Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
- Member for
- 4 years 10 months
ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Legislature is moving at warp speed, at least for a while. This is the time of the legislative session in which House and Senate finance committees pump out bill after bill to finance state government to the tune of more than $45 billion for the next two years. Even experienced lobbyists have trouble following the process, so most Minnesotans likely would be totally lost. Here are some quick facts about where things stand in the Legislature's effort to craft a budget:
ST. PAUL — The debate is familiar to Minnesotans: Keep or dump MNsure, the controversial state-run program that sells individual health insurance policies. Now, Minnesota leaders also are looking at a middle ground that would keep a state insurance sales program, but turn much of the work over to private business. The proposal by Sen. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, somewhat resembles a route MNsure itself is considering, but enough questions remained at week's end to make it unclear how much chance it has.
ST. PAUL — Minnesotans would get tax breaks for repaying college loans, owning farmland being taxed for new schools and paying childcare expenses if House Republicans get their way. GOP representatives announced on Wednesday, March 22, how they would divvy up $1.35 billion in tax cuts they promised earlier in the week. The tax breaks would take most of the projected $1.65 billion surplus in the two-year budget that begins July 1. Senate Republicans call for $900 million in tax cuts, while the governor wants $300 million.
ST. PAUL—There is no debate about a need to infuse money into Minnesota transportation projects, but plenty of division among the major players in how to get that money. Little has changed in the past three years. Republicans in control of the state House and Senate have updated their plans of the past two years to take money now going to other state programs to boost spending on roads and bridges, and borrowing other funds. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton still wants to raise the gasoline tax for roads and bridges and a Twin Cities sales tax for transit.
ST. PAUL—Reworked legislation to place state inmates in a west-central Minnesota prison is advancing in the Legislature, but Gov. Mark Dayton remains strongly opposed to it. A House committee heard arguments on both sides of the issue Tuesday, March 21, and it is expected to be included in a public safety finance bill to be unveiled in coming days. If it passes the House, as likely, the prison provision will be subject to negotiations as a budget is written during the next two months.
ST. PAUL—Minnesota representatives have moved legislation that would require insurance companies to usually fund medicine a doctor prescribes. A bill by Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, would limit the power of benefit managers, who control costs for insurance companies, to deny prescriptions during an insurance policy's term. On an overwhelming voice vote, the House moved the bill out of the Commerce Committee, whose chairman would not give the bill a hearing. It now is in a more friendly health and human services committee.
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota lawmakers plan to figure out their state budget plans in the next two weeks. With that deadline in mind, House Republicans announced Monday, March 20, they want to cut taxes $1.35 billion in the next two years. Later in the day, Senate Republicans said they want to spend $3.6 billion for transportation over 10 years.
ST. PAUL — The 1,700-population community of Osakis could find itself paying $11 million in sewage treatment plant work, a cost one city official told Minnesota lawmakers the city cannot afford. If the facility is built, Osakis Public Works Superintendent Kurt Haakinson said, his $100,000 annual wastewater budget would balloon by $80,000 a month to pay off construction costs. And, he said, there would be "zero benefit to be gained on the city side."
WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Al Franken is asking President Donald Trump to take action to fight bird flu before it reaches Minnesota and other states. Franken, D-Minn., wrote a letter to Trump Tuesday, March 14, after reports that avian influenza has hit poultry producers in Wisconsin and Tennessee. He told Trump that a 2015 bird flu outbreak cost the Minnesota economy nearly $650 million. Turkey and chicken producers experienced deaths of about 9 million birds.
ST. PAUL—It is personal for Rod Hamilton. The Minnesota state representative, a multiple sclerosis patient for 20 years, cannot get a committee chairman to consider a bill he says will help people like him who depend on prescription medicine.