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Minnesota Government Update


March 27, 2009


Governor Pawlenty meets with DFL Leaders Regarding Budget Proposals
Governor Tim Pawlenty invited top legislative Democrats to his office on Thursday to discuss fixing Minnesota's deficit and took the occasion to underline his opposition to tax hikes.

Democrats who control the Legislature have outlined their intention to raise $1.5 billion in new revenue, with details pending in separate House and Senate proposals. A tax increase cannot become law without Pawlenty's approval or at least overwhelming support for the bill in both bodies to override a veto. Pawlenty said DFLers probably won't find the GOP votes they would need to override him on new taxes.
 
Democrats banded with eight GOP legislators last year to overrule Pawlenty's veto of a $6.6 billion transportation package, including a gas tax increase and other taxes. But this year, with the current biennium's deficit at $4.6 billion, Pawlenty is confident his veto will not be overridden.
 
House Energy Committee Votes No on Lifting Nuclear Ban
An effort to lift Minnesota's moratorium on the construction of new nuclear plants was set back on Thursday, when members of the House Energy Committee voted 9-12 to defeat the measure.
The vote came after two days of hearings in which legislators heard testimony from more than two dozen people, including national experts, environmentalists, the nuclear industry and people who live near Minnesota's two existing nuclear plants.
 
While the measure still could be brought up as an amendment on the House floor, similar votes in recent years have failed. As legislative deadlines approach, the Senate version of the bill has yet to be scheduled for a committee vote.
 
Supporters of lifting the ban have been careful to note that no new nuclear facilities are being proposed in Minnesota right now, and they say it isn't likely a law change would immediately result in new nuclear proposals. No utilities testified at the hearings. Representative Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul), author of the bill, stated that the proposal would allow further conversation on alternative energy.
 
Nuclear waste storage is still a problem. President Barack Obama's budget calls for eliminating funding for a proposed nuclear waste site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada that might have helped states looking for a permanent place to store the waste. Most nuclear reactors across the country, including Minnesota's only two nuclear plants near Monticello and Red Wing, will have to continue storing waste on site. Residents and environmentalists are already concerned about that option for the plants, which are both near the Mississippi River. "People don't like to have nuclear waste repositories in their back yard," said Arjun Makhijani, president of the Maryland-based Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. "Nobody has an answer to the problem of waste."
 
Senate Passes Child Passenger Safety Bill
The Senate gave final passage to a bill that aims to expand the use of car seats for Minnesota children. The bill is authored by Senator Jim Carlson (DFL-Eagan) and would require any child who is between 4 and 8 years old and is shorter than 4 feet, 9 inches to be in a booster seat or another form of child restraint. Current law on child restraints applies only to children under age 4.
 
Drivers could be fined up to $50, but the bill says that fine could be reduced or waived if the driver shows evidence within two weeks that a restraint was obtained. Senator Carlson noted that 44 other states already have such a law and that federal transportation officials offer states incentives to pass the law.
 
"We potentially in Minnesota will get $260,000 over the next two years to help provide this education and to also help provide people with booster seats," he said. The bill passed 41-22. The House version, authored by Representative Melissa Hortman, is still making its way through committee.
 
Counties Propose Sales Tax to Offset LGA Cuts
Representative Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth) introduced a bill that would allow counties to add an extra half-cent to the sales tax to help make up for lost state aid. Marquart, who chairs the House Property and Local Sales Tax Division, said the measure would offset more than $100 million in cuts anticipated through state reductions in local government aid.
 
The half-cent option could only be adopted by a majority vote of county commissioners but could be reversed in a countywide referendum. In most cases, city sales taxes would be eliminated in counties that levied the new tax, and counties that passed the increase would be obligated to fund whatever projects were financed through the city tax. More than half the money collected would be used for property tax relief, Marquart said. Exceptions would apply in the case of the state's three "first-class" cities: Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth.
 
Co-Author Representative Ann Lenczewski (DFL-Bloomington) noted that this is very similar to an earlier bill signed by Pawlenty that allowed Hennepin County to raise its sales tax for construction of a Twins baseball stadium. Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung signaled that the governor's support is not likely.

For up-to-date information about the Minnesota Legislature, tune into Almanac: At the Capitol. This lively and informative program is aired Wednesdays during the legislative session on Twin Cities Public Television at 7:00 PM on Channel 17 and at 10:00 PM on Channel 2.
 
Almanac: At the Capitol is seen on all public television stations throughout Minnesota and in Fargo. Winthrop & Weinstine is the exclusive law-firm partner and a sponsor of the program.
 
For more information and to see previous broadcasts, check out the Almanac: At the Capitol Web site at http://tpt.org/aatc/.
 
 
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