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Minnesota Government Update


February 19, 2010



Pawlenty’s Supplemental Budget
The Governor unveiled his Supplemental Budget Plan on Monday morning at the Capitol in a press conference held with Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Tom Hanson.  Pawlenty warned in his State of the State address last Thursday that budget cuts would likely be dramatic and painful.  He promised to spare military and veterans programs, public safety, and K-12 education from budget cuts but said virtually everything else in the State’s budget is “on the table” and said the government had to make cuts in order to live within its means.  DFLers argued the budget cannot be balanced by continuing to cut spending.  The state has already used up the state’s reserves and borrowed money from other state funds.  The proposal does not only reduce spending, but also includes tax cuts for corporate and local businesses by six percent.  Pawlenty says his proposal will not only fill the $1.2 billion hole in Minnesota’s budget but will also pay for the proposed tax cuts.  Projections have estimated the state’s deficit will increase to $5.4 billion  in the next biennium. However, the Governor said the number would be closer to $2.4 billion if the unallotment cuts he made last summer are made permanent. 
 
Local governments are bracing for major changes as they face an additional $300 million loss in aid, in addition to the $250 million Pawlenty cut in unalottments last June using his executive powers.  The Governor said this bill will require public employee layoffs but was unable to say how many.  Budget cuts also include $47 million to higher education, $181 million from state agencies, and $347 million to health and human service programs.

Bonding Bill Passes House
The House of Representatives passed the Bonding Bill Tuesday night after opposition from Republicans who wanted more time to debate the bill.  The House bill is just over $1 billion, even larger than the Senate’s billion dollar bill, which the Governor has criticized, calling it irresponsible.  Pawlenty has indicated that a bill of this size is out of the question and that he will not support a bill larger than $725 million or one with local projects that do not have a statewide impact.  The bill includes funding for the arts including, Orchestra Hall, The Ordway, local zoos, and civic centers in Mankato, Rochester, and St. Cloud.  It includes $89 million to fund one of the Governor’s priorities, a housing facility for sex offenders in Moose Lake.

Governor’s Race
Gubernatorial candidate, Marty Seifert announced Thursday that he has chosen Anoka County Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah as his running mate.  Seifert is considered to be the front-runner on the GOP side after straw polls at precinct caucuses.  In a statement, he said Sivarajah “has real-world experience as a business owner, life experience raising a family, and practical knowledge as an Anoka County Commissioner with a record of downsizing government through creative solutions.”  Sen. David Haan announced Tuesday his withdrawal from the race after coming in third in the Republican straw poll and will focus his attention on his Senate re-election.  He has not decided if he will support Seifert or Tom Emmer, another Republican frontrunner.
 
Six DFL candidates, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Rep. Paul Thissen, Rep. Tom Rukavina, state Sen. Tom Bakk, state Sen. John Marty, and former U.S. Senator Mark Dayton, participated in a forum Tuesday night.  All partakers agreed on at least one thing—to disagree with the Pawlenty administration.  Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher, a frontrunner for the Democrats, was ill and unable to participate.

Transit Rail
Transportation Chairman Rep. Jim Oberstar addressed a joint House and Senate Transportation Committee on Thursday to encourage the state legislature to work on a detailed plan for state rail projects.  The federal government recently gave Wisconsin $800 million in federal stimulus money to fund their rail projects and Oberstar said Minnesota would have been given more stimulus money if they had a plan in place.  Oberstar, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Rudy Perpich, governor of Minnesota from 1976-1979 and 1983-1991, was Minnesota’s last big supporter of high speed rail and that it is time for the state to act. 
 
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Wednesday a $35 million recovery grant to support the reopening of the Union Depot in downtown Saint Paul as the Central Corridor hub.  When completed, the project will link Saint Paul to the University of Minnesota and downtown Minneapolis, where riders can transfer to MSP airport and the Mall of America.  The 1923 depot, which closed in 1971, is set to open in 2012 as the Metro bus terminal.  Ramsey County has requested an additional $8.5 million from the state legislature this year for the project.

GAMC Update
The bill to extend General Assistance Medical Care, passed overwhelmingly in both the House and the Senate Thursday—only to be vetoed by the Governor.  GAMC, a program providing healthcare coverage to some of Minnesota’s poorest residents, was cut by Pawlenty last spring when he used  executive powers to issue unallotments to balance the State’s budget.  The program, which covers an average of 30,000 Minnesotans at any given time, is set to expire April 1.  Governor Pawlenty said the legislation is “at best premature” calling it irresponsible and not feasible with Minnesota's current financial status.  DFLers plan to seek an override of the veto but they will need Republican support.

Campaign Law
The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce filed suit this week, challenging the constitionality of a state law prohibiting corporate independent expenditures on behalf of or in opposition to political candidates.  Last month, the Supreme Court, in the Citizens United case, ruled a ban on independent corporate financial support to candidates violates the First Amendment.  The Chamber has asked for clarification on the state law from a federal judge so business leaders will know what is allowed in Minnesota.

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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