ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) —Getting caught texting while driving could carry a steeper fine. Entrance fees at Minnesota state parks would rise slightly to pay for upkeep. Meat, poultry, canning and other food-production plants would be more likely to come under inspection thanks to beefed-up budgets.
Small but notable changes like these are sprinkled throughout Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed two-year budget. Those recommendations won’t get as much attention from lawmakers as his centerpiece plans for increased school aid and for expanded child-care tax credits, but history suggests they’re more likely to get legislative signoff.READ MORE: 'It's Amazing': New Minnesota Grant Helps Foster Care Youth Pay For College
The 2,954 pages that make up Dayton’s budget are a trove of details about how agencies operate, where they’re struggling and what managers say would improve services or public safety.
Take the texting clause. The Department of Public Safety wants to double the current $50 fine in cases of repeat offenders. Minnesota outlawed texting and other Internet activities behind the wheel five years ago, and state officials estimate the number of citations is climbing 20 percent a year. In 2013, the most recent figures available, there were 1,739 tickets written.
Donna Berger, director of the Office of Traffic Safety, worries the message about texting dangers isn’t getting through to drivers and says a higher fine could act as a deterrent.
“For the average text, your eyes are off the road for 4.6 seconds,” she said. “If you’re going 50 mph, that’s the length of a football field.”
Raising the fine would also help Minnesota qualify for more federal grant money related to distracted-driving prevention, she said.
The Department of Transportation is after clearance to establish a “snow and ice contingency account” that would help it better manage road clearing during brutal winters like last year, when $136 million in costs blew $50 million past the 10-year average.
At Minnesota’s state park system, officials are also looking for a funding boost and hope visitors won’t mind shouldering some of it. The Department of Natural Resources wants to raise annual vehicle permit fees from $25 to $30 and the daily rate from $5 to $6, the first such increases in a decade. It’s part of a request that also seeks $7.2 million more from the general treasury.READ MORE: Wisconsin Man Dies After Car Splits During Crash In Fridley
Erika Rivers, director of the department’s Parks and Trails Division, said the agency is already scraping to keep up with cleaning, mowing and camping site maintenance at the 75 state parks and recreation areas. There used to be 66 parks with year-round camping; now it’s 32. Without an increase, she said further cutbacks would be needed.
“We take raising fees very seriously. We don’t do it lightly,” Rivers said. “People who visit our state parks love our state parks and in general want to do more for them.”
House Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said he’s not necessarily averse to higher fees but he wants to examine the park structure first to determine if lesser-used parks need the level of care they’re getting.
“State parks need more money, but I want to have a hard discussion and a thorough discussion of how much more and where from,” McNamara said.
In all, Dayton’s budget recommends about $30 million in new or adjusted fees. Most are tied to regulation or inspections of specific industries.
For instance, manufacturers and distributors of toys and other children’s products that use certain chemicals would pay a $1,000 fee per product to fund awareness campaigns and promote alternative materials. Fees for various food producers would rise to add staff for inspections aimed at preventing foodborne illness.
As many as 12,000 families may save a few dollars if lawmakers back the governor’s plan to scrap a $25 fee for families applying for child support services. The state anticipates removing that fee will make it easier for low-income Minnesota residents to sign up for such services, like help collecting child support payments.
And some existing fees could be repurposed. Money in the Support Our Troops license plate account, fed by extra fees paid by drivers who want patriotic plates, could go for more things than it is now. The Department of Veterans Affairs wants to expand eligibility for grants to include organizations working to improve the lives of veterans or address pressing issues, such as high veteran suicide rates.MORE NEWS: Homicide Investigation Underway After Woman Found Dead Inside St. Paul Home
(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)