Republican gubernatorial candidate Marty Seifert picked state Rep. Pam Myhra as his running mate, the Seifert campaign confirmed.
Myhra is a low profile two-term state representative from Burnsville. Solid, not flashy, she is known as a hard worker with conservative credentials.
The pick will give Seifert, of Marshall, a second in command as the campaign stumps across the state for delegates and votes. He is the third gubernatorial candidate to announce a pick for lieutenant governor.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton tapped his chief of staff Tina Smith, who stepped down from her post this month to go on the campaign trail full time, as his running mate and GOP Sen. Dave Thompson picked fellow Republican Sen. Michelle Benson as his running mate.
Myhra ousted a sitting DFL House member in her first election. In her last election, after new maps were drawn that added Republican areas to her district, she won 54 percent of the vote in a district where Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won barely 51 percent of the vote.
Seifert, who was House minority leader when Myhra was recruited to join the House, is expected to formally announce his pick at 10:30 am on Thursday at the state Capitol.
A Seifert campaign source said that she will not run for re-election to the House so that she can campaign with Seifert, who has left open the possibility that he will run in an August primary.
Lawmakers have been gone from the Capitol for months, and return on Tuesday with all the politics and policy they left behind last year.
But in the House, they started the session with some bipartisan work.
The House unanimously passed $20 million bill to help low income Minnesotans with heating bills. With another week of subzero temperatures in the forecast and the region still gripped by a propane shortage, the measure is backed by the leadership of both parties and the governor.
"When we get hotline calls, people are calling in fear and desperation," Minnesota Department of Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman told members of the House Ways and Means Committee at an informational meeting Tuesday morning.
The measure will particularly aid those who have been struggling with high propane bills in Minnesota's particularly cold winter. After 45 minutes of debate, the measure to shift funds out of the general fund and into the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, has said the heating assistance bill will likely be the first measure on the governor's desk this session. Senate spokesman Amos Briggs said the Senate will act "quickly and urgently" to complete the legislative work on the bill.
Bakk told Senate members on Tuesday that the Senate may act on that bill on Monday.
Bakk said the $20 million House bill the House passed does not match with a memo he has from Gov. Mark Dayton, which said $17 million is needed.
Bakk said the earliest date he saw for the emergency fund run out of money was March 1, which is Saturday, when state employees won’t be sending out checks.
“Even if it is March 1, getting the bill to the governor March 3 is, I believe, plenty timely,” he said.
Given the accelerated timeline, Dayton will likely be able to sign that $20 million measure into law by next week.
The House and Senate also appointed, or re-appointed, members to deal with bicameral negotiations on a bill to hike the minimum wage.
Last year, the all Democratic Capitol failed to pass any minimum wage increase, despite the fact that DFL leaders said it was a priority, when the House and Senate could not agree on an increase.
This year advocates, who will hold a large rally at 4 p.m. in the Capitol today, are pushing to raise the wage from one of the nation's lowest -- $6.15 an hour -- to one of the nation's highest -- $9.50 an hour by 2015.
Sen. Chris Eaton, who is sponsoring the minimum wage measure in the Senate, said the Senate plans extensive hearings on the measure before it brings it up for votes.
House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said she thinks it is time to pass the measure.
“Minnesotans have talked about that minimum wage all summer and fall,” Murphy said. “I think the Senate is listening to them and I think we’re going to be able to make the action complete this year.”
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A heavily redacted stack of legal invoices released by the the governor's office this month shows that the state was receiving shutdown-related legal bills months after the 2011 shutdown ended.
As the government shutdown was dawning in the summer of 2011, Gov. Mark Dayton's office had said that outside legal counsel would be pro bono. But early this year, a report from the Minnesota Legislative Auditor's Office revealed that in fact the office had paid about $77,000 for the work.
Dayton's outside counsel, David Lillehaug, first charge for his time was on July 5, 2011, just after state government began shutting down. On that day, Lillehaug charged the state $4,417 for 10 and a half hours of work. The government shutdown began on July 1.
Parts of the invoices Star Tribune received from the governor's office were blacked out so some details of the work remain unclear.
The bills for legal work from Lillehaug's firm continued well after the three-week shutdown ended. The state received a bill in October that included a charge for Lillehaug's time from late September.
All the bills were fully paid well before Dayton picked Lillehaug last year to fill a vacancy on the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Dayton has said the money the state paid for shutdown-related legal work was well worth it.
"We hired the best constitutional lawyer in Minnesota and he performed superbly well," Dayton said last month of the legal charges. Of the payments, the governor said: "He earned it."
See the invoices below. If you are viewing this post on a mobile device, click to full site to see the embedded documents.
Headline updated to add the word "some."
House Republicans and Democratic legislative leaders are already fighting over a range of tax breaks designed to help middle-class families.
“This is not an issue that should be ignored as tax day is less than two months away,” said Rep. Greg Davids, a Preston Republican who is the GOP lead on the House Taxes Committee.
“After all the wasteful spending projects the Democrats funded during the 2013 session," he said at a news conference Monday, "it’s time for them to spend a portion of our surplus on something that is truly necessary for many Minnesotans: federal tax conformity.”
DFLers who control the House have pushed for a range of tax breaks to match federal tax code for years, even passing a similar package last year that never became law. Democrats noted that they did it without support from Republicans now pressing for many of the same tax breaks now.
“We made tough choices last session to balance our budget honestly and now we have a balanced budget, a growing economy, and an expected surplus,"said House Taxes Committee Chairwoman Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington. "Middle class tax relief should again be a top priority.”
Both sides are pressing Minnesota to bring its tax code in line with federal tax law, which had reduced taxes for a range of consumers. That has made Minnesota's tax law out of synch. Now Minnesota taxpayers are getting federal breaks for things like adoption costs and company-paid college classes, but not on their state taxes.
Highlighting their priority on the issue, House Democrats scheduled a marathon tax committee hearing Tuesday, the first day of the session, to pour though more than a dozen tax conformity proposals, including a few authored by Republicans.
“This continues to be something the House majority feels very strong about, middle-class tax cuts and simplicity for all Minnesota tax payers,” Lenczewski said.
The proposal has a better chance this year now that DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is also pushing for a similar range of tax breaks.
A coalition of transportation advocates is seeking more than $700 million in new tax money each year to pay for roads, bridges and transit.
Leaders of the group, Move MN, say the state’s transportation system is crumbling and inadequate, and that the state is falling further behind other economic hubs like Washington State.
“We’re not taking care of what we have – roads and bridges – and we’re not adapting fast enough to meeting growing demand for transit, bicycling and walking options,” said Barb Thoman, executive director for Transit for Livable Communities.
Move MN is seeking a wholesale gas tax hike of 5 cents per gallon and an increase in a metro area sales tax to raise the bulk of the money. The coalition of 150 members also wants to close a tax loophole that would send about $32 million in lease car sales taxes to transportation funding.
The proposal unveiled Tuesday does not have support of legislative leaders as they head into an election year.
“Without the support or involvement of Republicans in the Legislature and leaders in the statewide business community, the legislature will not be in a position to move a comprehensive transportation package in the 2014 session,” said House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.
Republicans immediately criticized the proposed tax hikes, which would put Minnesota among the states with the highest gas tax. They said the proposed tax on wholesale gas would actually amount to a 15 cent per gallon bump at the pump, once the other taxes are layered on top of it.
“We’ve been down this path before,” said state Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound.
Supporters estimate the true cost at the pump would be closer to a dime per gallon, about $2 more per week.
Legislators failed to pass similar gas and transit tax increases last year. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton argued against last year’s gas tax proposal, saying state leaders would endure a firestorm of criticism and not raise enough money to do much good. He is challenging state transportation officials to devise a far more ambitious plan that the public could support, and then find a way to pay for it that taxpayers can live with.
Minnesota Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle said the state has fallen billions of dollars behind on transportation finding, and gas tax money is lagging as cars get more fuel efficient.
Minnesota faces "a perfect storm" of reduced funding and increased demand and expectations, he said.
Margaret Donahoe, executive director of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance, pressed legislators to act soon.
“We need greater investment in transportation around the state to promote economic growth,” she said. “We think it is very urgent for the Legislature to take action on this.”
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