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?
This means another session playing MFL. I can't wait.
Is someone going to throw out a ceremonial first bill?
Sorry, there's no Minnesota Fantasy Legislature this year. It didn't survive the budget-cutting.
What is the legislature going to do about the Income Tax Noncomformity with the IRS? The State did not adopt 32 or so deductions the IRS allows. IF addressed WHEN?
One item Greiling has talked about is to manage schools in a totally different manner. For example, if you had administrative regions around the state (maybe 10) where the groups of schools have similar issues then there would be less needs to have a group of paid staff evaluating class materials instead you could do that at a higher level and put some of that paid staff back in the classroom.
If you are buying books for 100 schools vs 10 you can get a bigger discount, same with toilet paper. You can then let each school decide what is best for they types of students in that school. You can also let smaller towns each have a school and let them share resources across a bigger region. More local control.
I believe this was on in Penn. and it save billions. We also should invest in early childhood education so when kids get to school it does require a whole list of special classes to get them up to speed.
Teachers could also move between more schools creating a better balance of experienced and new teachers. Right now if a teacher goes to a new district they drop down in the experience level so the do not move. Look at the growing districts they have the lowest costs because they have younger teachers.
You could also buy medical benefits for the whole state for teachers and educators vs. each district trying to find their own.
Let's reform schools like companies and other organizations have had to reform with the times.
Please tell Gary E. to stop shilling for stadiums.
All he did was ask the question and he got an answer. That's his job.
I've worked with Eichten for 16 years and of hundreds of people I've worked with in 35 years, he's the ONLY one whose politics I couldn't figure out. For those of you who think you know Gary's positions on issues, trust me, you don't.
Sounds like the governor and the minority are going to win and we will all lose.
"Please tell Gary E. to stop shilling for stadiums."
The question was a good one. The answer I like even better.
All I know is what I hear on the radio.
What question did you hear? I'll go back when we're done and compare it to what was said.
Did anybody notice who was missing from the discussion?
Rep. Huntley? Sen. Marty? I don't know. Don't keep me in suspense! Who was missing?
Gov. Tim Pawlenty
Bah! Did you expect him?
I went back to the audio (which is posted above) and this is what I got.
Eichten: Last question for you: Is a Minnesota Vikings stadium...
Hausman: Off the table...
Eichten:... part of any thought process here in terms of borrowing?
Hausman: Not for me.
Lanning: It's out of the question at this point in time.
Eichten: ... they argue though what a great public works project...keeps people working....
Lanning: I'm sure we're going to have lots of proposals for public works project and the question is can the state really afford to go into more debt and my answer at this point in time is no.
Yes, traditionally the sitting governor usually joins Gary on the first day of the session.
My guess: Legislature comes up with a compromise that gets enough votes but is not veto-proof. Pawlenty vetos it, blames the DFL, and tells them to come up with something else or government will shut down.
Thanks for checking this Bob.
"Eichten: ... they argue though what a great public works project...keeps people working...."
Stadiums for professional sports teams are not "public works". These stadiums do not belong to the public, nor do the profits generated by them. What E. could have asked is whether or not the legislator and governor are up to creating a another welfare program for another billionaire.
"No welfare program for Ziggy this term?"
// What E. could have asked is whether or not the legislator and governor are up to creating a another welfare program for another billionaire.
He knew what the response was going to be so he asked the question just the right way.
If they'd been stadium supporters, then the way to ask the question would've been, "but isn't this another welfare program for another billionaire."
In fact, I'm willing to bet the cost of a new Vikings stadium that if you go back to an interview that Gary did with a supporter during the Twins debate (Jerry Janezich perhaps or Dan McElroy... the two lawmakers who carried the water for Pohlad) , that that's exactly the way he asked it.
I just listened to the replay of Midday. None of the legislators interviewed were very specific. Having dealt with health care policy and finance in the past, I was particularly interested in what Sen Berglin and Rep Abeler had to say.
Berglin implied that we were not spending enough money in her area. She hopes for more federal money. Of course that usually means for every federal dollar the state gets it has to be matched.
She also complained that if we cut certain budget items the federal match goes away.
Berglin is also concerned that her primary care medical home initiative has not been credited by state bean counters with the savings she believes is being realized. She is going to look closely at that and may perhaps tweek the law in order to bank those supposed savings.
Abeler spoke of priority setting by categories of essential, important and nice. What he left unsaid was that the legislature believes every thing they have done is essential.
Abeler also spoke of duplicative services and overlapping mandated services. This would be an important discussion. He also was very open to allowing local units of government more autonomy in how they performed their tasks. Expect this to be on the front burner this session.
If Gary Eichten ever wants to ask a pointed question to either of these two, I have suggestions.
For Abeler: Ask him if he is going to continue to fight to preserve chiropractic as a covered service. Jim is a Chiropractor. For Berglin a good question for her have her speak about the fight she always has with K-12 Education concerning the allocation of budget resources.
Back in 1999, MPR held a forum on the Vikings and the Twins requests for new stadiums. The Twins issue was on the St. Paul ballot that fall.
You can listen to Eichten's questions here and judge for yourselves.
I apologize for my earlier remark about Gary E. shilling for stadiums. These stadiums are a real sore spot for me personally but there's no point in "sharing" that in the form of snarky remarks. Obviously Mr. E. has no personal dog in the stadium race and I have no business expecting him to share my hostility towards these monstrosities.
Paul, your view of the stadium issue is wholly appropriate for these forums, imho.
I'm trying to get Commissioner McElroy's remarks at 12:14 and am hearing Tom Hanson's at 12:09 p.m. Would you check this link? Thank you!
Try it now. Thanks for the catch.
Thank you! It's working and has now been shared.