The release Tuesday of Gov. Mark Dayton's budget proposal, in the works for weeks now, will set the framework for budget negotiations and will make clear the governor's priorities.
Dayton so far has offered a few details of his goals. Here's a breakdown of what has been unveiled so far:
-- $100 million in child-care and caregiver tax credits: Households earning up to $124,000 would be eligible for the credit, which would give direct tax relief averaging $481 per family to about 130,000 families statewide. The credit also would apply to dependent care for the disabled and elderly.
-- $372 million for education. Dayton late last week at a child advocacy conference said the state funds would go toward early childhood scholarships, pre-kindergarten programs, and Head Start programs. Part of the money would go toward raising the per-pupil funding formula.
-- $44 million for human services aimed at Minnesota children's needs, particularly families in need, Dayton said Friday. Another $116 million would also go to human services, though, this portion would be aimed at the needs of the adult population.
-- $30 million for the University of Minnesota Medical School. From colleague Abby Simons: "The money would pay for 50 research faculty members over the course of eight years, improving research and attracting the best and brightest students. Dayton said the proposed $30 million — $5 million next year and $25 million in 2017 — would be only a start. He would encourage the Legislature to invest another $50 million in the medical school per biennium for the next decade."
The sum of these budget requests -- $662 million -- equal more than half of the state's projected budget surplus of $1 billion. The Minnesota Management and Budget Office will release another budget and economic forecast in late February or early March that state lawmakers will work with to craft their own budget proposal.
Separately, Dayton on Monday unveiled his transportation budget proposal. The two-term governor has proposed new forms of revenue to pay for a projected $6-billion deficit in transportation funding.
The key lawmakers behind the state’s push to legalize Sunday liquor sales unveiled their latest attempt to repealing the state’s 80-year-old ban, saying overwhelming public demand could bring success in 2015.
Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, and Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, said this year's bill is simple and straightforward. It’s a change from a spectrum of bills offered by the duo two years ago, which included giving communities the opportunity to opt in or out of Sunday sales. They went nowhere, so Reinert said the focus remains on a full repeal. It’s likely the shortest bill he’ll author this session, he said.
Both Loon and Reinert have been vocally optimistic about this year’s chances to make Sunday sales a reality, with the support of House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Gov. Mark Dayton, who said he would sign the bill. However, Dayton made clear Thursday that pushing Sunday liquor sales legislation was "not a high priority."
"I think to say you can have all the shopping you want on Sundays except for alcohol and automobiles just doesn’t fit the modern era," he said. Still, "It’s not something I’m going to expend a lot of political capital on".
Loon’s bill, one of many filed this session, has 20 co-authors from both parties. In a state where 75 percent of residents live within 30 miles of a neighboring state where Sunday sales are legal, they say it’s time for special interests to listen to overwhelming public demand.
“There are certain powerful forces on the other side of this. What is on the pro side of this is the people of Minnesota,” Reinert said. “Here we are in a state that in the last couple of years has made marriage equality law, has dealt with the issue of medical marijuana, but somehow liquor sales on Sunday is too much? That’s a bridge too far?
The effort continues to face staunch opposition from the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, who argue Sunday sales will simply spread six days of sales over seven days, resulting in higher overhead costs without the profit. But Loon and Reinert were flanked by four local liquor store owners who say being forced to close on Sunday cuts into their profits.
Louis Dachis, owner four Merwin Liquors locations in Minneapolis and Ace Spirits, a boutique liquor store in Hopkins, said a typical Saturday generates twice the amount of sales of a weekday. He expects Sunday to be the same. At his smaller store, he would likely cut hours on a slower weekday, such as Tuesday, to make up for the cost of being open on Sunday. No matter what, it should be up to him, he said.
“What we’re asking for is the opportunity to make those business choices and to better serve our customers and improve our business.”
David Hansen runs Hansen’s Liquor in Stillwater, “just a stone’s throw” from the Wisconsin border, where Sunday sales are legal.
“I am literally right on the border of Wisconsin,” he said. “This could literally mean the difference between success and failure for my store.
Mick O’Connell, owner of Booze Mart in St. Paul, said he pays the rent on Sundays, as well as the electricity bill to keep the coolers running and the beer cold.
Each month, he said, “You’re taking away four days that I can’t sell liquor. Literally 14 percent of the year, I can’t make a dime off my business.”
Tamra Kramer owns Vom Fass, a specialty liquor store in the Mall of America. Her customers want it, she would generate an additional $50,000-100,000 in profits annually.
Loon said the first step is attempting to get a hearing, so the bill might gain traction. They anticipate roadblocks in the DFL-controlled Senate, who blocked last year’s bid to allow the Sunday sales of “Growlers,” or refillable glass beer containers from taprooms, after concerns from the Teamsters union that they may have to work Sundays. Loon said she’s open to accommodating them by amending the bill, and is open to listening to other concerns.
“I will say publicly I am happy to put language in the bill that would make the Teamsters comfortable,” Loon said. “As I understand it, their concern is their members working on weekends to make deliveries. I know that liquor store owners can manage their inventory and operate in a way that would not be necessary. I am happy to write into the language of the bill that they would not be required to make deliveries on the weekend. If the Teamsters are listening, please come and see me.”
Photo: Tamra Kramer, Owner of Vom Fass, a specialty liquor store at the Mall of America advocates for Sunday liquor sales. Behind her are the bill's key legislative sponsors, Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, and Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie
(This post has been updated)
When the newly renovated and remodeled Minnesota Capitol debuts in early 2017, it will feature what planners are describing as a major boost in the amount of space and facilities that are open and available to the public.
That includes a third-floor "Cass Gilbert Library," named after the building's original architect, that will be illuminated by a series of newly recovered, original skylights that have been boarded up for decades. Also new to the Capitol will be a public information center, an increase in the number of bathrooms and elevators, two reservable public dining rooms and a couple of public classrooms, and a room for mothers of young children.
"This is going to be some really fantastic public and available space that will restore a lot of the 1905 original architecture," Matt Massman, commissioner of the Department of Administration, said Thursday at a meeting of the Capitol Preservation Commission, a panel led by Gov. Mark Dayton that's overseeing the $273 million renovation project. The Capitol originally opened to the public in 1905.
Dayton and the panel of lawmakers signed off on a "space allocation agreement" at the Thursday meeting, after several weeks of negotiation between Gov. Mark Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and House Speaker Kurt Daudt. By striking a deal late Wednesday and making it official Thursday, the elected leaders just avoided what construction managers warned would have been costly delays if the space negotiations had continued to drag on.
The final deal left the Senate with considerably less space in the remade Capitol, both compared to before the renovation and to what Bakk had originally sought. Pre-renovation, a total of 39 state senators had offices in the Capitol; Bakk said he had sought 23 senator offices after the construction, but in the end he settled for four.
That leaves 63 senators who will have offices in a new Senate office building that's currently under construction north of the Capitol. That project has been politically controversial, but Bakk said it created the space that's needed to create more public space in the remade Capitol, and to give more room in the big building for the governor's office and the House.
"The Capitol would permanently be a Senate office building if it weren't for that project across the street," Bakk said.
The four Senate offices that remain in the Capitol will likely go to the majority and minority leaders, and likely two top committee chairs. Bakk stressed that no state senator would have more than one office. Rep. Paul Torkelson, a House Republican on the preservation panel, said no House members would have permanent office space in the new Capitol. House members all have offices in another adjacent building, the uncreatively named State Office Building.
The governor's office is gaining about 7,000 square feet of space in the renovated Capitol, while the House will gain about 2,700 square feet of additional space. The Senate is surrendering nearly 43,000 square feet of space.
In recent months, the premier building of Minnesota government has been rung by scaffolding and wrapped in sheets of white canvas as work crews execute the renovation. Major portions of the building are currently closed off to lawmakers and the public alike even as the 2015 session has gotten underway. The renovation project is scheduled to be finished up in time for the 2017 legislative session.
A bipartisan group of state lawmakers on Wednesday unveiled sweeping legislation that would reform the state’s child protection laws, but they say there’s still plenty of work to be done.
House and Senate legislators released an 11-point plan that includes clarifying existing law mandating that reports must be referred to law enforcement, or changing current policy that focuses on keeping families intact, rather than ensuring children are safe.
The legislation stems from preliminary recommendations by the Governor’s Task Force on the Protection of Children, launched after Star Tribune reports on the death of 4-year-old Eric Dean, who was beaten to death despite 15 reports about his welfare to Pope County child protection.
Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, said the legislation is triggered in part by the number of child abuse cases like Eric’s that were screened out by child protection workers “and our inability to track the rationale for that.”
Part of it, Sheran said, could be the system simply going too far in maintaining the family structure rather than making sure kids are out of harm’s way—a key readjustment in the bills.
“We can talk about our angst and anxiety we feel when we read these reports, but I think you can really measure our reaction in these efforts we are making to reform.” she said.
The authors of the House and Senate bills, who served on the task force, say the expect to draft more legislation once the Task Force’s final report is released. For instance, counties across Minnesota are expected to pay half the cost of child protection, despite the differences in property tax incomes, leading to disparate resources for handling cases. The task force is expected to finish a full study on the financial impact of their suggested reforms. Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said the Task Force’s full recommendations will be the result of “some very honest, true, transparent discussions...difficult decisions.”
Rep. Joe Mullery, DFL-Minneapolis who co-authored the legislation, said he intends to ask Gov. Mark Dayton to continue the task force for another year.
“Until next year, we are not going to have this issue resolved,” he said. “This is our future. I think this task force needs to continue but we’ll continue working hard to try to get as much passed this year as possible.”
The bill’s chief House author, Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, said sending every report to law enforcement likely will not tax state resources, since multiple counties already have the same policy.
Writing it into law, he said, would make certain that it could be replicated throughout the state.
“A lot of this already has to happen,” he said. “When I talk to law enforcement and ask what they think about this, the responses I got from the two law enforcement agencies I talked to were ‘We’re already doing this in a lot of cases. We investigate every 911 call, you know what? We can take 10 minutes for the well-being of our kids.’ There isn’t this enormous amount of information that’s going to be sent forward, it’s just ensuring that the intent of statute is carried out.”
Kresha said the legislation isn’t intended to be a crackdown, rather than simply a way to ensure that no more children fall through the cracks.
“I think too often we look for a scapegoat, but quite frankly when you look at..how many different interactions we have with these families, a lot of times we as a society have to look in the mirror,” Kresha said. “Because no matter what happens, all of this is voluntary until the court steps in. We need these families to know we’re there to work with them and we’re not adversarial.”
Photo: From left, Rep. Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley, who represents the district where Eric Dean lived, Rep. Ron Kresha, Sen. Julie Rosen, Sen. Kathy Sheran, Rep. Joe Mullery.
Minnesota Senate Republicans unveiled a plan to eliminate the state income tax on Social Security in order to keep retirees from leaving the state.
The “Retire in Minnesota Act” would reduce Minnesota’s income tax on Social Security income by 10 percent annually until it is completely phased out in a decade. Although leaders acknowledge it will reduce seniors’ contributions to state’s coffers—by $127 million in the next two years alone—that loss will be made up by the seniors who stay in the state and contribute to the economy.
“When they (stay), they spend money on movies, restaurants, theaters, they take the grandchildren with them, they give to local charities and pay property taxes,” said the bill’s co-author, Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake. “There’s a lot of revenue, that if you don’t do this, you’re going to hear the great big giant sucking sound of the southern states pulling our boomer retirees.”
Minnesota is one of seven states that offer no Social Security tax breaks for retires. Senate Republicans say 70 percent of seniors would benefit from their proposal, saving $600 per person per year. They have not discussed the proposal with Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, or Taxes Committee Chair Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook
Although they had no immediate estimates on state revenue lost by seniors who leave the state, the bill’s chief author, Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said they were confident that those who would stay because of the tax break would pay for the cost to state coffers—and it won’t be cheap. The proposal is projected to cost $398 in 2017, $437 million in 2018 and $477 million in 2019.
“Anecdotally, it’s real,” said Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester. “You don’t have to go to too many coffee shops to know that ‘So-and So is leaving.’ We hear it virtually every day. It’s real and I don’t think we can ignore it anymore.
Although he acknowledged that many retired Minnesotans leave for warmer climates, Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said so many others simply jump the border to Iowa or Wisconsin.
“You’ve got people who live in Rochester or Winona, all they have to do is move across the river, and they don’t pay tax on their Social Security, and they get to stay close to their family,” he said. “There are some states where they can just move a few miles and be in a place where they have much better financial security.”
Photo: Left to right: Minnesota GOP Senators David Hann, Mary Kiffmeyer, Dave Senjem, Carla Nelson, Gary Dahms and Will Phillips, state director of the AARP in Minnesota.
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