Capital Chatter: Democrats celebrate sending schools more money
ST. PAUL -- Democrats almost were giddy when Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill upping education spending $485 million in the next two years.
Democrat Dayton had pledged to increase education funding in every budget as long as he is governor. For months, House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, called the 2013 legislative session the "education session."
So when the education bill was signed, the Democrats bragged about their accomplishments, especially for the youngest students.
"History-making changes in early-childhood education" is how Thissen termed it.
At the other end of the spectrum, they touted tuition freezes at state-run universities and colleges, possible because of increased funding.
"We have hit the reset switch," said House Education Finance Chairman Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth.
Marquart has been a strong proponent of injecting resources into early-childhood education because he believes that improving that aspect of children's lives will make them better workers when the time comes.
"We are going to be providing the world's best workforce," Marquart promised.
"What a difference an election makes," Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, proclaimed, obviously blaming Republicans for not doing enough for education in recent years.
Bakk credited the $2 billion Democrat-written tax increase for providing the funds needed to improve education.
But Republicans, to no one's surprise, see things differently.
"This very important bill consumes 40 percent of our budget, yet provides no meaningful reform to the school funding formula," said Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson. "Additionally, it eliminates all high school graduation requirements and delays the law which requires teachers to prove they are qualified to teach."
Senators fight gas spike
Minnesota's U.S. senators introduced a bill to help prevent future gasoline price increases like the one that occurred in the state when some refineries closed for routine maintenance in recent weeks.
Prices at some Minnesota gasoline pumps soared $1 overnight.
"Scheduled maintenance at refineries should not be allowed to cause such major disruptions in supply," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. "This legislation would help refineries and the Department of Energy coordinate the timing of maintenance to stop preventable shortages before they start."
The bill by Klobuchar and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., also asked the federal energy secretary to look into adding fuel storage in the region.
State Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, has asked state Attorney General Lori Swanson to investigate the sudden price increases.
Cuts or not?
Minnesota AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson issued a statement saying: "After a decade of devastating cuts, budget gimmicks, and giveaways to corporate special interests, Gov. Dayton and the DFL majority in the Legislature passed a budget that restores cuts."
Such statements bothered a Forum News Service reader recently who asked for proof about cuts when he saw a similar comment from House Speaker Paul Thissen.
Indeed, it appears Democrats and Republicans are delivering opposite "facts."
Total state spending going at least as far back as 1960 has risen with every budget. (The two-year budget back then was $528,653, and the budget beginning July 1 is to be more than $38 billion.)
That would seem to refute the claims that cuts have been made.
But as former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, often said: State health care costs are rising so fast that other parts of the state budget must be cut to continue health programs.
The National Republican Congressional Committee plans to unveil a mobile billboard campaign against U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson on Tuesday.
The GOP group will make the announcement in the Minnesota Democrat's hometown of Detroit Lakes. Peterson is on the Republican hit list for next year's election, but he has not said whether he will run again.
Among those planning to attend the event is state Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, who has been mentioned as a potential Peterson challenger.
It is no surprise that unions are happy with the recently completed Legislature, given the fact that it is the first time in 22 years with Democrats in control of the House, Senate and governor's office.
One union proclaimed: "As the dust settles on the 2013 legislative session, members of the Service Employees International Union say it will go down in history as one of the most successful legislative sessions, providing a balanced approach to making key investments in our middle class, while expanding the rights of collective bargaining for workers."
Unions and many others were surprised that one union priority did not pass: upping the minimum wage.
But House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, mentioned it first when asked about the 2014 session.
Party plans suit
Minnesota's Independence Party has not been very successful at electing people to state office, but hopes its luck changes in court.
Party Chairman Mark Jenkins said the day after the Legislature adjourned that he plans to sue the state Dec. 2.
The state constitution requires that the state budget be balanced, but if it doesn't happen the state auditor would take action. The Independence suit will claim that an ongoing delay in payments to schools will result in a state deficit if not repaid by Dec. 1.
House Democrats wanted to add an income tax surcharge on the wealthiest Minnesotans to repay schools, but senators and the governor rejected it in favor of letting existing law stand and use money left over at the end of each budget to go to schools.
Court to hear union plan
Opponents of a new law allowing some in-home child care providers and personal care attendants to join unions plan to file a lawsuit in the next few days.
Two unions have worked seven years for permission to represent the two groups of workers, who are independent businesses. With Democrats controlling the Legislature and governor's office for the first time in more than two decades, the unions got their wish this year.
However, opponents have said all along they will challenge the law in court.
"Federal labor law preempts the state's ability to pass an unorthodox law like this," attorney Doug Seaton said. "Simply put, business owners and employers cannot bargain collectively."
Opponents also sued after Gov. Mark Dayton signed an executive order allowing union representation. The courts said Dayton did not have jurisdiction, and overturned the order.