ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Tucked inside Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget are less-heralded changes that would alter how Minnesota residents pay for and interact with their government from cradle to grave.
These fine-print details won’t provoke the clashes of the governor’s controversial sales or income tax plans, but they could dictate how the state tackles childhood obesity, stretches the availability of broadband Internet and disposes of old paint and carpet.
An Associated Press review of the 2,008 pages that comprise the budget reveals the wide reach of the proposed two-year plan, things largely overshadowed in a Capitol where tax fights tend to snare the focus. These are also the types of suggestions more likely to get a legislative rubber stamp.
In announcing the plan Tuesday, Dayton said he was delivering his “best judgment about what Minnesota needs to grow our economy, expand our middle-class, improve our quality of life and take care of those most in need.”
The recommended changes are as consequential as opening up public health insurance programs to 80,000 more people to as small-bore as giving the Science Museum $11,000 to foster field trips and other student outreach for schools in all 87 counties.
Visitors from outside Minnesota would feel the budget in a different way. Dayton would push up the car rental tax to 9 percent from about 6 percent now. The money would be used to augment tourism promotion efforts, and the state contends that it would be a tax largely paid by people who live elsewhere.
New or increased fees are sprinkled throughout the package. Insurance companies would fork over $30 when registering their agents with the state instead of the current $10, with proceeds earmarked for oversight and consumer protection programs. Participating in or hosting a boxing match or mixed martial arts event would be pricier, too. Fees on mining activities could also be headed higher.
Newborn screening fees would rise to help offset costs for adding two new tests to the infant screening that seeks to identify severe congenital conditions early on.
On the back end of life, Dayton’s proposal calls for establishing new rules for morticians. One would allow for alkaline-based cremation techniques; under another funeral homes would no longer be required to have an embalming room.
The budget aims to respond to pressing concerns, such as the $1.6 million it would devote each year to re-establishing a school safety center within the Department of Public Safety. That, as well as some mental health initiatives, is viewed as a reaction to the December mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school. Police officers would find more money available to reimburse them for buying soft body armor.
Dayton recommends plowing $40 million more into a state health campaign aimed at getting people to stop smoking, drink less alcohol, exercise more and eat better. A big goal of the effort is to reduce obesity rates that health officials warn are boosting medical costs. In an attempt to safeguard the environment, the governor suggests that manufacturers of paint, carpet and certain batteries come up with and abide by product disposal plans overseen by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Tributes to the state’s military veterans line the plan. The Minnesota’s GI Bill is now geared toward post-Sept. 11, 2001, veterans would be extended so service members of any generation would qualify for education grants and job training. A once-endangered military Honor Guard program for burial services would get permanent funding just as veteran deaths are expected to reach their apex in 2014. A new veterans’ cemetery in southeastern Minnesota’s Fillmore County would get start-up and operational money in time for its anticipated opening in a couple of years; it is being designed to have burial space for 40,000 veterans.
Five new specialty license plates honoring veterans would be created, with a part of the proceeds aiding support organizations. Likewise, a new veterans-themed lottery game would be established, with the projected $840,000 in scratch-off ticket sales being used, as budget documents stress, “to serve the emerging needs of veterans.”
There’s $5 million more to make sure the Department of Transportation can afford enough salt, sand and gas for its snow plows.
A new Broadband Development Office would be established to work with developers to expand high-speed Internet to places where it isn’t reliably available. On the flip side, the obscure, two-year-old Science and Technology Authority would cease to exist, though some of its duties for cultivating growth in emerging industrial sectors would wind up elsewhere.
Politicians and their parties have more than a strategic stake in the budget. Dayton’s budget gives state campaign regulators the green light to impose registration fees on candidates, political funds, lobbyists and others. And the Secretary of State’s office would get $355,000 to pay Republican and Democratic party lawyers for costs associated with a redistricting lawsuit, a reimbursement ordered by the state courts.
Judges and other court staff would be in line for raises and their pension program would be shored up. Another $300,000 would go to a judicial discipline board to pay the costs of its investigation and misconduct hearing surrounding a single judge.
There are provisions to prepare for and streamline a long-sought renovation of the state Capitol, though the financing for a more than $200 million project will come separately. In the meantime, an effort to step up Capitol security comes with a promise of $500,000 a year to do just that.
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