Baird Helgeson and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger
Minnesota's rebounding economy has brought the state a $1.08 billion surplus for the remainder of the two year budget cycle, according to a new state economic forecast.
That's good news for state leaders, who had pinned their hopes on the state steadily pulling itself out of the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression.
Gov. Mark Dayton said that he will not make any final decisions until he sees an updated forecast next year but if the state has extra money, he wants to cut new business to business taxes and give the middle class a tax break.
Some of the money is already out the door. The first $246 million must be used to complete repayment of the K-12 school property tax recognition shift. Additionally, $15 million will be transferred to the state airports fund, restoring money originally borrowed in 2008. This forecast completes repayment of all accounting shifts from prior budget solutions. That leaves a bottom line surplus of $825 million, budget officials said.
House Speaker Paul Thissen, asked about Dayton's idea of tax cuts if the surplus holds, says "we have to look at the whole totality" of the choices in front of them.Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said the DFL controlled House will consider the tax cut proposals but did not immediately embrace the idea.
"What's going to be better for growing Minnesota's middle class," Thissen said.
Senate Deputy Majority Leader Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, said "it's too early to say" whether the DFL Senate would support ending the business-to-business taxes as Dayton proposed.
Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said that if Dayton follows through on the idea of tax cuts he would find a willing partner in the Senate Republicans.
Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter said the forecast highlights the state’s recovery compared to the rest of the nation. On the national level, economists are seeing slower growth than expected and more uncertainty caused by continued political budget and spending showdowns.
Minnesota is “one of the leading states in the country in terms of economic performance,” Schowalter said.
Dayton says he would only follow through with his tax cut proposal if the state has a surplus in the forecast that will come out in February. Budget forecasts tend to shift significantly between those two economic predictions. (See history of those shifts here.)
State Sen. Torrey Westrom is stepping up to vie against Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson.
The Republican will hold campaign appearances to announce his bid on Thursday in Elbow Lake, his hometown, and Moorhead, according to a release.
Westrom is attorney who joined the Minnesota House in 1997 and was elected to the Senate last year. According to the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, he is the first known blind member of the Legislature.
Republicans have long eyed Peterson's district.
Last year, Republican Mitt Romney picked up 54 percent of the vote in the western Seventh Congressional District Peterson has long represented. That same year, Peterson won 60 percent of the vote. In 2010, which was a very good year for Republicans, Peterson won 55 percent of the vote to Republican Lee Byberg's 38 percent.
Minnesota, a state known for clean politics, ranks among the worst for financial disclosure from the judiciary, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
"Minnesota is at the back of the pack for financial disclosure requirements, ranking 45th in the country along with Iowa," the Center found in a nationwide study of disclosure required of supreme court justices. "It has a self-policing system for enforcing the disclosure rules, in which Supreme Court justices would be asked to rule on a complaint about themselves. And the state currently does not require judges to report gifts, investments such as stocks or any financial debts on the one-page form."
The Center gave Minnesota an "F," for its judicial disclosure requirements. Minnesota's low ranking on this score is not unusual -- the state often gets below average grades from good government groups that measure transparency and disclosure required of public officials.
Earlier this year the state's campaign finance agency and some lawmakers pushed for more financial disclosure from lawmakers and other public officials. While that proposal largely fell by the wayside, Minnesota did increase the disclosure required of the judiciary.
From the Center: "Minnesota is toughening its requirements starting next year, meaning its lousy grade will undoubtedly improve. Legislation passed this year will require judges to file an additional form that other state officials already file. The form will ask judges to report investments, locally owned real estate and even involvement in horse racing starting in January 2014."
Minnesota Republican Party deputy chairwoman Kelly Fenton is leaving her post to make a run for state House.
“I am proud that I served our party during a time of great challenges and was able to provide the leadership to successfully deal with a financial crisis and develop a framework which would enable our party to continue moving forward,” Fenton said in a statement.
Fenton came aboard about two years ago as the party began to rebuild after racking up millions in previously undisclosed debt, a burden that caused former Party Chairman Tony Sutton to abruptly resign.
Fenton worked with former GOP chairman Pat Shortridge to begin digging out from the debt and restore confidence among donors and activists.
A Woodbury resident, Fenton is now vying for the House District 53B seat. State Rep. Andrea Kieffer, R-Woodbury, has decided not to seek a third term.
“Our party is gaining momentum every day and reinvigorating the American dream,” Fenton said. “As I step down, I take pride in leaving the party in a better position than I found it and the part I played in restoring transparency and renewing trust.”
A proposal to extend a gun ban at the State Capitol to permit holders failed on a tied vote Tuesday, after a vigorous debate on public safety versus the freedom to carry weapons.
The proposed amendment by Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, failed with a 2-2 tie in the Advisory Committee on Capitol Security, which provides recommendations to the legislature. A similar recommendation by its chair, Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, to limit the carrying of pistols within House and Senate chambers along with committee hearings, also failed.
With another hearing set for January before the 2014 legislative session begins, the vote doesn’t mean the recommendation against a gun ban is final, but “it’s a sense of where the committee is going.” Prettner Solon said.
Minnesota law currently bans dangerous weapons including firearms from the Capitol area, with exceptions for permit-holders who provide advance notice to the Commissioner of Public Safety. Paymar’s recommendation extended the ban to permit-holders from carrying in the Capitol, State Office Building and Judicial Center, with measures including metal detectors at each door. Permit holders would still be allowed to carry in the complex’s other 14 buildings.
Paymar said Minnesota remains an outlier compared to other states for continuing to allows firearms in the Capitol.
“This committee has said we want to keep the Capitol complex open and accessible and hope nothing happens, but to me hope is not a very good basis to build public safety,” Paymar said. “I’ve heard members of this committee say we haven’t had an incident yet and I would add that ‘yet’ is not a very good safety response.”
Five screening checkpoints would cost an estimated $300,000, with an annual staffing cost of $240,000 per entrance.
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, argued against the proposal, calling it “fixing something that isn’t broken.”
“I don’t think this is a Republican versus Democrat issue, but it’s definitely a Second Amendment issue, and a very strong emotional issue especially in the district that I come from,” he said. “I certainly understand the thought process of Senators and Representatives in the metro area because when guns get brought up in a lot of cases it’s gangs and shootings…but to hinder the folks that are doing what’s right to get the permit allowing them protection wherever they go in the state of Minnesota is not the right way to go.”
Ingebrigtsen added that he agrees with Gov. Mark Dayton, who said in August that metal detectors could create a chilling effect on public participation. Recomendations that “push or surpass the protections found in the 2nd Amendment will not address the underlying issues regarding the safety in the Capitol Complex,” he said afterward.
Without a majority, the recommendation failed to pass. Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea chose not to vote in case the issue is argued before her, while Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, was absent and out of the state, a staffer said.
Prettner Solon, who has supported strengthening the gun ban, said afterward that it’s important the conversation continues, and that it’s about public safety as much as constitutional freedoms.
In January, a formal recommendation will be drafted, influenced by Tuesday’s vote, but Prettner Solon acknowledged another vote could take place at that time.
“It’s always up for further consideration.” she said.