With an insider’s eye, Hot Dish tracks the tastiest bits of Minnesota’s political scene and keep you up-to-date on those elected to serve you.

Contributors in Minnesota: Patrick Condon, J. Patrick Coolican, Patricia Lopez, Ricardo Lopez, Abby Simons, and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Allison Sherry, Jim Spencer and intern Beena Raghavendran.

Talk of sports subsidies swirls at Capitol

Posted by: Patrick Condon under Gov. Mark Dayton, Minnesota legislature, Minnesota state senators, Democrats, Republicans Updated: March 25, 2015 - 2:50 PM

Even as Gov. Mark Dayton and top state lawmakers vow no state money to help build a new Minneapolis stadium for the Major League Soccer franchise announced Wednesday, leaders of the House and Senate are preparing to mount a push to approve Super Bowl-related tax breaks requested by the NFL. 

Minneapolis is hosting the 2018 Super Bowl. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said Wednesday that last year, he and the other three top legislative leaders signed a letter to the NFL promising their best effort to secure Super Bowl-related tax breaks that several previous host cities extended. 

The letter was requested by leaders of Minnesota's Super Bowl host committee and was included in their ultimately successful bid package to the NFL, Bakk said. House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Minority Leader David Hann confirmed this account. 

"We had an agreement we would help them try to figure out how to do this," Daudt said. 

Bakk said he met a month ago with Ecolab CEO Doug Baker, a leader of the host committee. Baker told him the NFL was requesting $2.8 million in tax breaks over Super Bowl weekend, specifically in exemptions to taxes on hotel occupancy, sales taxes on NFL events and the state income taxes that team players, coaches and owners competing in the big game would normally be subject to. 

"We didn't absolutely commit, but I do feel the four of us felt like now that we've got it, it wouldn't be fair not to follow through," Bakk said. He said recent Super Bowl hosts Indianapolis and New Orleans extended similar tax breaks. 

Bakk said he and Daudt agree to try to find room for the provision in this year's catch-all tax bill. Daudt said even though the cost to the state is relatively small, he expects the issue to be controversial. 

"If we can find a way to make that work and a way to pay for it, I'm happy to look at it," Daudt said. "Obviously it's going to require some discussion." 

Dayton said Wednesday he is not in on discussions between Bakk, Daudt and the host group, though he previously had made public appearances with members of the group to tout Minnesota's bid.

"I believe that having to pay the income taxes of millionaire players and multimillionaire owners is excessive," Dayton said, openly questioning whether the provision could find sufficient support in the Legislature. Dayton said he likely wouldn't veto such a provision, but also said he would not promote it. 

Details of the Super Bowl tax breaks emerged even as an official announcement came down Wednesday from Major League Soccer that it awarded a Minnesota franchise to an ownership group led by another Minnesota business titan, former UnitedHealth CEO Bill McGuire. That bid has been linked to the ongoing construction of the new football stadium, since that facility has been designed to potentiall accomodate professional soccer. 

Despite that, McGuire's group is mulling a new stadium on the other side of downtown. Under the state's stadium agreement with the Vikings, team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf would have exclusive ownership rights to any soccer team that played in the Vikings stadium for the first five years. 

Bakk, Daudt and Dayton have all said they do not support state subsidies for a separate soccer stadium. That has led to suggestions of pressure from the Vikings, but Bakk said that's not the case. 

"We're building a stadium that can be used for soccer. We're not going to build a second one," Bakk said, adding he thinks that would be hugely unpopular with voters.

Bakk noted that the Vikings won't own the new stadium, and suggested McGuire's group could play in a temporary spot for five years before relocating to the Vikings stadium. 

Backers of measure to restore voting rights to felons push for House hearings

Posted by: Abby Simons under Minnesota legislature Updated: March 25, 2015 - 11:03 AM

A widely-supported bipartisan measure to restore voting rights to Minnesota felons once they have been freed from prison has failed to gain traction in the House, leading to protest from supporters and lawmakers who want to know why.

The bill, which has cleared committees and made it to the Senate floor, has yet to receive its first hearing in the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee, despite the fact that committee chair Rep. Tony Cornish is chief author of the bill. The bill has until a Friday deadline to receive a hearing. Cornish, R-Vernon Center, said last week only that he hoped the bill would receive a hearing.

On Wednesday, members of the Minnesota Restore the Vote Coalition, including Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, rallied on a cold and blustery day on the Capitol steps to again renew their push to give the bill traction. Among them was NOC Voting rights organizer Navell Gordon, a convicted felon who has pushed for the change.

“I have a little past, but I’m mostly doing good out here,” he said. “I have a daughter and I want to show her it’s good to get out here and vote.  At the end of the day I’m out here doing good for my community, and voting is important to me.”

Rep. Raymond Dehn, a co-author of the measure, said there are misunderstandings that the bill focuses largely on Minnesotans of color in Hennepin in Ramsey Counties. In fact, he said, only 9,000 of the state’s 47,000 who are unable to vote are people of color, and many are outstate. Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis, said that he doesn’t know why the bill has not received a House hearing, saying simply “You’ll have to speak to Republican leadership about that.”

 “For the life of me, I can’t understand why they wouldn’t hear a bill who has a chief author who is the chair of Public Safety,” he said. “It’s gone through all the committees in the Senate, for the life of me I can’t figure out why it hasn’t gotten a hearing.”

The push to restore felon voter rights has been around sporadically since 2002 and in 2014 was renewed by a group of nonprofits working together as the Restore the Vote coalition. However, efforts in recent years have stalled.

This year, groups like the Republican Liberty Caucus and Liberty Minnesota have signed on, some under protest that banning felons from voting is akin to taxation without representation, in line with the principle that they’ve paid their dues and are due forgiveness.

Photo: Navell Gordon of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change speaks at a rally on the Capitol steps.

House reaches compromise on license plate readers, sends bill to floor

Posted by: Abby Simons under Minnesota legislature Updated: March 24, 2015 - 1:09 PM

A law-enforcement backed compromise that would allow cops to store “non-hit” data gleaned from automatic license plate readers for 30 days heads to the House floor.

The House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy Committee on Tuesday passed the revised measure sponsored by Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, with just one dissenter, freshman Rep. Tony Lucero, R-Dayton. Lucero proposed a series of amendments that were rejected by the committee.

For the third consecutive session, lawmakers have sparred over whether LPR “hits” on innocent people should be deleted immediately—what privacy advocates want, or kept for 90 days-- what law enforcement initially wanted.

Cornish said law enforcement came to him with the idea of 30 days in hopes of a compromise, and he served as facilitator in hopes of getting a bill passed.

Testifying before the committee, Bloomington Police Chief Jeff Potts said police see value in keeping data for more than 30 days, but that law enforcement was willing to compromise for the sake of passing a bill. It was a sentiment reflected by Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-ST. Paul Park, who works as a Cottage Grove police officer, who said “I’m not happy with 30 days by a long shot,” but would still back the bill.

“This bill needs to leave this committee in the shape that it sits before us presently,” he said. “I would encourage the authors of any amendments to think about the work that’s gone into this. It may not be perfectly great for you, and it’s not perfectly great for me.”

A Senate version of the bill limits retention to 90 days after narrowly surviving a measure to strip retention to zero. It awaits hearing in the Senate Finance Committee. Last year, the Senate unanimously passed a 90-day retention bill, but was unable to reach a compromise with the House, which passed a zero-day retention bill.

Minnesota House GOP wants $2B in unspecified tax relief

Posted by: Patrick Condon under Gov. Mark Dayton, Minnesota legislature, Republicans, State budgets Updated: March 24, 2015 - 1:45 PM

Republican leaders in the Minnesota House proposed $40 billion in total state spending over the next two years, including $2 billion in unspecified tax relief.

The GOP spending plan, outlined Tuesday, is about $3 billion less than DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's proposed $43 billion budget plan for 2016-17. Dayton wants considerably less in tax relief, proposing a total of about $200 million in tax credits for child care, working families and school supply purchases. 

"Our priority, really, is to put money in the pockets of hard working Minnesota families," House Speaker Kurt Daudt said. However, GOP leaders have not yet laid out how they plan to distribute $2 billion in tax relief other than to say it won't be in direct rebate checks. 

The $2 billion tax cut proposal matches the size of the state's forecasted $1.9 billion budget surplus, which many Republicans have argued should be entirely returned to taxpayers. 

Under the Republican budget targets, most sectors of state government spending would see small spending increases from the current two-year cycle to the next. However, in some cases the GOP plan does not factor growth in the cost of delivering state services that's fueled by inflation, rising population and other factors.

As a result, some areas, most notably health and human services programs, would see a scaling back in the volume of assistance provided. 

"That's real cuts to people in this state in a time of huge budget surpluses," said House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis. 

For instance, Republicans proposed spending $11.6 billion on health and human services in 2016-17. That's about $440 million more than is being spent on such programs in 2014-15. However, the Minnesota Management and Budget office estimated that delivering those same services in 2016-17 as in 2014-15 would cost a total of $12.8 billion.

That gives DFLers ammunition to characterize the Republican plan as cutting more than $1 billion from human services. Republicans take issue with that terminology, arguing that cancelling anticipated spending shouldn't be characterized as a cut. 

"What Democrats did is hide spending in the next biennium," Daudt said. 

Republicans provided few details of how they'd achieve that $1 billion in health and human services program reductions. House Ways and Means Chairman Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, said he hopes a large portion comes from culling ineligible people from the rolls of MinnesotaCare. Further details will emerge in the coming weeks as House committees chew over spending levels, he said. 

Republicans would dedicate real new dollars to both public schools and public colleges, although by $775 million less than what Dayton wants in additional new resources. While Dayton's proposed funding boost for higher education would allow two more years of tuition freezes at University of Minnesota and MNSCU schools, Knoblach said the GOP plan would probably only allow such a freeze at one or the other. 

Republicans would significantly trim spending in a couple areas. Agencies administering environmental and economic development programs would get less money in the next two years than they did in the last two. 

Republicans would boost spending in some areas besides schools. Knoblach said they'd seek to add $160 million over two years for nursing homes, and changes to the state formula by which tax money is distributed to nursing homes. Dayton wants less than that, calling for a $25 million increase. 

The Republican plan also directs $100 million into state reserve funds, and leaves $319 million unallocated for the time being. Knoblach said that could later be added to the reserves, could serve as a hedge against a future economic downturn or might still be spent in some fashion. 

Republicans  did not factor into their total budget number more than $600 million in general fund dollars they want to divert to road and bridge repairs in the next two years. If that spending is factored, the gap between the Dayton and GOP plans would shrink slightly. 

With the House GOP at about $40 billion in spending and Dayton at $43 billion, Senate DFLers are planning to unveil their own budget priorities this Friday. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, has said his total spending figure would likely fall somewhere between Dayton and Daudt. 

After Friday, lawmakers leave St. Paul for a 10-day spring break. Upon returning, they'll launch into a six-week home stretch that will largely be focused on passing a final state budget ahead of the May 18 adjournment deadline. 

House to vote on bill to create minimum wage exception for tipped workers

Posted by: Ricardo Lopez under Minnesota legislature, Democrats, Republicans Updated: March 23, 2015 - 2:44 PM

The House on Monday will debate and vote on legislation that would create a minimum-wage exception for tipped employees, a measure expected to draw hours of debate among legislators. 

Sponsored by Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo of Farmington, the bill is an effort to revise the minimum-wage law passed last year by a DFL-controlled Legislature.

Garofalo and other supporters of the legislation said it would relieve pressure on restaurants who are seeing their labor costs grow after the Legislature raised the state's wage floor last year. 

The first of three phased-in pay hikes went into effect last summer, raising the state’s wage floor to $8 an hour. It will rise to $9.50 an hour by 2016. Beginning in 2018, the minimum wage will be indexed to inflation.

Crafted and supported by the Minnesota Restaurant Association, Garofalo’s bill would cap the minimum wage for tipped employees at $8 an hour. The proposed pay change would apply only if those workers earned a total of at least $12 an hour in a two-week pay period, after factoring in tips. If they don’t, they would earn the prevailing state minimum wage. 

Restaurant workers and labor unions oppose the bill, saying it would effectively freeze wages while the cost of living continues to rise.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said last month that Garofalo’s bill is unlikely to find much support in the DFL-led Senate. Gov. Mark Dayton opposes creating an exemption for tipped employees, a spokesman said.


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