Should be an interesting mix of policy and intrigue at the Capitol today as the House Ways and Means Committee digs into Gov. Dayton's budget plan and people chew over ex-Senate leader Amy Koch's accusations of back-stabbing and lies by allies that led to her political downfall.
Amy Koch: Affair gave GOP foes opportunity (Star Tribune)
"Former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch lays much of the blame for her tumultuous resignation from leadership a year ago on former political deputies who, she says, saw a rare opportunity to knock her aside and lead the Senate."
Dayton budget would boost school-based mental health funding (MPR News)
"Gov. Dayton wants to double state funding for mental health programs in schools. The new money would pay for independent mental health professionals to support existing school programs."
Minnesota budget: DFL leaders cite concerns with Dayton plan (Pioneer Press)
House Majority Leader Erin Murphy says DFL lawmakers want to be "a little more aggressive" than Gov. Dayton on paying money to schools that was held back to balance state budgets.
Dayton's public transit proposal: Backers question funding plan (Pioneer Press)
Transit supporters applaud Gov. Dayton's plan to raise more than $200 million per year for new bus and passenger rail services through a metro sales tax increases but they want to know who will control the money and if the east metro will get its share.
Sales taxes for online purchases may be part of Minn. revenue mix (MPR News)
Lawmakers weigh a plan to tax businesses in Minnesota that sell products through Amazon or other online retailers.
Pentagon to beef up cybersecurity force to counter attacks (New York Times)
Iowa's Harkin won't seek 6th Senate term (Associated Press)
Across the nation, new health care markets on the way (Associated Press)
Paul Ryan says Bill Clinton would have helped fix fiscal mess (Washington Post)
The House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing this morning on Gov. Dayton's budget plan.
The measure relies on an income tax hike on top earners, an expansion of the sales tax to business and consumer services and a cigarette tax to erase a $1.1 billion projected budget deficit and spend more money on education. Dayton's plan would also lower the overall sales tax rate and cut property taxes.
Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter told the House Ways and Means Committee that the governor had reservations about raising the cigarette tax but was convinced by public health officials that it would lower overall health care costs. That prompted Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, to suggest raising the tax on alcohol as well because it adds costs to the state's criminal justice system.
"I know we're talking about the fact that taxes on cigarettes and liquor are regressive taxes in terms of consumption profiles but I think the way they look at them is that they become an even more progressive effect on health issues if they end up changing the behavior at those levels," Kahn said.
Schowalter said considered a lot of tax ideas but focused on a tax plan that they believe would be fairest for all Minnesotans.
Republicans were quick to criticize the lack of spending cuts in Dayton's budget.
Rep. Dennis McNamara, R-Hastings, said he was concerned that a lot of the items Dayton identified as spending cuts in his budget plan aren't really cuts at all.
"I hope you will tell us how much is real, true reallocation and cuts and how much is a paper shuffle," McNamara said. "I hope the whole budget isn't just what I've seen in the DNR. I hope there is some real truth in it because that's extremely misleading."
Schowalter said the $225 million in spending cuts are a combination of reallocation of existing funds, cuts and money gained from a settlement with HMOs. Dayton is also proposing $2 billion in tax increases to erase a projected $1.1 billion deficit and spend more money on education and job creation.
Dayton's budget plan is expected to receive additional scrutiny tomorrow when the chairs of the Senate and House Taxes Committees hold their first hearings on the proposal.
The chair of the House Public Safety Finance Committee says he intends to hold three days of hearings next week on gun legislation.
Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, says the hearings will focus on a variety of gun related issues including universal background checks, restrictions on high capacity ammunition magazine, whether assault-style weapons should be banned, and whether teachers should be allowed to carry guns in school. He says he doesn't intend to move the bill out of committee next week but said his goal is to put together a broad gun control bill in the coming months.
"I'm not naïve about this place and I realize that there is a lot of pressure from both sides of the issue. I want to get something passed this legislature. I think we will look at the most common sense initiatives that are being proposed and go forward," said Paymar.
One bill that was introduced this week would allow people with mental health conditions to voluntarily put themselves on a list of people who can't buy guns or receive a permit to carry a handgun.
"The idea is that if you're getting treatment and you're healthy, you may want to prevent yourself from a time when you're not healthy," said Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley.
Winkler said his bill would also allow individuals or their family members to voluntarily submit their weapons to the local police department.
Gun control legislation has received new attention in light of mass shootings in Connecticut and Colorado, but there's no certainty that any gun restrictions will become law.(0 Comments)
WASHINGTON - A major overhaul of the nation's immigration system seems possible after a bipartisan group of Senators released their blueprint Monday for creating a path to citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants in this country.
As part of that process, DFL U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is set to unveil legislation that would give the business community something that's it has wanted for a long time: more visas to bring in highly-skilled foreign workers.
Klobuchar touted the proposal as an economic win-win, especially a provision that removes any visa limitations on foreigners with advanced degrees from American universities.
"We are literally shutting the door to people that would come here and invent products and then they would hire more people," said Klobuchar.
While it's likely the proposals to offer permanent residency and citizenship for illegal workers will likely draw more attention in the coming days, Klobuchar's proposal, co-authored with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), represents a big change for engineers, software developers and other skilled workers hoping to work in the U.S.
Currently, 65,000 foreign workers are granted H1B visas every year. Under the Klobuchar-Hatch legislation, that number would jump to 115,000 right away and then rise by 20,000 every year, reaching a cap of 300,000 workers a year. The legislation would also allow those visa holders to change jobs more easily.
In addition, Klobuchar and Hatch's bill would increase visa fees charged to immigrants by $1,000 and use the proceeds, likely around $300 million per year, to fund science, technology, engineering and math education and worker retraining programs in the U.S.(2 Comments)
A two percent across-the-board pay hike for state employees is one step closer to reality. The joint Subcommittee on Employee Relations is recommending the Legislature approve state contracts for thousands of state employees. The plan would give a two percent raise to seven separate groups of workers, including AFSCME Council 5, the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, middle managers and corrections officers.
Supporters of the plan, including Sen. Jim Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, defend the pay hikes. They say employees haven't gotten a raise in three and a half years.
"This is a modest increase of two percent," Metzen said. "These people deserve this modest increase."
The committee voted six to three in favor of the contracts. All of the Democrats on the committee voted for the contracts. All of the Republicans present voted against it. Democrats, who won control of the Legislature in November, are expected to ratify the contracts this year.
That's a dramatic difference from five months ago when Republicans controlled the committee and voted to recommend the Legislature reject the contracts.
Republicans on the committee complained that the pay hikes were too large and too broad especially since the state if facing a $1.1 billion projected budget deficit.
"We want increases but the way to get the pay increases for the public employees is to get the state back on sound fiscal ground and make sure these economies are solid before we start committing to multiple billions of dollars over the next many years with these contracts" Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said.
The employee compensation package has several more committee stops before the full Legislature approves them. The wage increase covers the current two-year budget cycle and would be retroactive to January 2nd of this year.