The Legislature opens its session today. MPR's Midday will broadcast live from the Capitol. Several dozen "players" will be stopping by to talk to Gary Eichten. I'll be live-blogging and counting the number of times promises of "bipartisanship" are uttered. As you probably know, the promises are almost always broken.
Update 10:42 a.m. - Just as an aside, I had a conversation with a friend today who is relatively high ranking in one state agency who said, "we're already planning for a special session."
MPR political editor and long-time Capitol reporter Mike Mulcahy is joining Eichten at the broadcast table. I'll be highlighting the major points of each guest. Feel free to comment.
Pam Wheelock, former finance commissioner for Jesse Ventura is also on the panel.
11:08 a.m. - Wheelock expects the budget deficit to be worse than November's forecast. How much worse?
11:10 a.m. House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelleher. Listen
Gary asked her if a lot of people are going to be hurt by what happens at the Legislature this year, but Kelleher didn't bite. She talked about a "balanced" approach to the session. "We open to working with the governor but the governor who seems to be the one person who says not everything is on the table." We're off and running with the first shot of the day.
What can be done on health care besides "lopping them off the programs?" Gary asked.
"These costs are going up... because people are outliving their resources."
11:16 a.m. - Finance committee chairmen Rep. Lyndon Carlson and Sen. Dick Cohen. Listen
Gary asked if there's anything that is off the table in the budget cutting. Cohen said "no," without actually saying "no." Carlson said he wouldn't say there's "fat" in government but said the Legislature will set priorities. Specifics anyone? Not so far.
11:22 a.m. Rep. Mindy Greiling/Sen. David Hann Listen
Greiling says K-12 advocates shouldn't worry about cuts but says "treading water isn't good enough." Hann says "it's a challenge" to not cut K-12. "We're looking for ways to do things more efficiently." . Eichten asks for one example of doing something differently in K-12. Hann says restoring a larger measure of the ability to manage what we do to the local level. "We put a lot of mandates, we should give the local school boards more latitude."
Greiling says paying teachers less and giving school boards the power to do that isn't the answer. She suggests parks and rec departments "work closely" with the schools, which is a way of asking whether schools should be doing athletics to the current degree.
Are graduation standards going to be relaxed because seniors may not graduate? "It's not acceptable to have two-thirds of the seniors not graduate," says Greiling. Hann agrees.
11:34 - Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller Listen
He doesn't think there'll be a lot of new ideas during the session, just action on things that have been talked about before. He says there's no area of the budget where there's "a big chunk" of frivolous spending in areas that aren't crucial to the state. He says the working relationship with Gov. Pawlenty is good and he doesn't see a big battle over taxes.
He says the task should be broken up into smaller pieces so there isn't a big showdown at the end of the session.
11:41 a.m. Sen. Ellen Anderson and Rep. Jean Wagenius
Wagenius says the most important thing is to make sure citizens know how the new sales tax money is spent on environmental issues. Anderson says the money will not be "stolen" to balance the budget.
"Tough to do that if Grandma is getting kicked out of the nursing home, isn't it?" Gary asked. Any cuts to the environment need to be equal to other cuts in other areas, Anderson said, which didn't really answer the question, did it?
Anderson says there should be a cabinet position for energy and environment rather than Pollution Control Agency.
11:47 a.m. Rep. Jennifer Loon and Sen. Ken Keelsh (rookies)
Loon has a perfect name for campaign signs in Minnesota. They both said they're happy to be there.Listen
11:48 a.m. Rep. Marty Seifert (House Minority Leader)Listen
The budget will dominate the session. It's an opportunity to "rightsize" government. What area can save a lot of money? "For us it's a challenge that most of the budget is healtha and human services, K-12, local government aid and which of those do you want to touch?" Well, yes, that was the question. What's the answer? "We're going to have to look at what other states are doing." In the past, Gov. Pawlenty has pointed to Iowa or Wisconsin in cutting health care. So I'll take that as Seifert's answer: health care.
Will there be cooperation or deeper divisions? "It depends on the approach we take," said Seifert. He hated the 2007 session but liked the approach in 2008 when Republicans were brought into the discussions.
11:53 a.m. Rep. Alice Hausman and Rep. Morrie Lanning (Bonding)Listen
There may be a bonding bill this year for capital projects. Hausman says a bonding bill depends on what sort of federal "stimulus" programs are released and whether they involve matching money from states. Lanning says Republicans will take a "cautious approach" to a bonding bill. Translation: Not bloody likely.
"Off the table," says Hausman. "Out of the question," says Lanning.
Schedule the funeral. The stadium is dead.
12:07 p.m. Usually around this time we get a demonstration by the Welfare Rights Coalition, but so far it's pretty quiet at the Capitol.
12:09 p.m. Tom Hanson, the governor's budget boss
He says the new budget will address "needs in K-12" but involve cuts. He says taxes won't be raised and when pressed whether local governments would have to raise taxes, he repeated Gov. Pawlenty's mantra that that's their decision.
Asked about the sales tax and restructuring it, he said "we'll have to see." He denied that was a "yes" but it clearly wasn't a "no."
12:14 p.m. Dan McElroy, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development Listen
We've lost 36,000 jobs related to single-family home construction. Without that, employment would be up. Pogemiller recommended a "reappraisal" of the department, McElroy thinks it's a bad idea.
12:18 p.m. Sen. Tarryl Clark, Asst. Sen. Majority Leader Listen
Says the people of the state have to "come together." Aside: There's a woeful lack of specifics coming from these people today.
How does the state lay the groundwork for education without dramatically increasing the budget? Clark says early childhood education is the answer. She says raising test scores doesn't need new money, "it requires us to work closer with our teachers," she said. "It's a real challenge," to see how the governor will balance the budget without new taxes.
Good point by Mulcahy, the 2010 election for governor is going to affect the session. Remember the 2006 election. Candidates for governor who were in the House of Representatives and Senate were gumming up debate.
12:29 p.m. Sen. Linda Berglin and Rep. Jim Abeler (Health care)Listen
Berglin says it's not a good time to be cutting health care. "It's a time for the government to be there for them."
Abeler says there's going to "be changes." He says it's a time of opportunity to "clean house on some programs." He says it's going to be a very painful session for everybody.
Home-visiting programs were identified as a place to cut. "For some people it's a nuisance," he says.
Berglin says a program for developmentally disabled needs to be restructured.
Is there any reason for people to be optimistic that we'll be "ahead of the health care issue in this country?" Neither answered the question directly.
I think that's it for the guests.
Did anybody notice who was missing from the discussion?(26 Comments)
Julio Ojeda-Zapata's excellent story in the Pioneer Press noting that the government has run out of coupons for digital TV converters could hit the Twin Cities area particularly hard.
Minnesota is among the lowest participating areas of the country, according to the agency that was handling -- and apparently botching -- the coupon program. Many people who received coupons, aren't aware that they have expiration dates, and may now be worthless. (Note: Some places will accept an expired coupon at a fraction of their value.)
Last month, the agency had a conference call with reporters, and mentioned nothing about running out of money and coupons, noting only that people should order their coupons by December 31 to get them in time for the February switchover from analog to digital TV transmission.
Meredith Baker, acting administrator at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an office of the U.S. Department of Commerce, said the agency had issued 41 million coupons to 24 million households. But only 29 million of the coupons are still good (either already redeemed or still "active").
Baker is asking for $250 million to $325 million more in government money to provide 2.5 million more coupons.
What's happening to the analog broadcast spectrum being vacated by TV broadcasters? The government auctioned it off for an estimated $4.8 billion. The money was supposed to be used to ease the federal deficit, although that plan was in dispute.
(This post has been corrected. The original math showed a per household cost to the government rather than a per-coupon cost).
There's about to be a Norm Coleman sighting. He's scheduled a 3 p.m. "media availability" at the Capitol today. It's unclear whether he'll answer any questions. Yesterday, his opponent -- Al Franken -- refused to answer any questions when he made his first public appearance since the recount started.
MPR will carry the event live on its news and information service stations.
FYI, the Franken campaign has ignored the questions I've sent over numerous times.(6 Comments)
Now that we're about done with Al Franken's bid for the U.S. Senate in 2008, an area political blog is turning its attention to his 2014 re-election bid. Admit it now: You've thought about whether the recount would politically damage the winner, right?
Eric Ostermeier at Smart Politics concludes that it likely won't be an issue. He says only 2 of 10 senators who won close elections in Minnesota, went on to lose the next election. He calc ulates Franken's re-election chances at 67%, again based on history.
On the other hand, Ostermeier doesn't calculate the odds of Franken getting some significant opposition from his own party. And it's worth noting that three of the last four Minnesota senators coming off close races did not serve a second term. The list includes Mark Dayton, who was considered very vulnerable before he decided not to run for re-election.
Meanwhile, FiveThirtyEight.com's Nate Silver doesn't figure Franken's 2014 GOP competition to be Norm Coleman:
Let's be frank: Norm Coleman doesn't have much of a future in electoral politics. Defeated Presidential candidates sometimes have nine lives, but defeated Senatorial candidates rarely do, and in his career running for statewide office, Coleman has lost to a professional wrestler, beaten a dead guy, and then tied a comedian. He doesn't have much to lose by fighting this to its bitter conclusion. But it's hard to envision how he'll come up with enough ballots to overtake Franken.
The podium at today's
pep rally news conference for former Sen. Norm Coleman provided a diversion for people who like to play political dominos.
For example in this picture from MPR's Elizabeth Stawicki, you've got state Rep. Marty Seifert, who could run for governor if Tim Pawlenty doesn't run in 2010. Just behind Coleman, there's Brian Sullivan, who came within a whisker of beating Pawlenty in 2002, and could be a Senate candidate in 2012 against Sen. Amy Klobuchar, or a candidate for governor in 2010.
All of their political futures -- in terms of advancement -- depend somewhat on vacancies created by the guy standing at the podium and the guy who wasn't there -- Pawlenty.(8 Comments)
Many DFLers have suggested former Sen. Norm Coleman should've conceded the Senate race, rather than pursue an election challenge in court in his fight against Al Franken.
The state's only sitting senator in Washington isn't one of them, however.
"My focus is not on the legalities. I've put forward a few ideas on how we could do this with someone being seated provisionally but that did not go over so well with the other side," Sen. Amy Klobuchar told All Things Considered host Tom Crann on Tuesday.
Not that she's above taking a little swipe at the former senator. "I would note that he has pursued these claims before and some of them have been rejected, and also the bipartisan canvassing board, which with excruciating detail went through all these ballots, the entire world could see the ballots on TV, and they basically found that Al Franken had more votes," she said.
She says "in the immediate week or two," not having a second Minnesota senator won't make a big difference. Beyond that, however, she said it will hurt the state, "as much as I love being called the junior and senior senator at the same time," Klobuchar said.
(h/t: Jeff Jones)(1 Comments)
Reader Derek Schille writes, "For whatever reason this screamed news cut to me."
It's a six-month time-lapse image of a bridge, taken with a pinhole camera. The lines are the travels of the sun in relation to the planet.
On the first day of the legislative session, state senators were given their postage budget. Each senator will now be given 5,500 postage stamps.
Assuming there's no special session -- quite an assumption, indeed -- each senator would have to send 57 letters a day between now and the time the session is constitutionally required to end.
A few years ago, the Legislature provided laptops to lawmakers to allow them to better keep in touch with constituents via e-mail.
One senator -- Steve Murphy -- said he needs snailmail to keep in touch with constituents.(2 Comments)