Minn. Session: What’s Done, What’s Not

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota lawmakers are past the halfway point of their 2011 session, and with less than two months to the May 23 adjournment deadline, much work remains. Most critically, Gov. Mark Dayton and Republicans who control the Legislature are still far apart on how to eliminate a projected $5 billion shortfall for the next two years.

Here’s a rundown of what’s been accomplished, and what’s still simmering:

• BUDGET: There’s a clash in political worldviews between Dayton and the GOP. The Democratic governor has an income tax increase on Minnesota’s top earners as his main component; Republicans won’t touch it. The GOP is instead forwarding budget bills that dramatically scale back or cut planned spending for health and social service programs, aid to city governments, transit and budgets for state agencies and higher education institutions. Public workers would see benefits curtailed and goals for government workforce reduction would be implemented. The House and Senate are expected to hold floor debates and votes on their budget bills in the coming week.


• CONSTRUCTION SPENDING: Dayton suggested the state issue $1 billion in construction bonds to build civic and college buildings, flood construction projects, roads and bridges. The governor says construction projects mean new jobs, but Republicans say it’s a bad time for the state to borrow that kind of money. GOP leaders have indicated they would support a smaller amount of state bonding to pay for flood-control projects in Minnesota communities. Republicans are also pushing to cancel authorization for previous bonding, including for rail projects and the Minneapolis Planetarium.


• EDUCATION: There will be haggling over how public school aid — the largest piece of the budget pie — is structured. Special allowances for urban districts are at risk. Expect a payment shift that delays aid checks to all schools to stay in place. Dayton and Republicans did find common ground on a bill the governor signed making it easier for professionals from non-teaching backgrounds to get a license and lead a public school classroom. Many legislative Democrats signed on too, though the state’s biggest teacher’s union opposed its passage.


• ENERGY: The House and Senate voted to lift a moratorium that’s prevented regulators from approving permits for new nuclear plants in Minnesota. But Dayton has described a few must-have changes to obtain his signature, including one keeping utilities from passing on costs to consumers before a plant is ready. Nuclear worries in the wake of the Japan disaster could be another obstacle. Legislators may also vote on a Republican-backed bill to lift a separate moratorium on construction of new coal plants.


• ENVIRONMENTAL PERMITTING: Dayton and Republicans struck a deal on a bill to ease red tape in obtaining environmental permits the state requires for business ventures — from iron mines to animal feedlots to commercial development. The bill sets a 150-day deadline for state agencies to issue environmental permits. It also lets businesses commission preliminary environmental reviews, which some Democrats and environmental groups say is a conflict.


• GAMBLING: Dollar signs are alluring for advocates of expanded gambling. Sponsors of legislation allowing slot machines at two Twin Cities-area racetracks suggest that proceeds could fuel a state trust fund for job incentives and entrepreneurial ventures. The Minnesota Lottery would have to run the so-called racinos, but private interests would get a cut. Past gambling proposals have run into opposition from social conservatives and Minnesota Indian tribes, who are protective of their casino monopoly. Dayton says he is open to expanded gambling but prefers it come in the form of one casino in downtown Minneapolis or near the Mall of America, with proceeds earmarked for education.


• LIQUOR SALES: A proposal scrapping a Sunday sales ban at liquor stores squeaked through a Senate committee, but faces a difficult path from there. The law has been on the books for generations and the liquor store industry is split on the measure. Some argue it would make Minnesota more competitive with border states and bring in extra sales tax dollars, but others say the uptick in sales wouldn’t offset the costs of being open another day. Another bill would let brewpubs sell bottled beer that can be taken off site.


• MISCELLANEOUS: Dayton signed a law keeping Minnesota’s jobless eligible for 13 weeks of extended federal unemployment benefits. Another new law adopts some federal tax credits on the state level. A third stiffens penalties for people who harm police and other public safety dogs.


• REDISTRICTING: Now that census figures are in hand, the fight over political boundaries is about to heat up. It’s a process that occurs only once a decade and the results can influence elections for years to come. By virtue of their current majorities, Republicans will guide the process in the Legislature. But Dayton would have to sign off on any plan. It’s just as likely a panel of judges will draw the congressional and legislative maps in the end.


• SOCIAL ISSUES: GOP-sponsored bills would ban state funding of abortions and prohibit abortions in the state after the 20th week of pregnancy, but face less-than-certain prospects given Dayton’s firm support of legalized abortion. Social conservative activists who’ve long sought a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Minnesota have said they’re OK with the issue not coming up until 2012.


• STATE GOVERNMENT AND UNION MEASURES: With the firmly pro-labor Dayton in office, Republican legislators admit they lack the wherewithal to push serious curbs on collective bargaining and state worker union membership that provoked rampant protests in Wisconsin. Still, some Republicans have introduced bills to reduce the overall number of state workers, close some state agencies, and trim pensions and other worker benefits.


• VIKINGS STADIUM: There has been no shortage of chatter and reports of behind-the-scenes meetings, but with March nearly over there’s still no legislation for a Vikings stadium. Dayton is generally supportive; Republican leaders say budget decisions are more important, but haven’t precluded a stadium vote. Fears loom that failure to green-light a replacement for the Metrodome will drive the Vikings to another city. But even stadium backers worry how it would look for lawmakers to authorize money for a pro sports team stadium while cutting the budget elsewhere.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • Nancy Aleshire

    I have been trying for over one year to find state senators and representatives willing to introduce legislation mandating cameras in group homes, nursing homes, and workplaces employing those with disabilities. My 27 year old son with Aspergers and schizophrenia was killed in such a facility. I have contacted ARC and the Disability Law Center regarding this. Please let’s get “Tim’s Law” enacted to protect those without a voice.
    Nancy Aleshire
    Brooklyn Park

  • Dave

    Here is a proposal to fix the budget. Make it so that the largest percentage cut to any program, the legislators must also make the same cut to their salary and budget. That way the cuts will be made fairly and even across the board. If layoffs are going to occur then the same percentage of layoffs will occur in the the state house and senate.

  • Murph

    I agree with Dave.But that might make the shady creatures even more likely to take offs to fleece tax payers even more for the benefit of billionaires and other crooks.

  • econ

    How about we all just put our money in a big pile on the table and split it evenly. Will that make you all happy? I’m guessing Dave and Murph would be happy to be a part of that.

  • Gary

    I believe the legislators should delay their pay checks as long a time as they do aid to the school disticts. How are they supposed to pay their bills with an IOU!

  • Jon

    econ, nice to see you backing those thoughtful politicians that take from the poor and give to the wealthy! If their going to cut, cut, cut, they should put some skin in the game

    going to cut cut cut, they should put some skin in the game,cut their wages,health care etc.

  • john h

    Lets get on board for the racino’s and other gambling casino’s, its time to have someone with casino’s pay taxes because the Indian tribes sure don”t . and as far as the Vikes go let them move who cares about them billionaire owners , they have the money, they can build it and they will come. Also the flood areas. why are we paying for flood areas and also let people even build by the rivers. for god sakes people rivers flood. you build you pay. get real ok!

  • john h

    Anouther way to save money is quit bring people here from other countries when we have our own problems and we are over populated the way it is. Also bring all our jobs back that went for cheep labor to china. and if not quit buying thier products and then they will be forced to come back here. Remember this country was built by our factories. get rid of unions , take a pay cut and get back to real life people, do we need to make that kind of money anyway. besides all your doing is making the unions rich anyway, and what i hear from the democrats is that they hate the rich, so why are we building stadiums and giving tax dollars to the unions. double standard I guess.

  • Chris K

    Social conservatives, the nanny state loving Republicans.

  • Game Over

    Fewer than 5% of Americans are wealthy and they aren’t reading our blogs on WCCO. They could really care less about what 95% of us think. WCCO cares though … mention Michelle Bachmann and instantly there are 100 blogs … It’s fun and funny and I really enjoy digging into them too.

    I have worked for myself for 25 years, through good economic times and bad. I have always been open to another person’s political view, but I’ve come to a very different perspective on what the real game is.

    In my view both Liberals and Conservatives are misguided. Both views are based on one or two issues like abortion, same sex marriage, health care, etc.

    Whether you are Liberal, Conservative or Independent is often a result of your parent’s political views. And whether you believe me or not, today’s politics have changed and so have the issues.

    Conservatives have become much more focused and Liberals too open minded. The rich this and the welfare that … we vote one way this election and that way in the next. No one will compromise and the differences become larger.

    My political belief is that all politicians have an agenda and no longer represent the people that elect them. While the extreme left and right get all the press, the middle gets bored waiting for our lawmakers to get something done.

    I believe the result is that there is a class struggle between corporations and individuals. Individual rights are no longer protected and our freedom is being trampled on by corporations. Corporations are in our politician’s pockets through very aggressive lobbying and campaign contributions. Corporations have access to our law makers and are writing the bills our politicians are passing.

    Individuals are losing the battle. Individuals do not have a say in our politics. We can not beat corporations with the money and power they have.

    So the game is over for middle class Americans. You have lost the battle and the war and you will never get it back. Corporate America changed the rules at halftime and are eating our lunch.

    Who’s got the money? The banks and corporations. They aren’t letting you borrow it and they aren’t spending it. WCCO won’t print it because it’s against FCC policy … BUT you are really F’d.

    WCCO … why don’t you look at Corporations vs. Individuals … Sell your souls dividing these groups. I think you could still sell print?

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