On one topic, Minnesota House Democrats and Republicans agree: It's high time we made our state lawmakers take drug tests.
"Bring on the cup!" said state Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, during Monday night's debate on the drug testing provision. "I have nothing to fear."
The drug testing debate surfaced near the end of the endless debate on the House Heath and Human Services omnibus budget bill and its 87 proposed amendments.
When Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, introduced an amendment that would require drug tests for Minnesota welfare recipients, Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, countered with an amendment to the amendment. If welfare recipients had to pee in a cup before they could get a check from the state, she said, state lawmakers should have to do the same.
"You should be ashamed. You should really be ashamed to be using poor kids" to score political points, Liebling told Drazkowski during floor debate.
Blanket drug tests for lawmakers, she said, makes about as much sense as blanket testing of participants in the Minnesota Family Investment Program, or MFIP.
"There is no evidence that people who apply for MFIP use drugs at any higher rate than anybody else," she said. "Legislators should be tested. After all, we're giving public money and the public has an interest in making sure we're drug free and alcohol free."
Drazkowski pointed out that eight other states already conduct some form of drug testing on welfare recipients. He said the tests would bring accountability to the system and help "break the cycle of addiction."
"The people for who we provide our numerous and generous welfare benefits [should] submit to random drug testing," he said. "Like the Minnesotans who earn the dollars that we extract from them, and turn around and use for various programs, including this MFIP program."
Florida, the first state to tie welfare benefits to drug tests, spent thousands of dollars on tests, ran into a snarl of court challenges to the law's constitutionality, and found that only 2 percent of the welfare population tested positive for drugs.
Liebling's amendment might have been ironic, but it won enthusiastic support from both sides of the aisle. Liebling's amendment to the amendment was adopted with the support of all but a dozen lawmakers, including House Speaker Paul Thissen. Drazkowski's amendment passed by a vote of 83-49.
Before the state puts up millions to support the Mayo Clinic’s makeover of downtown Rochester, the Rochester area is going to have to put up millions of dollars of its own.
The House Taxes Committee rewrote and pared down Mayo’s $585 million request to the state in its new omnibus tax bill. The new version scales the state's share of the project down to $338 and shifts the rest of the price tag onto the local community.
It scraps the convoluted tax capture plan Mayo proposed and cuts the money state Rochester in half, from $75 million to $30 million a year for the next three decades.
Despite the changes, Mayo will still be getting most of the money it wanted, albeit from different sources. In a statement, clinic officials called the new version “strong and consistent with the goals and principles we set forth at the beginning of this process.”
Rochester and Olmsted County may be less pleased. The new version scales the state’s share of the project down and asked the local community to put up $128 million of its own. Those funds will build new roads and other infrastructure around Mayo's planned multi-billion dollar expansion and renovation in downtown Rochester.
“It’s a big ask of the city,” said state Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, who sponsored the original version of the Mayo bill that ran into staunch opposition in the tax committee, where lawmakers balked at its size and proposed financing.
The bill offers the local community a buffet of tax options they could adopt, or not, as they choose – without taking it to the voters first – including liquor, lodging, entertainment, local option sales tax or property taxes. The new version also gives the city, not the state, oversight of the board that will monitor the Destination Medical Center development.
“At first it will be a little bit of sticker shock, but I think they’ll recognize they can get there pretty quickly,” said House Taxes Chairwoman Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington. “We asked them to raise $128, we gave them tools to raise significantly more than that.”
But since the people of Rochester will be the biggest beneficiaries of the Mayo bill, Lenczewski said, it’s only fair that they share the load.
“We heard a lot of people saying ‘This is great deal and everyone should vote yes’ when they had no idea what the bill did and I think they had no idea (Mayo was) asking for a $75 million a year commitment from the state for 30 years,” Lenczewski said. “We’re less than half that now.”
As the House rolled out its revised Mayo bill, the Senate tax committee is still working on its own overhaul of the Mayo request.
Mayo spokesman Karl Oestreich issued a statement in response to the new House version: “We are grateful to the Chairwoman, members of the Committee and chief author Norton for all of their hard work on this bill. We are very pleased that the DMC financing plan is strong and consistent with the goals and principles we set forth at the beginning of this process. While there is still work to be done on finalizing details and aligning the House and Senate versions of the revised plan, momentum for DMC continues to build toward finding the right solution this session. We will need some time to review all of the elements of the proposed bill, and will continue to work with our legislative leaders and our partners, the city and county.”
The Mayo Clinic might have spared itself some grief if it had talked to more lawmakers before it hit them up for half a billion dollars.
"To be honest, the original proposal hadn't involved the Legislature as much as it should have," said Senate Taxes Committee Chairman Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, who pulled the bill off his Friday agenda, saying it needed more work.
The delay is the latest setback for the $585 million Mayo bill. Both the House and Senate are hammering out major changes in the bill's financing and structure. The House sponsor is working on a "Plan B" version of the bill that will go back to the House Taxes Committee next week.
The House and Senate tax committees are working with Mayo officials, Skoe said, to hammer out an improved version of the Mayo bill. Both tax chairs have indicated that they would like to scrap the complicated tax capture plan Mayo has proposed and take a hard look at some of the funding requests in the bill, as well as the question of whether Rochester is paying its fair share of the project.
"That's part of the reason we didn't move forward today," Skoe said. "We need to have all parties at the table and try to work forward, so when we come forward with the next proposal, there's more consensus around it."
Mayo the state's largest employer, wants to vastly expand its Rochester campus, but only if Rochester can be remade into the kind of city that attracts patients and physicians to Mayo's doors. It has offered to pump $3 billion into improving the downtown, and to attract another $2 billion in private investments to attract new hotels, restaurants and other amenities. And it wants the state to put up half a billion dollars to help with new infrastructure to support all that new development.
"There are three partners in this," Skoe said. "We want the city of Rochester to be successful, we want Mayo Clinic to be successful and grow in our state, we want the state of Minnesota to do well. Our responsibility is to ensure that the taxpayers' interests are protected."
If Mayo can't get state support for that expansion, its CEO warned this week, it may have to look to expand its Florida and Arizona campuses instead.
In response to Skoe's statement, Mayo spokesman Karl Oestreich said: "[Mayo's] financing plan continues to make good progress in both the House and Senate, with additional policymakers announcing support for the initiative and key players working together to develop an alternative funding approach that addresses questions raised about the initial proposal. There is still work to be done, but we believe important progress has been made in the past week and momentum on the issue continues to build toward finding a solution that works for everyone, including the State, the City of Rochester and Mayo Clinic."
The Mayo Clinic’s boast that it could have its pick of 49 other states isn’t winning it a lot of fans in this one.
On Tuesday, Mayo CEO Dr. John Noseworthy said that if the Minnesota Legislature didn’t want to give the clinic half a billion dollars in tax breaks to support its plan for a $5 billion makeover of downtown Rochester, "there are 49 states that would like us to invest in them." On Wednesday, Mayo representatives went before the House Taxes committee to discuss the bill, and face the music.
“It was a dumb thing to say. It was dumb, dumb, dumb,” state Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, chided the Mayo delegation. “Your CEO [was] going to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.., and wagging a finger at the Minnesota Legislature. That’s what it looked like to me. I read that article and I was thoroughly disgusted.”
Noseworthy’s remarks, Lesch said, make him less inclined to vote for the bill.
“My support went from neutral and considering and after seeing that article, it plummeted,” he said.
Mayo was already facing a tough sell for its bill at the State Legislature, where lawmakers were questioning the sheer size of the request and the funding mechanisms Mayo was proposing. Bill sponsor Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, said the bill is being retooled into a “Plan B” proposal that she will present next week.
“Forty-nine states would love to have the Mayo Clinic,” she said. “We’re lucky to be the one that does. Hopefully we can keep it here.”
Mayo physician and spokesman Dr. Brad Narr said, “I’m on a hot seat because my CEO talked about 49 states this morning.”
If the bill doesn’t pass, Mayo likely won’t pull up stakes and leave. But the healthcare giant also operates sprawling campuses in Jacksonville, Fla., and Phoenix, Ariz., and it might decide to turn its future growth plans to the Sun Belt states where so many of its patients already live. After all, he noted, “there are a lot more organs to transplant in Florida.”
“This will help us grow in Minnesota,” he said, noting that none of the $500 million would go to Mayo, just to support development projects in the community over the next 30 years. “I don’t want to think, what-if. I cannot threaten this group and say, if-this, then-that. No. I want the Mayo Clinic to grow in Minnesota.”