Posted at 7:58 AM on July 19, 2011
by Michael Olson
"Signs that the Minnesota government shutdown soon may end are surfacing, but work remains" writes the Worthington Daily Globe.
The Minnesota State Capitol is set to reopen to the public at 9:00 this morning. Until then, only lawmakers, law enforcement and credentialed media were allowed to enter the building where dealmaking was underway. The Star Tribune reports "as a deal to end the shutdown is finalized, public-access advocates are citing state open-meeting laws."
As heat buckled roads, MnDOT calls some workers back, reports KSTP. The transportation agency is still short-staffed. "MnDOT typically has 560 maintenance workers taking care of metro roads but last week there were just about thirty workers. Even in the midst of the state shutdown, they realized that wasn't enough to do the job, so about twenty workers were called back."
Reopening some parks will require more than just unlocking the gate. Camden State Park near Marshall sustained significant damage during an early July storm. "We have to go through and make sure the campgrounds and buildings are OK and the systems are working fine again since they've been down for almost three weeks," park manager Bill Dinesen tells the Marshall Independent. It will take about a week to get the park open and fully operational once the shutdown ends - that includes cleaning up all the trails in the park. "There's nothing normal about this," he said. "The storm put left another twist into the whole shutdown."
Winona prepares for longterm shutdown.
Wall Street Journal: Dayton blinked
"On Thursday Mr. Dayton took new taxes off the table and in the end agreed to a spending ceiling very close to the original GOP target. Republicans made concessions, too, but there can be no mistake that in this two-week long St. Paul stare down it was Mr. Dayton who blinked."
Star Tribune: Building bill is deal's silver lining
"Plenty of Minnesotans are panning the budget agreement reached last week by Gov. Mark Dayton and GOP legislative leaders -- and they should. Its borrowing and payment delays are almost the definition of shoddy fiscal management. But one aspect of the deal deserves cheers. An economy-stimulating $500 million bonding bill, stalled all year, appears headed for passage."
Posted at 9:47 AM on July 19, 2011
by Paul Tosto
You can't escape the shutdown! MPR News reporter Tom Weber sent us these observations from his recent call to jury duty.
Turns out, judge Kathleen Gearin -- the special master during the state's shutdown -- has been in the limelight before. Or rather, she's in the limelight every week across the state.
Whenever you report for jury service -- anywhere in the state -- all potential jurors have to watch a video about how the judicial system works.
It's a cheesy but informative video -- think of it as the judicial branch's version of the pre-flight instruction spiel everyone gets aboard airplanes -- and it happened to have been filmed in Ramsey County.
I know this tidbit because I was called to serve last week.
There I sat, in the windowless basement of the Ramsey County Courthouse, learning all about this branch of government and my role in it, and just as the drama of the video finally reaches the courtroom, who should be cast in the starring role as 'the judge?' Kathleen Gearin.
Check out the video here.
Posted at 10:26 AM on July 19, 2011
by Paul Tosto
CORRECTION: Higher education faces an 8.8 percent cut in spending over the next two years compared to current funding levels. An earlier version of this post put the cut at 13 percent.
Legislative leaders this morning posted a higher education spending bill that's part of the two-year budget deal to end the state government shutdown.
MPR News reporter Tim Pugmire writes:
State lawmakers released details this morning of a higher education funding bill.
The $2.6 billion higher education bill represents a $60 million increase from the Republican-backed bill passed in May. But spending is still down 8.8 percent from current levels.
Under the measure, the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system each get just over $1 billion.
The bill also establishes new performance benchmarks that both systems must meet to receive a portion of state funding.
Tuition increases for community and technical colleges only are capped at 4 percent. A controversial measure to restrict human cloning was removed from the bill.
UPDATE: MPR News higher ed blogger Alex Friedrich has posted a rundown on the higher ed bill.
Posted at 10:35 AM on July 19, 2011
by Paul Tosto
MPR News reporter Tom Scheck writes:
Several people tell MPR News that there is a handshake agreement on all of the budget bills.
There is a possibility that Gov. Dayton could call a special session as early as today. Expect the House and Senate to kick it into overdrive and work around the clock until all of the budget bills have been passed into law.
UPDATE: Reporters have just been told to go to the front of the governor's office immediately for an announcement.
Posted at 10:59 AM on July 19, 2011
by Paul Tosto
With at least a handshake agreement on all of the remaining budget bills, Gov. Mark Dayton just told reporters he will bring the Legislature into session today to pass budget bills that will end the Minnesota state government shutdown.
MPR's Tom Scheck writes:
Gov. Dayton announced just moments ago that he's calling a special session for 3 p.m. today.
The Legislature will act quickly to take up nine budget bills and a bonding bill. The state government shutdown will end as soon as Gov. Dayton signs the bills into law.
Dayton and the Republican controlled Legislature have been at odds over the best way to craft a two year budget. They reached agreement last week to erase a $5 billion budget deficit by using a mix of spending cuts, a payment delay to schools and borrowing against future tobacco payments and spending cuts.
The budget deal would end the longest government shutdown in state history.
"We worked very hard literally around the clock for the last four days and nights," Dayton said.
"We are ready to get bills moving through session," added GOP House Speaker Kurt Zellers. "And get them to the governor as quickly as we can."
Posted at 11:09 AM on July 19, 2011
by Paul Tosto
Minutes after announcing plans to call lawmakers into session at 3 p.m. today to pass all the needed budget bills to end the state government shutdown, Gov. Mark Dayton expressed hope that some agencies could reopen for business by Wednesday, MPR's Tom Scheck reports.
It also appears that any concerns that social policy issues could creep back into the debate are moot. GOP House Speaker Kurt Zellers said there will be no amendments to the budget deal legislation.
"I would say it's better to get people back to work than talk about a bill."
Posted at 11:29 AM on July 19, 2011
by Paul Tosto
Break out the jammies. It could be a looong night at the Capitol.
When the special session starts at 3 p.m., lawmakers will be dealing with a total of 12 bills they need to pass, MPR News reporter Tim Pugmire says.
That includes eight spending bills, a tax bill, a pensions bill, legislation tied to the so-called Legacy Amendment and the $500 million bonding / construction bill Gov. Mark Dayton insisted upon as a condition of accepting much of the GOP spending plan.
Once they're in session, GOP House Speaker Zurt Zellers says it will be a round-the-clock marathon to pass the bills.
Pugmire says no bill amendments will be allowed so it won't be the "lengthy floor sessions we usually see with these spending bills." Still lawmakers will have their chance to speak.
Pugmire says many details are still up in the air right now, but he notes:
-- GOP leaders say they have the votes in their majority caucuses to pass the bills. Despite Gov. Dayton's support, it's expected that few if any DFL lawmakers will vote for the spending bills.
-- Dayton believes the DNR could go back to work completely as soon as the environmental spending bill is signed. That means state parks could reopen for the weekend.
Also, at this point there is no talk of dealing with a Vikings stadium in this session. MPR News reporter Tom Scheck says Dayton was asked about it but said a deal wasn't completed yet and the governor wasn't sure if he'd call a special session for it later.
Posted at 1:41 PM on July 19, 2011
by Paul Tosto
The special session to pass all the bills needed to end the shutdown starts at 3 p.m. But as we await the official end to the 19 day shutdown, this special session will not end the drama that is the Minnesota Vikings stadium debate.
Public financing for a Vikings stadium is not on the agenda for the special session.
Gov. Mark Dayton told reporters he's not sure if he'll call a special session later in the year.
The Vikings, meanwhile, haven't said anything official and told reporters briefly that the team was assessing its options.
It's no surprise that the stadium isn't in this special session plan.
GOP House Speaker Kurt Zellers, Senate DFL leader Tom Bakk and Gov. Mark Dayton all said at some point in the past week that the subject of a Vikings football stadium bill hadn't surfaced for weeks and made it clear that it was unlikely to come up during a special session meant to finalize a budget and end the state shutdown.
Expect the "Vikings leaving" rhetoric to heat up, of course. But I'd also pay attention to the comments Senate DFL Leader Tom Bakk offered Friday on MPR's Midmorning program. He said then he didn't expect the stadium to come up in the shutdown session.
But then he added:
I"m going to suggest to the governor that he put together a task force to work on the stadium proposal and that some time next fall -- because the lease expires in December -- we see if we can find an agreement that we can find bipartisan support for and try to have a special session maybe sometime in the fall on that subject.Politically, that's not a bad path. Will it work for the Vikings? Stay tuned.Click on the play button below to listen to Bakk's comments on the Vikings, starting at the 37:15 mark.
Updated at 2:50 p.m.: Bill will allow the expansion of Medical Assistance to continue, but will make changes to MinnesotaCare.
Lawmakers say the Health and Human Services bill is finished. But it's not available online yet. Lawmakers finished discussing the bill at a news conference a few minutes ago.
Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, responded to concerns that the public doesn't have enough time to review the bill before it comes up for a vote.
"There are not dramatically new things that will be seen in the bill," Gottwalt said.
The bill's release is being watched closely -- and for good reason. It's the largest section of the state budget. And it's been the source of sharp partisan disagreement for months, or years, really.
The GOP released a statement a few minutes ago saying the bill "leverages innovation and reform to make Minnesota's HHS system accountable, responsible and sustainable."
The statement quotes Senate HHS Chair Senator David Hann saying:
Our reforms have changed the structure of the HHS budget. We are now anticipating growth in the next budget to be less than 5 percent. The average forecasted growth in spending per biennium over the past decade has been 15 percent.
We'll post more details about the bill once it's available.
MPR News reporter Dan Olson writes:
Minnesota road, bridge and transit advocates are breathing a sigh of relief. The transportation bill agreed to as part of the state budget agreement doesn't cut transit funding as deeply as originally proposed. And it contains some additional money for road maintenance.
The statement from the Metropolitan Council, the parent agency of Metro Transit which operates the buses and rail system, says the agreement means there won't be any fare increases or service reductions.
Bill Neuendorf, director of policy and advocacy for Transit for Livable Communities, says the bill's 40 percent cut in state general fund revenue for the next two years is much less drastic than originally proposed.
Still, the budget agreement does cut transit funding by $51.8 million.
The Metropolitan Council says the agency will deal with the cuts by shifting some local sales tax revenue intended mainly for transit development to pay for operating the trains and buses. They'll also use some federal and regional funds and continue to draw on reserves to help pay operating costs.
The Met Council says it will cut funds to suburbs who operate their own public bus service independent of Metro Transit trains and buses.
UPDATE: Here's the Met Council's read on the bill:
-- Transit service would be maintained at current levels, without a fare increase.
-- The bill would appropriate $78 million from the state general fund to transit operations in the 2012-13 biennium, a reduction of $51.8 million (or 40 percent), which is much improved from the reduction of $109 million in the earlier Transportation Finance bill.
-- The $51.8 million reduction would be addressed with:
o New funding to the Council for transit operations from the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) of $15.3 million
o Reduction in funding to Suburban Transit Providers of $7.2 million.
o Metro Transit administrative reductions , which would not result in job losses; converting federal and regional capital funds to operating funds; and dropping reserves to a minimum level--to make up the remaining $29.3 million.
-- The bill would make it possible to avoid:
o Fare increase
o Service cuts, other than routine reductions due to low ridership/route performance.
Posted at 3:03 PM on July 19, 2011
by Paul Tosto
Interested in hearing and watching your Minnesota lawmakers discuss and pass the bills that will end the state shutdown?
Here's a link to the House page that will take you to the live feed.
And if you're a glutton for punishment, here's a dual coverage page! (h/t to one of our blog readers).
You can find and read the legislation, summaries and spreadsheets here.
3:15 p.m. UPDATE: MPR News reporter Madeleine Baran writes:
The House session opened with a moment of silence for state Sen. Linda Scheid, who died of cancer in June. A few moments later, Rep. Matt Dean proposed that the House recess so that lawmakers can continue to prepare the budget bill. The proposal passed the House, and the session is now in recess.
3:20 p.m. UPDATE: The Senate has also recessed so members can go over the bills with their caucuses.
MPR News reporter Jennifer Vogel writes:
Just as the Legislature is about to begin a special session to settle the state's budget, the revenue department has issued a release stating that Local Government Aid checks -- scheduled to be issued tomorrow -- will be delayed until at least July 27.
Perhaps more unsettling for some cities, the release suggests that the payments "will be revised to reflect the new 2011 levels." The LGA payment amounts that will be approved by the Legislature and governor are unknown at this point.
MPR News reporter Laura Yuen adds:
Gary Carlson of the League of Minnesota Cities says the department apparently needs time to compute the new amounts based on the pending passage of a tax bill as part of a state budget deal.
"We were wondering over the last several days if the delay in the special session was going to create a problem for the administration of LGA, and sure enough, now we get the official word that the tax bill will contain language that will delay by one week the requirement for the payment of LGA."
The League is anticipating that the amounts will reflect those included in a GOP bill vetoed by Governor Dayton earlier this year. That would mean most cities would receive less than they were promised for 2011, and likely the same as they received in 2010.
Some of the state's mental health workers can return to their jobs. Judge Kathleen Gearin issued the order today.
Mental health providers have been hoping for a ruling for 19 days. They've said the delay has disrupted care for people with severe mental illness.
"I'm so happy right now," said Jim Riebe, who manages a mental health crisis response team in St. Cloud. "If they're going to come back, that will be a great thing."
Providers in Duluth and St. Cloud rely on state workers to provide about half of the staff for crisis response teams and intensive in-home services. The employees respond to calls from people who are suicidal or in other crisis situations. Other employees work on Assertive Community Treatment teams with psychiatrists, nurses and case managers to provide in-home services.
Gearin's order clarifies that the Department of Human Services can rehire workers for crisis services and the Assertive Community Treatment teams.
Providers say they don't know why the workers weren't deemed essential in the first place. The court documents released today shed some light on the matter.
The documents say that the Department of Human Services interpreted the initial shutdown ruling to not include state mental health workers who provide care at county and community health centers.
Here's an excerpt from the recommendations by Special Master Kathleen Blatz, the former state Supreme Court judge who was appointed to hear petitions about shutdown funding:
Since the beginning of the shutdown, DHS and the Special Master have learned that the layoff of these SOSD employees has had a dramatic effect on many county-based mental-health providers throughout the state. There has been a 50% reduction in crisis and ACT services because of the lack of SOSD staffing. At least one crisis-response team is no longer able to offer mobile services because it lacks sufficient staff. Mobile services are essential to ensure that seriously and persisently mentally ill people continue to take necessary drugs and medications.
In Northeast Minnesota, programs have closed their crisis beds because they lack sufficient staff. In addition, they are no longer providing on-call services between midnight and 8:00 a.m. In Southwest Minnesota, there are programs that have lost all both one county staff member, and thus, cannot provide any services.
There's no word yet on how soon the employees might be able to return to work.
As we wait for the House and Senate special sessions to resume so lawmakers can pass the 12 bills needed to end the state government shutdown, It's looking like it may take longer than we think to get state services back to normal.
MPR News reporter Tom Scheck is quoting Tina Smith, Gov. Mark Dayton's chief of staff, as saying it's unlikely at this point that state workers idled in the shutdown will return to work Wednesday.
Plus,Smith says Dayton plans to sign all the bills at the same time, so there won't be a of state services.
And state budget commissioner Jim Schowalter is reminding people that Minnesota government remains in shutdown and that it could take "a while, probably a period of weeks" to get things to how they were before started.
Schowalter adds that he's not sure when road construction, lottery and permits will be up and running.
He also won't say yet if state parks will be open this weekend.
The Legislature is back in session, but the shutdown isn't over yet. And many state workers are wondering what to expect once the governor and lawmakers agree on a final budget.
The Minnesota Management and Budget Office provided some information today. They released the following FAQ:
Q: When will employees return to work?
A: Employees will be recalled to work by their agencies after bills have been signed into law by the Governor. The Governor's signature on the appropriations bills allow the legal authority to for the state to operate. Once a bill is signed into law, the agencies will implement their recall and communications plan. Just like there was a process to stop operations, there is a process to bring operation and employees back online.
Q: Once they are recalled, when should employees return to work?
A: Employees are requested to return to work at their normal time on the date of the recall. For employees that work in the 24/7 operations, their supervisor will indicate when they should return. We want our employees back. If extenuating circumstances exist, the previously agreed upon MOU, allows the employee three days to return which can be coordinated with their supervisor.
Q: How will employees be notified?
A: Information will be posted on www.bereadymn.com. Additionally, each agency has a communications plan ready to implement. Agencies are using numerous communications tools including but not limited to working with members of the media, calling trees, hotlines for employees to call, websites, emails, and other social media tools.
Q: When will services return to normal operations? When will state facilities be open to the public?
A: Our goal is to return services to normal operations as quickly and safely as possible. However, the return to normal operating levels varies from agency to agency. Various programs and services will take longer to return to normal than others. Agencies were functions at different levels. Some agencies were completely closed. Furthermore, some areas of state service will certainly face a backlog of work due to the break in service. Please contact agencies for specific requests.
Posted at 6:50 PM on July 19, 2011
by Madeleine Baran
The House and Senate are back in session. The Senate reconvened shortly after 6 p.m. and quickly voted, 57-7 to pass the public safety finance bill.
The House returned a few minutes later and began work on the transportation budget bill.
Earlier today, Gov. Dayton said he was hopeful some agencies could start operating tomorrow. But it's too soon to say whether the Legislature can pass all the bills tonight.
Dayton's chief of staff has said the governor will wait until all the bills are passed before he signs them.
from MPR News reporter Stephanie Hemphill:
Environmental groups says the environment budget bill negotiated between Governor Dayton and lawmakers weakens protections of natural resources and goes against voters' wishes for Legacy Amendment money.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's general fund takes a hit of 40-percent for the biennium. That's smaller than than the 66-percent that Republican legislators had originally proposed. But it's still enough to prompt environmental leaders -- such as the Minnesota Environmental Partnership's Steve Morse -- to charge negotiators with stepping over the constitutional line against substituting Legacy Amendment money for existing expenditures.
"When overall state funding is going up, the environment is getting cut, and that's contrary to what voters directed legislators to do just two and a half years ago with the Legacy Amendment," Morse said.
The general fund is a very small part of the MPCA's budget. The agency gets most of its money through permit fees and other income. Republicans point out the overall pollution control budget will rise by 1.5 percent. The chairman of the Senate Environment Committee, Bill Ingebrigtsen of (R-Alexandria) said the budget agreement doesn't include any improper substitutions, although some legislators would like to use Legacy money to plug budget holes.
"They would like to see that amendment fund some of these budgets but we cannot get into that; it just violates the Constitution," Ingebretsen said.
The DNR's general fund is cut by 11 percent; the Board of Water and Soil Resources, which helps farmers reduce erosion and pollution, is cut 10 percent. The Minnesota Conservation Corps, which works in state parks and other public lands, is cut by nearly one-third.
One DNR program that benefits from the budget agreement is forestry, which oversees public timber lands that private companies use for logging.
Minnesota Chamber of Commerce environmental policy director Tony Kwilas said his organization is happy about new money there.
"I think it will allow some more of the foresters up north to get out and be able to some more surveying of the land up north, and allow more land to be sold at auction so the timber producers can get in there, and that actually generates revenue for the state," Kwilas said.
The final bill also provides nearly $4 million over the next two years to study the impact of sulfate pollution on wild rice beds. The issue is controversial because taconite mines in northeastern Minnesota are having trouble meeting the current state standard. During the study, which will probably take at least two years, the MPCA will not be allowed to require any company to invest in expensive control equipment -- unless federal law requires it.
That deference to federal requirements is a sore spot for environmentalists. It crops up again in another provision that tells the MPCA it must only issue specific permits for feedlots "as required by federal law."
The Minnesota Environmental Partnership's Steve Morse says that ignores how highly Minnesotans value their clean water.
"Since when do we in Minnesota only do we do the same water protections as they do in Nebraska or Mississippi? They're saying, 'if the feds require it we'll do it, otherwise, don't,'" Morse said.
But environmental groups won on some issues. A moratorium on new rules on water quality was turned into a study of the issue. And the government can still study whether perfluorochemical pollution harm people.
Environment bill at a glance:
• Total funding: $238 million
• How it compares to conference committee bill: $36.5 million more
• How it compares to governor's proposal: $39 million less
• Water Quality: Requires a study of water quality laws instead of a two-year moratorium on making any new ones.
• Lake Pepin: Tells pollution control agency to reduce phosphorus levels only in the summer.
• Wild rice sulfate standard: Doesn't toughen standard, which some legislators wanted earlier in the session. Companies are not required to invest in sulfate-reducing equipment to meet state standard for probably another two years. Provides $4 million over biennium for research.
• Aquatic invasive species: Invests $5.5 million over biennium to develop best-management practices at boat landings.
• About $500,000 for bio-monitoring related to perfluorochemicals and mercury in Lake Superior.
• No money for Board of Water and Soil Resources' cost-sharing programs with counties on weed management and vegetation buffers.
Posted at 7:51 PM on July 19, 2011
by Jon Gordon
from MPR News reporter Alex Friedrich:
• Total state funding: $170 million
• How it compares to conference committee bill: $16 million increase
• How it compares to governor's proposal: $1.5 million less
• Minnesota Trade Office: Cut of $158,000 instead of the $3.1 million cut proposed in the conference committee bill. The GOP had wanted to eliminate it, but restored funding as part of the framework agreement.
• Minnesota Investment Fund: Cut of $3 million
• Job skills program: $442,000 cut - less than half the cut proposed in conference committee bill. Other cuts to workforce programs for the disabled.
• Business and community development: $376,000 cut, about 18 percent less than in conference committee bill. Also, cuts in aid to entrepreneurs and small business, rural policy and development and similar funds, some of which help small and midsized businesses.
Posted at 8:07 PM on July 19, 2011
by Jon Gordon
Over on Capitol View, MPR News reporter Tom Scheck writes,
The K-12 budget bill hasn't been made public yet, but the author of the bill is starting to discuss specifics.
House K-12 Finance Chair Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, says the bill makes some needed changes that he argues will improve the state's schools. Garofalo said the state will start linking effectiveness to student achievement. He said teachers will start to be judged on student performance, rural schools will see more money and students will start receiving $5,000 scholarships from the state if they graduate early.
Posted at 9:06 PM on July 19, 2011
by Jon Gordon
from MPR News reporter Alex Friedrich:
· Total General Fund (Gross): $2.87 billion
· How it compares to current fund: 4.9 percent less
· Tobacco bonds: Included in bill. These allow the state to borrow against future tobacco payments. They are the controversial GOP-backed item that was a cornerstone of the framework agreement.
· Local Government Aid: Restored to 2010 levels for largest cities. - similar to Senate bill but less than governor's proposal. The House had pushed to remove funding for Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth. But LGA for all three remains at 2010 levels.
· Renters' credits: Will be reduced in future budget years. The credit for property taxes: 19 percent for FY2012, permanently reduced to 17 percent beginning FY2013.
· Property tax: Expands the homeowner property tax refund program. Increases the maximum refund from $2,410 to $2,460. Expands the income range at which the maximum applies. Decreases copayment percentage for most participants.
· High-tech tax breaks: Data storage centers can exempt sales taxes for energy usage, software and computer equipment - a tax break designed to attract large data storage companies to the state.
· Estate tax: Allows the exclusion of qualified small-business properties and farm properties - whose combined value does not exceed $4 million -- from calculation of Minnesota estate tax
· Federal income tax: Will be included in future tax-incidence studies - a major GOP victory. Republicans had said such studies didn't consider the amount of money that wealthy residents were paying in taxes.
· Political Contribution Refund Program: Suspended for two years.
· Counties to fund Maintenance of Efforts at 90 percent of current levels.
Posted at 10:28 PM on July 19, 2011
by Jon Gordon
Bonding bill at a glance:
-University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus: new Physics and Nanotechnology building: $51.3 million.
-MnSCU: St. Cloud State University: integrated science and engineering lab: $42.3 million.
-Natural Resources: $17 million to repair Soudan mine's elevator shaft and to renovate St. Croix State Park. Flood mitigation in the Red River and Minnesota River valleys, possibly others as well: $50 million. Lake Vermillion state park development: $8 million. Coon Rapids dam renovation: $16 million.
-Minnesota Zoo: $4 million
-Transportation: total $55.9 million. This includes $33 million for local bridge replacement and repair, $3 million for railroad crossing warnings, and $2.5 million for Greater MN transit.