April 9, 2010
State legislators returned to St. Paul on Tuesday ready to work after returning from a week long break for the Easter and Passover holidays. With the legislative session now more than half over, lawmakers have made significant progress but there is more work to do in the coming weeks on budget and policy issues.
Governor Pawlenty last week signed a bill relating to one of the session’s major priorities—balancing the budget. The bill slashes $314 million in state government spending—nearly one third of the current deficit. Spending cuts were made in nearly every sector of state government. Healthcare and education were not included in the bill—lawmakers will look at decreasing spending in these areas in the weeks ahead. Pawlenty also signed a bill that aims to create jobs by offering tax incentives for construction projects. The latest “jobs bill” includes the Angel Investment Credit that will provide a 25 percent income tax credit for investments in high-tech or "green" companies with 25 employees or less, incentives to expand the Mall of America, and a historic building tax break which provides a 20 percent state credit, on top of a 20 percent federal credit, for renovating houses and businesses listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Legislators are still trying to clarify exactly what impact the new federal healthcare law will have on Minnesota. Options are being explored to determine how the state can benefit most from the controversial federal healthcare reform. Informational meetings were held in both the House and the Senate this week, and the process is likely to take a while due to the scope of the federal legislation. Minnesota can choose to add poor single adults (anyone who makes 133 percent or less of the federal poverty level) to Medicaid. Fifty percent of that cost would be funded by the state government for the next three years, but in 2014, the federal government would foot the bill.
Healthcare for this population was a major issue earlier this year. Lawmakers worked tirelessly to save General Assistance Medical Care, a program that was cut by the Governor last year as part of the overall effort to balance the budget. A compromise was reached last month but not everyone is happy with the large funding cuts to the revised program. Additional support from the federal government could help both patients and caregivers. Legislative healthcare committees have been put on hold until further notice along with the release of any health and human services supplemental budget bills.
Pawlenty and many Republican lawmakers urged Attorney General Lori Swanson to file a lawsuit challenging the legality of the federal healthcare reform. Swanson declined but said in a letter to the Governor that he could file the lawsuit on his own. Governor Pawlenty did join a lawsuit this week saying that the healthcare reform is unconstitutional.
Talk of a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings has been getting louder at the Capitol. The team may be closer than ever to reaching a deal with the Legislature for help funding a new stadium. Senator Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) says there are many options to finance the new stadium, and he plans to introduce a bill soon. Supporters say now is the time to take advantage of construction costs and interest rates that are at an all time low and, of course, create jobs. The Vikings' lease at the Metrodome is up after the 2011 season. Team officials have said they want to stay in Minnesota but have no plans to renew the lease at the Metrodome.
Omnibus Bills and Conference Committees
Omnibus bills are moving through the finance committees and advancing to the floor. In the election law arena, a constitutional amendment has been proposed to move the State from direct election of judges to elections to decide whether to retain judges. If the new plan is adopted, an advisory board would evaluate sitting judges prior to the "retention election." If judges are not re-elected by voters, the Governor would appoint a replacement. If the bill is passed by the Legislature, the amendment will be on the ballot in November.
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/.