Lots of bill introductions and hearings to start the first full week of the 2013 Minnesota Legislature. The House Ways and Means Committee talks over the November forecast with Minnesota Management and Budget officials.
Minn. retailers fear painful pinch if clothing is taxed (MPR News)
Retailers are pushing back against a possible clothing tax to help the state budget, warning it could damage business and chase away big-spending out-of-state shoppers.
Federal health rule could penalize Minnesota insurers (Pioneer Press)
"Without a change in proposed federal rules, the continuation of a Minnesota health insurance program for people with costly illnesses could cost health plans and their subscribers more than $60 million next year."
Insurers question benefit claims of planned state exchange (MPR News)
State officials say most Minnesotans who buy individual health plans will pay the same or smaller premiums on a planned state insurance exchange in 2016. But some insurers question the figures.
Carp, moose, mining high on environmental to-do list (Associated Press)
"Carp, wolves, moose, copper and sand will be high on the agenda as the Minnesota Legislature tackles environmental and outdoor issues this session."
Theis wins GOP nod to run for St. Cloud House seat (St. Cloud Times)
"St. Cloud business owner Tama Theis won the Republican endorsement for next month's House District 14A special election on the seventh round of balloting Saturday." This is the election to replace Rep. Steve Gottwalt, who recently resigned.
Obama will seek citizenship path in one fast push (New York Times)
Feds won't mint platinum coin to solve debt ceiling (Washington Post)
In gun debate, agreement to punish background-check liars (New York Times)
Ellison: Time for Congress to build a better drone policy (Washington Post)
But it can also be a problem as slip-ups or controversial messages from public officials and staffers lead to firings or employee discipline.
One Republican staffer in the Minnesota House has this picture in her office to remind her of the dangers of Twitter. -- Tom Scheck
Stillwater native may be Obama's new chief of staff
Denis McDonough, a Minnesotan and St. John's University graduate, could be President Obama's next chief of staff. The Hill reports Obama is leaning toward McDonough, currently deputy national security adviser, to replace Jack Lew (a Carleton College grad) as White House chief of staff.
McDonough's on the MPR News page of influential Minnesotans in Washington.
Fleet Farm enters gun control debate
Stewart Mills, the president of Mills Fleet Farm, is entering the debate over gun control. He released a "video letter" to DFL Rep. Rick Nolan, DFL Sen. Al Franken and DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar complaining about efforts to ban assault-style weapons.
In particular, Mills took issue with comments made by Nolan that he doesn't need an assault rifle to duck hunt. Mills said a shotgun is a more dangerous weapon. The video, which could be seen as an effort to boost gun sales at Fleet Farm stores, was praised by several Republicans who suggested Mills should run for office.
Mills said in the video that he thinks putting armed guards in every school is the best way to counter recent school shootings, look at the impacts of violent video games on society and address mental health issues. -- Tom Scheck
Fenton seeks to keep Minn. deputy GOP post
Kelly Fenton, deputy chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota, says she intends to run for re-election for that post. Fenton was first elected to the job in 2011 and served as acting party chair.
State of the State
The state constitution requires governors to "communicate by message to each session of the legislature information touching the state and country." Gov. Dayton plans to do fulfill that duty Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. when he delivers the State of the State.
At 6.875 percent, Minnesota has one of the highest sales tax rates of any state in the nation. But it's also one of the few states that exempts clothing from the tax.
So would you be OK with a lower sales tax rate in exchange for letting the state tax clothing purchases over, say, $200? That's one of the key questions lawmakers will face this session as they seek to remake the state's tax structure.
MPR News reporter Mark Zdechlik's story today details efforts by DFL Sen. Ann Rest to tax clothing. He writes, "When Rest proposed taxing clothing sales a few years ago, officials concluded the broader sales tax would bring in enough money to lower the 6.875 percent tax rate by half a percentage point and pay for the tax credits."
Even with a half percentage point drop, Minnesota's sales tax would still be high relative to its neighbors. Mouse over the states to see the sales tax rates. The dark green states, including Minnesota, charge the highest sales tax.
Source: Sales Tax Institute
Among the states that impose a sales tax, eight (Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts) provide some exemption for clothing, according to The Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan research group.
Minnesota's high end clothing retailers are pushing back at the prospect of a clothing sales tax. The Mall of America, where apparel accounts for more than half of all sales, says the current clothing sales tax exemption is one of the main reasons tourists around the world travel to the mall.
While the clothing fight will take center stage in the coming weeks, the larger problem with the sales tax is that consumers are shifting more of their purchases away from goods and toward services, which largely go untaxed.
Gov. Dayton is expected to offer a comprehensive tax reform plan in the coming weeks, but he's acknowledged the challenges of making change. In December he told MPR News it will be a tough sell to expand the sales tax to goods and services that are currently exempt.
"Two-thirds of our economy now is services, and yet we tax very few of those," said Dayton. "Broadening that base sounds good in concept. But it also means you tax things that aren't being taxed now, and nobody is going to like that."
In the end, even if changes are made to the sales tax and what's covered, it won't alone solve the larger problem of taxing goods sold in Minnesota.(8 Comments)
Gov. Dayton caused a bit of head scratching at the Capitol today when he wrote on his Facebook page that he could delay his budget proposal if he hasn't fully recovered from his back surgery.
"...it goes well, I'll be "back" on a public schedule, starting Tuesday, January 22nd, when I'll present my proposed budget for the next biennium, as required by state law. If not, I'll invoke the obscure clause in the Minnesota Constitution, which allows me a one-time, two-month extension."
The post had Capitol reporters rereading the state constitution trying to find what authority Dayton has to delay his budget plan. Dayton's spokeswoman responded to initial questions about the post with the vague answer of "keep looking." One reporter actually wrote a story saying Dayton could delay the budget plan.
Dayton later posted that he was joking about the delay.
"My previous post was serious about my recovery, and trying to be humorous about delaying my budget proposal. There is no postponement being sought. I just wanted to see if anyone reads this stuff!"
The only specific thing Dayton has said about his budget plan is that he intends to raise income taxes on top earners to erase at least part of the state's $1.1 billion projected budget deficit.
A bill introduced today in the Minnesota Senate would set new disclosure requirements for national advocacy groups that push for the passage of their model legislation in the state.
Under the proposal, representatives of those groups would fall under the financial reporting laws currently in place for registered lobbyists. DFL Sen. Scott Dibble of Minneapolis, the bill's author, said groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, also known as ALEC, have spent a lot of time and money in Minnesota without any accounting.
"They run model bills. They fly legislators out to their conferences. They act for all intents and purposes like lobbying entities, and they provide these trips and these sorts of things," Dibble said. "So, it's just simply a sunshine into the disclosure bill."
Dibble said while he opposes the political agenda of ALEC, his proposed disclosure requirements would also affect other national advocacy groups that he supports.
Former state Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, has been hired to lobby for Scott County.
Robling, who didn't run for re-election in 2012, has been hired by the county to serve as legislative and communications coordinator. Scott County Administrator Gary Shelton says Robling will work on a part-time basis lobbying the Capitol and doing communications for the county.
"She's certainly well qualified in terms of the legislative piece," Shelton said. "But also with her background in journalism, she was the editor of a local paper. She knows the county well. She's a good fit for that position."
Shelton said Robling will earn a salary of $40 an hour and will work 25 hours a week ($52,000 annual salary). She'll be expected to coordinate the county's social media policy and write the newsletter. Robling told MPR News in December that she contracted with Scott County to write the county newsletter for the past 24 years at a salary of roughly $7,000 a year.
Robling is the latest state lawmaker to join the lobbying ranks. Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, resigned his position in the Minnesota House last week to lobby for St. Louis Park-based Center for Diagnostic Imaging. Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, also resigned last week to lead legislative efforts for the Chicago-based Uniform Laws Commission in Chicago.
Robling served as chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee when Republicans controlled the Legislature in 2011 and 2012.
Bipartisan efforts to limit lawmakers from lobbying at the State Capitol have repeatedly failed in past years. The so-called revolving door legislation would require lawmakers to wait a specified amount of time before they can become lobbyists.
The Rules Committee in the Minnesota House on Monday rebuffed efforts to move oversight of the Agriculture Finance budget from the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee.
Republicans have been pushing for the change, saying the issue was too important to be lumped into a larger committee that is chaired by a Minneapolis Democrat. Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, says combining environmental policies with agricultural issues sends the wrong message to rural Minnesota.
"I've been sent up here to do a job. It's not my district. It's the district that I have the pleasure to represent and it happens to be an ag district," Hamilton said. "You know what? It's about time that the ag members start standing up for themselves."
Republicans have been criticizing the House DFL majority for being out of touch with rural Minnesota.
Last week, the Minnesota Republican Party issued a news release questioning why Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, chairs the committee. There have been several letters to the editor in rural Minnesota newspapers from Hamilton and GOP House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, criticizing the new committee structure. The House Republican Caucus also pointed out that Wagenius mistakenly referred to the Future Farmers of America (FFA) as the FAA in last week's first committee hearing.
Democrats say Republicans are trying to score political points. They also say Wagenius will represent agricultural issues appropriately.
Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, says he's offended by comments that Democrats aren't focused on rural issues. He predicts the new committee structure will work and will allow for a broader discussion on farming and the environment.
"Good golly, we ought to at least be able to have the conversation and take it to the committees that we have set up like Natural Resources." Persell said. "For crying out loud, that has a lot to do with agriculture. I agree with someone else who said 'Ag is stewardship."
DFL House leaders also say Austin Rep. Jeanne Poppe holds a key position as chair of the House Agriculture Committee.