Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration on Friday highlighted steps they have taken to streamline government and make the case that new investments will drive down costs even more in coming years.
Dayton chief of staff Tina Smith and two commissioners outlined a host of initiatives that have saved tens of millions of dollars. While the savings are modest so far, Smith and others said the improvements show the administration’s work to make government more efficient and affordable is working.
The goals continues to be, Smith said: “How can we make sure we are getting the best value for the tax dollars that we are spending? How can we improve services for people and businesses?”
Dayton’s team picked up an initiative started by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration, a so-called lean initiative that empowers workers to find ways to work more efficiently. The state estimates the program has saved about $12 million over the last two years.
The state saved $19 million my centralizing its piecemeal, agency-by-agency approach to technology, using its consolidated purchasing power to bargain for a better deal.
Finding efficiencies in government has been an area where Dayton and Republicans have found agreement. Republicans offered several initiatives in past years to streamline government, particularly in the area of technology.
Dayton’s new budget proposal would make investments in many departments to yield larger savings, including the departments of human services, natural resources and education.
For consumers, the changes have resulted in faster permitting times and faster appeals by residents seeking greater state services.
New-found efficiencies at the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs allowed workers to lower the bedsore rate to 4.5 percent, less than half what it was at its peak.
These efficiencies are not "going to change overnight, but you can really feel the momentum shifting,” said Department of Administration Commissioner Spencer Cronk.
Echoing President Obama's call to raise the minimum wage, a group of powerful Minnesota Democratic lawmakers put their backing behind a bill to raise the state's minimum wage to $9.50 an hour.
Minnesota's $6.15 an hour minimum wage is one of just four states with a wage floor that lags behind the current federal rate of $7.25.
In his state of the union speech on Tuesday, Obama pleaded with Congress to raise the federal wage standard.
"Tonight, let’s declare that, in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty -- and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour," Obama said.
Both the federal proposal and the state's pitch, sponsored by Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park and a speaker pro tempore, and Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm and the chair of the Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Finance Division, would add an inflation index to the wage standard. That means, as time goes on, the minimum wage would rise.
Backers say keeping the minimum wage moving would ensure that low-income workers would not be left behind as the goods and services become more expensive; detractors say it would force employers to scale back their work force as paying workers becomes unaffordable.
The state proposal rolled out on Wednesday is one of several pitched by Democrats this year to hike the lowest standard of pay.
Hortman and Tomassoni on Wednesday, backed by a group of religious, union and child advocates, also proposed creating a child tax credit that would go to low and medium income families and bolstering subsidies for child care.
Their plan also has backing from 14 other DFL lawmakers, including House Majority Leader Erin Murphy and Senate Deputy Majority Leader Jeff Hayden are co-sponsors, as are several committee chairs from both the House and Senate.The power of those lawmakers may help elevate the measure's chances.
Gov. Mark Dayton is proposing more than $45 million in additional fees as part of his new two-year budget package.
The proposal calls for $4.7 million from strengthening the state’s newborn screening program, $2.9 million from home health care licensing and an increase in the critical habitat license plates fees that will bring in an additional $2.6 million.
Some fee revenue is expected to go down, like wind turbine permitting, which is expected to drop $52,000. Fees from the state auditor are expected to drop $13.1 million.
The state is expecting to take in $50 million less from the so-called health impact fee, a cigarette and tobacco tax approved several years ago. The fee is going down because fewer people are smoking, budget officials say.
Fees would ratchet up even more the next two years.
Dayton’s proposal calls for $57 million in new fees for the 2016 and 17 budget.
The Dayton administration notes that the fee increases are less than when GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty was in office.
In 2009, the state imposed $116 million in additional fees. In 2005, state fees soared $621 million, mostly from the new health impact fee, or tax on tobacco products.
The Democratic and Republican House leaders on Friday said they would want to undo the $1.1 billion timing shift more quickly than Gov. Mark Dayton proposed in his budget earlier this week.
But they left it unclear how they would do so or how quickly they would propose doing so.
Under Dayton's plan, the debt to schools, put in place during lean budget times and used as part of the 2011 budget deal, would not be fully repaid until 2017.
"They would like to see that paid back," House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul said. "The governor pays it back in his budget, he just does it in the next biennium and we would like to be a little more aggressive than that."
But, she said, "I'm not going to commit to paying back the entire shift in this biennium."
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, also said he was disappointed that the governor was not more aggressive in paying back the school shift which "we feel is the number one priority."
Asked how he would pay it back without tax increases since the state is anticipating a $1 billion deficit, Daudt suggested the state could use its reserve funds and wait for the economy to pick up enough that state revenues would follow so that the shift could be reversed. Under current law, when
Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, differed from the House leaders in worrying about the school payback schedule.
"Frankly, in the last campaign, Democrats really overplayed this issue," said Hann. "This is not a high priority in the education (world)."
Hann said some Senate Republicans disagreed with him and believe school shift payback should be a priority.
In recent years, under a variety of political powers, state leaders have opted to change the timing of when they pay schools for services. When Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty was in office and Democrats held the Legislature, they shifted some of those payments to make the state budget balance. In 2011, when DFLer Dayton was in office and Republicans were in charge of the Legislature, they did it again. As the state has had extra money coming in part of those shifts have been undone.
The year before he will face voters for re-election, Gov. Mark Dayton got high job approval marks from more than half of Minnesotans and beat all potential Republican rivals pollster Public Policy Polling tested him against.
According to the poll, 53 percent of Minnesotans said they approve of the job the governor is doing. The vast majority of Minnesotans who call themselves liberal, very liberal or moderate said they think he is doing a good job. They were joined by 24 percent of people who said they were "somewhat conservative."
“He’s popular on his own merits, and none of his potential Republican opponents appear to be particularly strong at this point- most of them are unknown and the ones who are well known aren’t very popular," said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling.
It is the second batch of numbers from the pollster that find Minnesota Republicans , who were trounced in 2012 and have a state party that is deep in debt, have a heavy lift between now and 2014 to beat the state's Democratic powers. On Tuesday, the pollster released numbers that found U.S. Sen. Al Franken in a strong position going into re-election next year.
The poll found Dayton would beat former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman 52 percent to 39 percent and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty 50 percent to 42 percent. Coleman has left the door open to a possible gubernatorial run; Pawlenty has, most recently, taken the possibility off the table.
More than half of the Republicans primary voters, who also told the pollster they wanted U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann to run against Franken next year, said they would prefer Coleman to run against Dayton when asked about possible candidates. No other Republican in the poll were picked as preferred candidates by more than 5 percent of Republicans.
None of the other potential candidates netted more than 30 percent of the statewide preference when matched against Dayton.
According to the poll, former state Rep. Keith Downey, who is running for GOP chair, would get 30 percent to Dayton's 53 percent; Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, who has said he is considering a 2014 gubernatorial run, clocked in at 29 percent to Dayton's 53 percent. The poll found Dayton would also have a double digit advantage over state Sen. Julie Rosen, who is also open to a run, or former House Speaker Kurt Zellers.
The poll was conducted last weekend, before Dayton released his controversial budget proposal. It included 1065 Minnesota voters and 275 usual Republican primary voters. It has a margin of sampling error of 3 percentage points. For the Republican preference question, the margin of sampling error was 5.9 percent.
The poll included 39 percent Democrats, 29 percent Republicans and 33 percent independent or other. But 38 percent of those polled said they were somewhat or very conservative; 35 percent said they were somewhat or very liberal and 27 percent said they were moderate.