
May 11, 2005Stadium alive; gambling hurting
The new stadium plan got its first hearing at the Capitol Tuesday and is looking strong. Meanwhile the governor's two casino plan is taking more hits. First the stadium plan. The first House committee to see it approved it on a 17-5 vote. MPR's one-man news machine Michael Khoo has the story:
Twins officials argue that without the new, open-air facility, the franchise won't generate enough revenue to field a competitive team. Twins Sports president Jerry Bell told members of the House Governmental Operations and Veterans Affairs Committee that time was running out to close a deal.
The committee approved the bill without a referendum.
Things are moving on the gambling front, but it's a little hard to tell if they're going backwards or forwards. The issue of the governor's plan to locate not one but two casinos at the Canterbury Park racetrack. The latest development has Sen. Dick Day, R-Owatonna, ripping the plan. MPR's Khoo has this item:
Pawlenty has proposed opening two separate, state-operated casinos at the racetrack. One would be run in partnership with the White Earth Band of Ojibwe; the other would be a joint-venture with Canterbury. Pawlenty proposed combining the two as a way to increase support.
This sounds like Day is telling the governor to revert to a straight racino plan. But how does Pawlenty do that after making such a big issue out of fairness as a motive for the state getting into gambling in the first place?
One other item. Blue Cross-Blue Shield is making a big push to raise the cigarette tax. They've got a study that shows smoking costs Minnesotans about $2 billion in extra health care costs. MPR's Tom Scheck (not Michael Khoo) has a story about the health insurer's effort to put a price tag on smoking:
Minnesota's 48 cent a pack tax is currently 37th highest among the states. Raising it a dollar would make it ninth highest.
Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:44 AM
May 10, 2005Stadium fever
Whatever happened to waiting for the Legislature to actually vote on a bill? The Star Tribune has done a survey of legislators to see where they stand on various issues before they actually vote. It'll be interesting to see if any of the bills they polled on come up for a vote, so we can determine once and for all whether those endless debates in the House actually change anybody's mind. Anyway, the Strib asked lawmakers how they feel about the latest version of the stadium plan:
With more than three-fourths of House members responding, 42 said they favored a deal that would raise the sales tax in Hennepin County. Thirty-six opposed it, and 27 members said they were undecided. The proposal needs 68 votes to pass the 134-member House.
So what then does this survey actually mean?
In the Pioneer Press, there's a profile of author of the stadium bill, Rep. Brad Finstad, R-New Ulm:
Finstad, who was elected in 2002, may lack the experience of many of his colleagues, but the Twins are placing their hopes on his professed passion to find them a new home. The $478 million outdoor ballpark would be financed in part by the Twins, with most coming from a Hennepin County sales tax of 3 cents on a $20 purchase.
It doesn't hurt to have the speaker behind you either, but even that might not be enough to get the bill through the tax committee.
And if all-stadium-all-the-time gets to be too much for you, how about this item from the St. Cloud Times?:
St. Cloud could end up in one county, if a bill the House of Representatives approved Monday becomes law.
Finally, some unity in the St. Cloud area.
Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:33 AM
May 9, 2005Two weeks out
Two weeks to go in the session, and there's no clear end in sight. If anything, the House Senate and governor appear as far apart as ever. Let's review: The Senate DFL majority wants to raise income taxes on the state's highest earners to spend more on education and health care. The GOP-controlled House wants to cut health care to provide money for education, although not as much as the Senate. The governor says the DFL tax plan is "profoundly stupid," and he's still promoting a state-run casino to try to bring in more revenue.
MPR's Michael Khoo has a look at the budget situation, starting with the DFL tax plan:
For the past couple weeks, the Senate has passed a string of spending bills to fund everything from environmental programs to state government to education. All have attracted bipartisan support. One -- the K-12 appropriations bill -- passed unanimously. So Senate Democrats say their tax plan is simply recognition that those investments come with a price.
In the Pioneer Press, Bill Salisbury takes a look at the role the minority leaders might play in final negotiations:
It takes 68 votes to pass a bill in the House, so Republicans could approve legislation on their own if they stuck together. But they don't. A few GOP mavericks have flaked off on every major budget bill so far, and [House Speaker Steve] Sviggum has had to rely on a handful of DFL votes to pass those measures.
And neither minority leader has so far managed to derail either house's majority.
Meanwhile the Star Tribune has done a poll. On Sunday it showed a majority of Minnesotans support a mix of tax increases, spending cuts and fee increases to balance the budget. Today the poll shows support for a gas tax increase slipping. Not too surprising given the price of gas these days.
One reader of this column, Sheila Hart, e-mailed the other day with a response to Gov. Pawlenty's criticism of the DFL tax plan:
Anybody who wants to leave MN because their taxes will go to the 11 percent can go, and I'll take that job so I can have the pleasure of earning over $166,000! How does this equalizing tax affect jobs coming into the state? How greedy can people get that they not only throw themselves into the trough but want every drop? Pay those taxes. Pay for your own health care too while you're at it. My cost for health care is 10 percent of my income. Match that, and the state's health care system will be in good shape.
What do you think? I'm happy to print opposing opinions. Two weeks to go.
Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:31 AM
May 5, 2005DFL shows its hand
DFLers on the Senate tax committee finally released their plan Wednesday. Surprise! It's an temporary income tax increase on high earners. MPR's Michael Khoo has the story:
The Senate plan would raise an estimated $975 million over the next two years by taxing high-level incomes at 11 percent -- that's up from the current maximum rate of just under 8 percent. For married, joint filers the new rate would kick in on taxable incomes over $250,000 a year. For unmarried taxpayers the threshold is just over $166,000.
Whoops...he forgot to mention St. Paul and Duluth. The Star Tribune has more from McClung on the tax plan:
Brian McClung called the proposal "astounding," saying that "we want to be No. 1 in a lot of things, but not in income tax rates. This would affect our ability to keep and grow jobs in Minnesota."
Still, there probably isn't a Republican in the Senate who will vote for this plan. With the governor absolutely unwilling to compromise on a tax increase the question seems to be how long will DFLers hold out for this plan, and how will they put the budget together without it. It should be quite a battle over the next few weeks.
In other Capitol news, the House has passed a K-12 funding bill. It provides a 3 percent increase in the per pupil formula each of the next two eyars, which critics note hardly keeps up with inflation. Here's some of what MPR's Tim Pugmire reported:
Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, chairman of the House Education Policy Committee, says the bill challenges schools to do better. "Minnesota's public schools are second to none in the nation This bill before you today does nothing but strengthen that reputation. But it also doesn't let us sit on our laurels and say we're good, we're very good, we don't have to do anything else," he said.
Is that because House Democrats didn't have the backbone to support a tax increase of their own?
May 4, 2005Taxing matters
The minimum wage increase is on the front page but the real news is happening in the House tax committee. The chair of the committee, Rep. Phil Krinkie, R-Shoreview, unveiled a bill this week that would redefine the relationship between the state and its largest cities. MPR's Michael Khoo takes a look at the bill:
If the House tax bill becomes law, it could mean $18 million a year less for Minneapolis, $9 million for St. Paul, and just under $700,000 for Duluth. Minneapolis and St. Paul would have the option of recovering that money -- and more -- by raising their own local sales taxes by a half cent. Even that remedy, however, would be subject to voter approval at a referendum. St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly told tax committee members that the proposal would be "disastrous."
The House bill also goes along with Gov. Tim Pawlenty's plan to cut the renter's property tax credit. The Senate tax committee hasn't finished its tax bill, but Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, tells Khoo it will include either an income tax or sales tax increase to pay for increased spending on education.
Speaking of education, the House is expected to debate its version of the K-12 budget bill today. The bill would increase per pupil spending by 3 percent each of the next two years. Republicans have begun running a TV ad (that looks a lot like a campaign ad) calling on people to contact their legislators and tell them they like the GOP approach to the K-12 budget better than the DFL approach.
And the Twins have won the first vote on the latest version of a stadium plan. The Hennepin County Board voted 4-3 to send the plan to the Legislature. This is from the Star Tribune:
More than 50 citizens spoke at a public hearing that began in the early afternoon and then spilled into the evening. As expected, much of Tuesday's debate centered on the plan's most controversial aspect -- a provision that would exempt the stadium plan from a referendum...
And finally, the effort that began well over a year ago to get tough on sex offenders is finally coming to a conclusion at the Capitol. But there are a few big wrinkles to iron out before it's done, as noted by MPR's Laura McCallum:
The Senate bill calls for open-ended sentences with the possibility of life in prison for the most dangerous sex offenders. That puts the DFL-controlled Senate at odds with the Republican-led House and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who support life in prison without the possibility of parole for the most violent offenders.
And of course the unanswered question with that approach is how much are taxpayers willing to spend to lock people up forever?
Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:42 AM
May 3, 2005Finger pointing
Gov. Pawlenty is hinting that if the Legislature goes into special session because there's no budget agreement, it would be the fault of Senate DFlers. The governor did an interview with Cathy Wurzer on Morning Edition. He said the Senate is taking too long to come up with its budget:
"They've signalled maybe it's an income tax increase, maybe it's gax tax increases, maybe it's beer tax increases. They'll tell us in a couple weeks. Well, in a couple weeks there'll only be a week left in the session, so it's the typical procrastination which leads to kind of the end of the session crunch. And that's unfortunate, but we're still going to try to get it done."
It's certainly true the Senate hasn't come up with a tax plan to pay for the added spending favored by the DFL majority. Senate tax committee chair Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, is working on a bill, but it seems to be a long way from done. But the half-baked nature of the budget doesn't seem to be a unicameral phenomenon. Witness this item from the Pioneer Press:
St. Paul and Minneapolis would lose $27 million a year in state aid under a tax bill proposed Monday by Rep. Phil Krinkie, R-Shoreview, the chairman of the Tax Committee in the Minnesota House.
Rep. Krinkie, it should be noted, helped torpedo the House budget bill last week and has also bottled up Gov. Pawlenty's casino plan. It's not like he seems to care much more than Pogemiller about keeping things on track just to meet deadlines. The tax committees may be the most entertaining places for political junkies to watch in the next week or so, as they are led by two of the most idiosyncratic members of the Minnesota Legislature.
One thing the House, Senate and governor appear ready to agree on is an increase in the state minimum wage. The House passed a bill Monday as noted by MPR's Tom Scheck:
The Minnesota House has been the major hurdle for a minimum wage hike for the last eight years. But this year, the measure passed overwhelmingly on an 84-50 vote.
Some opponents said the increase will cost jobs, and the House and Senate still have to work out their differences. But the governor told Morning Edition he can live with the House bill:
"That's a dollar increase, but it hasn't been increased in over six years, so if you add inflation and the fact that it may not increase for another year or two or more that seems like a reasonable increase to me."
So if (almost) everyone can agree on a minimum wage hike, what will it take for an agreement on the budget? At this point only one thing comes to mind. How about performance enhancing drugs for the Legislature?
Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:36 AM
May 2, 2005Three weeks and counting
Three weeks to go in the legislative session, and the big fight is still over health care. KARE TV had a story about church leaders asking people on Sunday to sign post cards to legislative leaders urging them not to cut people off of MinnesotaCare. MPR's Lorna Benson has a story looking at some of the people who have already been cut from MinnesotaCare:
Kathy Auringer...lives in Eagle Lake, a small town in southern Minnesota just east of Mankato. Auringer was dumped from MinnesotaCare after it was scaled back two years ago because she exceeded the program's income limits. She briefly signed up for another state sponsored health plan called Minnesota Comprehensive. But she had to drop it after a few months because she couldn't afford it.
The Senate is expected to vote on its health budget bill Monday. It adds people to MinnesotaCare rather than cutting as Gov. Pawlenty and the House have proposed. The Senate is still working on a tax bill to raise the money to pay for its spending bills, but health care is one area that many think may drag negotiations beyond the May 23 deadline for adjournment.
Both Twin Cities papers had stories over the weekend about the looming deadline and the growing sense the session might head into OT again. There doesn't seem to be much of an impetus for the Senate DFL to cave anytime soon. But a lot can happen at the Capitol in three weeks. Some of the DFL rhetoric about the House health and human services budget was particularly sharp as noted by MPR's Tom Scheck:
Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, says private health insurance is rising at a faster rate [than state health programs]. He says MinnesotaCare cuts and payment cuts to hospitals would be a "double whammy" on the state's hospitals. He says those cut will still end up in the hospital, but only when they're really sick. "I can tell you that if we eliminate 30,000 people from the rolls, they're not going to go away. They're still going to be living in the state of Minnesota, they'll still be going to the hospital and they'll still be treated," Huntley said.
The governor and House GOP leaders say the state has to rein in the double-digit growth of the health care budget.
Finally, if you haven't noticed yet it's sweeps month in the TV business. That's the time TV stations go all out to increase their ratings because ad rates will be based on how many people are watching this month. One of the more unusual news stories will be on KSTP TV. It follows one of the station's reporters as she deals with cancer. This is from the AP:
KSTP-TV reporter Kristin Stinar is fighting ovarian cancer, the station reported Sunday night.
Just to keep you watching, Sunday's report did not give details about her prognosis or what stage the cancer was. For that you have to watch Monday. We certainly wish her the best, but shudder slightly to think what kind of stories this could result in during the next sweeps period. How much detail do we need to know about our anchorpeople's medical conditions?Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:15 AM