March 13, 2010
A controversial $1 billion bonding bill is finally headed to Governor Pawlenty's desk. Legislation passed both chambers Thursday after a 49-17 vote in the Senate and a 89-44 vote in the House. Legislators chose to rework the legislation after Governor Pawlenty sent a letter he would veto an earlier version of the bill calling the proposition unaffordable and irresponsible. The revised bill includes additional funding for projects important to the Governor including $47.5 million for a sexual offender rehabilitation center in Moose Lake (the Governor's proposal included $89 million for the facility) and funding for fencing for a state correctional facility in Oak Park Heights. Funding for higher education and state parks and trails was reduced in the revised bill.
Pawlenty said Wednesday that he did not plan to veto the bill in its entirety telling reporters the latest proposal is "something he can work with." The Governor plans to line-item veto portions of the new bill. He did not specify which projects or how much he would be cut although the proposal the Governor presented to lawmakers was significantly smaller at $725 million. The bill is estimated to create tens of thousands of jobs for Minnesotans.
A bill that would allow slot machines at two Minnesota race tracks lost steam Wednesday evening. After several hours of testimony, Sen. Dan Sparks (DFL-Austin) laid the bill on the table. In the proposed legislation, revenue from racinos would be divided up to fund Minnesota agriculture and rural development, early childhood education, research and development for biotechnology, sports and recreational facilities, and the state's general fund.
Supporters of the bill say that two racinos would bring the state $250 million per biennium and provide income to the state without raising taxes or cutting costs to state programs. Opponents of the bill believe gambling will have a negative effect on residents and would take away from existing gaming at Native American run casinos and charitable gaming. Racino Now president, former state Senator Dick Day, resigned his legislative seat this year to lobby for the cause and Day has been a loud advocate for racinos for over ten years. He argues that playing slot machines is voluntary and would not negatively affect Minnesotans or tribal run gaming facilities.
Governor Pawlenty announced last Friday that an agreement to keep General Assistance Medical Care was reached. The program had been cut by the Governor when he used unallotments to balance the state's budget. More than 30,000 of Minnesota's poorest residents, many of whom are affected by mental health problems and chemical addictions, would be left without a way to pay for healthcare including necessary prescription drugs.
In the agreement, GAMC will continue through May 2010 and will be funded with $48 million from the Health Care Access Fund. Additionally, provider payments will be cut by about 75 percent, and prescription drug payments will have a cap at $45 million for the remainder of the current biennium and $83 million in the 2012-2013. Some of the state's largest hospitals will be forced into coordinated care organizations and paid with grants. Providers must continue to treat GAMC patients who show up in emergency rooms. It is unclear how hospitals will continue to provide care at a quarter of what they now receive for GAMC patients which paid below cost.
Minnesota's Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson announced Thursday that he will step down from his position after only two years. In a letter to Governor Pawlenty, he said that, effective June 30, he plans to return to private practice for personal reasons. Although his tenure was brief, Magnuson's role as Chief Justice will be remembered. He was a member of the three-person state canvassing boar that certified Al Franken's victory over Senator Norm Coleman after a historic recount and lawsuit process. Pawlenty now has the opportunity to appoint his third Chief Justice in his eight years as governor.
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