Gov. Mark Dayton is closer to getting a significant political win as major pieces of his government streamlining effort race though the Legislature.
Dayton’s administration unveiled a plan to do away with more than 1,000 antiquated or outdated laws that gunk up legal books and make government more aggravating for consumers.
Some of the proposals have fallen away, but a few new ones were added – keeping the totally around 1,000 proposals. All have passed crucial committees and are close to final passage.
“They are all in good shape,” said Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board Commissioner Tony Sertich, who has been guiding the initiatives through the legislative process.
Sertich and some of Dayton’s top policy experts have met privately with stakeholders to work though problems with some of the more controversial measures, such as efforts to shorten the state's rule-making process.
Sertich said he doesn’t expect significant trouble for the remaining proposals awaiting final passage. None of the measures being considered have any cost for taxpayers.
The streamlining effort, which Dayton dubbed the “unsession,” has been a significant initiative for the governor, even if has slipped from the spotlight due to the state’s projected budget surplus.
On Monday, Dayton sent a letter to all 33,000 state employees thanking them for their hundreds of ideas to improve state government.
“I believe this initiative will help state employees deliver high-value, efficient services to Minnesotans – reducing confusion, saving time, and improving customer satisfaction,” Dayton wrote in the letter.
Dayton's office also produced a touting the improvements that will come from the government streamlining effort.
The Minnesota Department of Revenue has finished retooling state forms for software companies so consumers can take advantage of rebates for new tax law changes.
Revenue officials will begin transitioning their system at the end of Tuesday, allowing Minnesotans who haven’t filed access to the most up-to-date tax data. They are instructing consumers have not filed their Minnesota tax returns and who could benefit from the law changes to wait until at least Thursday to submit their state tax filings.
Gov. Mark Dayton just signed into law about $440 million, including about $57 million that is retroactive for the 2013 tax year.
Minnesotans who lost their home to foreclosure, adopted a child or had student loan debt could see a much larger refund, or have to pay in less in taxes, as part of the new tax laws.
Last week, revenue department officials instructed tax preparers not to submit new returns until the system is updated.
So far, more than 56 percent of Minnesotans have filed their taxes.
Revenue officials will review the taxes of those who already filed to determine who is owed a refund.
The Democratic chairwoman of the House's bonding committee is offering $975 million in building and infrastructure projects that she labeled as "inadequate" to the state's needs, but also predicted it would be difficult to get enough votes from Republicans to make the list law.
Rep. Alice Hausman of St. Paul unveiled her proposal Tuesday. Passing a bonding bill is one of the chief priorities of lawmakers this year, but it's also one of the toughest bills to pass because it requires a legislative supermajority in order to issue the bonds that pay for most of the projects. That puts Republicans in the legislative minority in a pivotal position: at least eight of them must vote for the bonding bill if it's to pass the House.
"That's going to be an uphill battle," Hausman said. "It has a long way to go and not much time."
Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed $986 million in bonding projects, with many of the same priorities as House Democrats. Senate Democrats have not yet unveiled their project list or preferred price tag.
Hausman's bill contains $850 million in bonding and an additional $125 million in cash from the state's budget surplus to pay for dozens of construction projects around the state. The largest chunks are reserved for the University of Minnesota system, which gets $175 million, and $139 million for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.
Two projects on the Minneapolis campus account for more than $100 million of the University of Minnesota money: a renovation and planetarium project at the James Ford Bell Museum of Natural HIstory, and a renovation of Tate Laboratory of Physics.
Other beneficiaries of large chunks of money include the Department of Natural Resources, which gets $62 million for a handful of park and trail projects, flood mitigation and land acquisition; $50 million for the Department of Transportation to replace bridges and improve roads; $41 million to remodel the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter; and $147 million in grants to local governments for economic development projects.
That last piece includes $4.5 million to the city of Minneapolis for the planned redesign of Nicollet Mall. Rochester would get $30 million for an expansion of Mayo Civic Center, Mankato would get $14.5 million to expand its arena, and St. Cloud would get $11.5 million to expand River's Edge Convention Center. St. Paul would get $14 million to expand and renovate the Children's Museum.
In the cash portion of the bill, Hausman included $20 million for the ongoing Capitol restoration project. That's short of what project planners say is needed to keep the project going in a timely fashion.
Rep. Matt Dean, the ranking Republican on Hausman's committee, said he believed many of his GOP colleagues do want to vote for a bonding bill. But he withheld judgement on Hausman's mix of projects.
A bipartisan cohort of lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton are putting new force behind a move to cut out the need for so many special sessions.
To avoid the need for all 201 legislators to tromp back to the state Capitol to fund disaster relief when floods or other tragedy strikes, the group wants to create a contingency fund that the state could tap to help local communities in trouble. Without that fund in place, governors need to call special sessions to match federal disaster funds.
“When severe weather damages homes and businesses, or a major flood tears through a community, Minnesotans need help as quickly as possible,” Dayton said in a statement. “I urge the Legislature to act during the Unsession to ensure our responses to future disasters are fast, appropriate, and efficient.”
At least five times in the last dozen years, governors have called special sessions to allow the Legislature to approve disaster funds. Those sessions tend to last only one day at a cost between $30,000 and $40,000.
See a Star Tribune interactive graphic of special sessions, as recorded by the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, sorted by length below. Click on each year to see the primary purpose for each session.
Gov. Dayton has declared April "month of the military child" and has offered to write letters of recognition and thanks to children with parents in military service.
Parents can register to receive a letter from the governor "that recognizes military-connected youth as being our smallest heroes and offers a small token of appreciation," said a spokeswoman for the Minnesota National Guard.
Families seeking such letters can register at the states's Department of Veterans Affairs website at www.MinnesotaVeteran.org
Communities and military families are also encouraged to wear purple on April 15 in honor of military children. A recognition event will be held at 9 a.m. at the Capitol Rotunda on that day.
Further information on the "month of the Military child" can be found at: http://www.minnesotanationalguard.org/momc/.
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