District 18 - Meeker, McLeod, Wright
Minimum Wage Increase – New Senate Office Building
April 6th was a very expensive day for you. The minimum wage bill was heard in the Finance Committee and the proposed Senate Office Building was reheard in the Rules Committee. I happen to sit on both and am in a position to provide you with some background and details.
Since last year, the House’s minimum wage bill was delayed because the DFL controlled Senate objected to the amount of the increase and the automatic inflation increase in future years. The new Senate Office Building, which the DFL majority in the Senate wanted, was opposed by the DFL majority in the House, in all likelihood because the House members are up for election this year while the Senate is not. This DFL conundrum was resolved in a deal cut in which the House slightly reduced its demand for the minimum wage increases while the Senate agreed to the reconfiguration in the design to the new building to accommodate all 67 Minnesota senators.
Here are both projects by the numbers:
· House demand: $9.50/hr with automatic inflation increases in future years.
· Agreed amount: Graduated increase from $8.00 to $9.50/hr by August 2016 for large employers (gross revenue over $500k) and the minimum wage increase for small employers to $7.75/hr by August 2016; automatic minimum wage increase adjusted according to inflation for both large and small employers.
Senate Office Building
Senate Demand (as of Jan. 9th 2014):
Cost of New Senate Office Building for 44 Senators
Cost of Parking Ramp to Include Parking for Public
Total Number of Senate Offices in Current State Office Building
Total Number of Offices for the Senate in Renovated Capitol
Total Number of Senate Offices
Agreement for Senate Office Building (as of April 6th)
Cost of New Senate Office Building for all 67 Senators
Parking Ramp for Pubic Parking (eliminated)
Total Number of Senate Offices in Current State Office Building
Total Number of Offices for the Senate in Renovated Capitol
Offices Created by New Senate Office Building
Total Number of Senate Offices
Regarding the minimum wage bill, I believe it will put Minnesota businesses in a very difficult position to compete with surrounding states, because our minimum wage will be significantly higher and the only state in the area that has an automatic wage increase mechanism.
The House and Senate DFL Majorities and Office of Administration have been evasive in answering the question whether all 67 senators will be officed together in the new building and what will be done with the 53 empty senate office spaces in the State Office Building and Capitol. The Senate Majority appears to be very interested in keeping their coveted Capitol offices. It is my fear that office space in the SOB will be inadequately used and the State Capitol offices will remain available for certain Senators in leadership positions, thereby, under using the new $89.6 million Senate Office Building,
The Deal in Summary: The minimum wage will include a gradual increase over a period of 3 years to $9.50/hr with an automatic increase tied to inflation in exchange for a new Senate Office Building that costs you $200k more while eliminating a $13million public parking ramp.
By any measure, this is an agreement reached without regard to the impact it will have on our state businesses or taxpayers that will be required to pay for it. No two spending issues better expose the danger of one party rule. With the Republican Caucus sitting on the sidelines and without the votes to impact these measures in any meaningful way, the people will now pay the price.
Bullying Bill Passes Senate
Yesterday, the Senate passed the Bullying Bill with bipartisan opposition after debating approximately 16 amendments over a five hour period. Ultimately, I voted against it for the reasons that follow:
Parental Notification: There is no requirement to notify either the parents’ of a child who “perceives” to have been bullied or the child allegedly doing the bullying. While I believe parents should be the center of the solution involving allegations of bullying, those who voted for this bill apparently believe parental notification should be discretionary and in keeping with a “State Model Policy.” Should this bill become law, it is entirely possible authorities could refer your child to the school “technical assistance center” for counseling or remedial action without your consent or knowledge.
Costs: This bill is a state unfunded mandate on our local school districts that will cost approximately $19 million per year. Particularly in rural schools, this will mean either fewer teachers and more students per class or a significant real estate tax increase for every property owner your school district. Cost estimates are as high as $32 per student being taken directly out of the class room and use that funding to pay for this bill. I see only two available options: high teacher to student ratio or raise our taxes, again.
Local Control: Senator Dave Osmek (R-Mound) best described this bill in six words, “In St. Paul, we know better.” With this bill, our locally elected school board, our school administrators and our teachers, all who live in and are part of our communities, will no longer have the ability to implement a bullying policy that fits our rural schools. Under this new top down concept, Minnesota’s Commissioner of Education “shall develop and maintain a state model policy,” which will effectively prohibit our local school board, administrators, teachers and parents from implementing bullying policies to protect our children.
We do have an option available to replace this bill with a law that, although unlikely, could be adopted in the upcoming conference committee. It is called the “North Dakota” model. Senator Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) offered this solution with SF 2411 and although she was never granted a committee hearing, she offered it as a floor amendment. This idea eliminates all three of the above problems, has bipartisan support and has been successfully implemented in North Dakota. Although all Republican Senators voted for this amendment, it was rejected when a majority of DFL Senators voted against it.
The overall Orwellian nature of this legislation places it at the top as one of the worst pieces of legislation I have yet seen as a legislator. As I read the details of it, the phrase “social engineering” keeps nagging followed immediately by the question of whether certain students who do not fall into a newly created “protected class” will be equally protected. Whether those fears are well founded or not, this bill clearly identifies a very basic difference between the DFL and GOP political party tenants; with the former fully embracing big government and all that it can provide and the latter tenaciously, desperately hanging onto those core beliefs of limited government, individual opportunity and personal responsibility. Why those good people on the other side of the aisle from me are so willing to give up their individual freedoms in order to embrace an unnecessarily regulated and overly protected lifestyle continues to baffle me. Perhaps they have forgotten the warnings outlined by George Orwell in his prescient novel 1984. Maybe we should all go back and re read it.
Tax Relief Bill Passes the Senate
The Minnesota State Senate passed a tax bill this afternoon that includes some immediate relief for overtaxed Minnesotans, but still results in a net $1.7 billion tax increase for the biennium. Many of the provisions in the bill mirror those found in the Republican Families First plan, but it falls short of addressing all of the mistakes of the previous session.
The tax relief bill passed today included:
· Federal Tax Conformity
o Marriage penalty relief – beginning in tax year 2014
o Deduction for student loan interest
o Tax credit for employers who give their employees a tuition reimbursement
o Not taxing discharged debt on home short-sale
o Deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses
o Deduction for employer-provided adoption assistance
· Provides for $232 million tax reduction by repealing of all 3 DFL imposed Business to Business sales taxes
o Labor service charges for repair and maintenance of business equipment and machines
o Purchases of telecommunications equipment by telecommunications providers
o Storage and warehousing services of business-related goods
· Increases angel tax credit funding – tax credit for entrepreneurs and new businesses
Below is a list of the amendments that Republicans proposed to improve the tax relief but were rejected by the DFL:
· Marriage penalty relief – filing now for 2013 tax year
o This would have been a savings of approximately $120 per filer
· Fund a $200 million transportation package to repair and maintain roads and bridges with spending efficiencies promised by the Department of Transportation in 2008.
· Exemption of military pensions from Minnesota income tax
· Repeal of Estate Tax
· Lower the sales tax from 6.5% to 6%
· Strip the language authorizing new Senate Office Building
This bill was badly needed for individuals living in and businesses doing business in Minnesota. Every dollar collected from taxpayers is a dollar that isn’t circulating in our economy, creating jobs, and creating surpluses in family budgets. The tax bill that was passed could have been better. We could have done better for Minnesota than this tax bill.
Republican Tax Plan, Putting Families First
Yesterday, I joined with my fellow Republicans in the Minnesota Senate to announce a comprehensive plan for the projected $1.2 billion state surplus. The centerpiece of the “Families First” plan is a permanent half-percent cut to the state sales tax to make everyday purchases less expensive for Minnesotans. It includes:
· Permanent half-percent sales tax reduction for all Minnesotans instead of the proposed sales tax cut for the NFL and the Super Bowl should they choose Minnesota as a host city. Everyday Minnesotans should get a tax break, not NFL millionaires.
· Full, retroactive repeal of the Democrats’ 2013 business to business taxes that are hampering job creation
· Repeal the death tax that endanger family farms
· Elimination of the marriage penalty, adoption tax and full conformity to the federal income tax code
· Undo the Democrats’ 2013 gift tax and phase in estate tax reform
In addition to the tax reforms, transportation funding will also receive a substantial boost to improve roads and bridges, addressing the “pothole pain” and long commutes that Minnesotans have been facing this winter. The sizable $200 million one-time expenditure will be offset by requiring the Minnesota Department of Transportation to deliver on its promise of a 15% reduction in costs. Spending efficiencies were promised in 2008 in exchange for the gas tax increase, but so far the Dayton Administration has refused to deliver any savings.
Governor Dayton and the DFL have already increased spending more than 10% in the past year and their current proposals call for even more wasteful government spending.
Bullying Bill Update
The Bulling Bill (HF 826) was heard in the Senate Finance Committee this morning and passed on a straight party line vote with the DFL voting in favor and the GOP against its passage. The bill will now go to the floor for a final vote.
There are two major concerns we discussed in the Finance Committee that you should think about;
· No local control. This program will be adopted, interpreted and enforced by the state Commissioner of Education and not your locally elected school board.
· The best information we have on the local fiscal impact of this bill is from Minnesota Management and Budget’s local fiscal note dated May 1st 2013, reflecting a cost of $40 million for the biennium. Because the state did not fund it, this will result in a real estate tax increase for you.
I will report back to you after this bill has been on heard on the Senate floor. In the mean time, please continue to give me your feedback.
The Felony Protection Rights and the Anti Business Session
Since 2013, the DFL party has held the majority in the MN Senate, MN House of Representatives, the Governor, State Auditor, Secretary of State and the Attorney General. Therefore, because our state government is so completely out of balance, absolutely nothing happens at the state level without the support and the blessing of the DFL party. It is in complete control!
Last year, under the “leadership” described above, Minnesota passed over $2 Billion in new tax increases, among which were the “business to business” taxes we have heard so much about. Now in 2014 and facing a general election, Governor Dayton and the MN House quickly called for the repeal of the above taxes, disingenuously claiming a desire to help MN taxpayers with tax reform.
Not so fast says the DFL majority in the MN Senate, who are not up for election in 2014, claiming a need to be thoughtful and thorough before taking such radical action as the repeal of burdensome taxes. However, please do not worry that those in control of the Senate agenda are not working hard and moving bills through the committee process. The following is a partial list of bills heard on March 14 in a committee that I sit on;
1. SF 107; Restore Felony Right to Vote before completion of sentence
2. SF 1676; protect convicted felons from “collateral consequences” of convictions
3. SF 2214; Expungment of felony conviction records
4. SF 133; New licensing requirements for medical labs and grow government with new advisory council.
5. SF 1792; New registration requirements for Therapeutic Massage Therapists
6. SF 1904; New licensing provisions for Optometrists
7. SF 2006; Employers faced with new type of lawsuit from family care caregivers claiming discrimination under the Human Rights Act
8. SF 2105; Additional mandatory sick and personal time off from employment.
9. SF 1806; New requirement that some employers be subject to a pay equity compliance audit and issuance of appropriate “Certificate”
10. SF 1999; New cause of action, claim for damages and attorney fees against employers thought to be engaged in wage discrimination
While Governor Dayton claims he wants 2014 to be the “unsession”, how could anyone take him seriously? The above 10 bills were part of the agenda in one committee for one day last week. In that agenda, numbers 1-3 involve protection for convicted felons and 4-10 deal with imposing more government restrictions on employers and growing the size and cost of state government. I wonder how many similar bills were heard on any given day last week in the other 17 senate committees, all the while the promised tax relief bills languish unaddressed.
No, I would not describe this as the unsession. Rather, it looks like the Protection of Felony Rights/Anti Business Session.
This week the 2014 Session began. The primary objective for the short session is to pass the bonding bill that provides funding for significant state and regional projects. While the majority party has their sights set on raising the minimum wage and a Bullying Bill, the Republicans are focused on repealing the harmful business to business taxes that the DFL and Governor Dayton imposed last session. Below is a further description the bills listed above.
Last session, the Senate proposed to raise the minimum wage for large employers from $6.15/hour to $7.75/hour and the House proposed an increase to $9.50/hour. If the legislature were to raise the minimum wage to $9/hour, only 5.4% of those affected would be single parents and nearly 50% would be teens living at home with family or relatives. Additionally, the median age of the affected workers would be 22 and 70% work less than 40/hours a week. This does virtually nothing to help the people that fall at or below the poverty level as the DFL is claiming.
MNsure was enacted by the 2013 Legislature. Open enrollment began on October 1, 2013. Since that time, program roll out and enrollment numbers have not gone as expected. There are still serious concerns about Information Technology (IT), contracts, leadership and the Board of Directors, as well as the overall operation. MNsure has reported some of the “lowest rates in the nation,” but depends widely on where you live. Because of the many concerns with the program, the Legislative Auditor has declared an ongoing top to bottom audit of the entire program through 2014.
Last session, the Legislature passed a bonding bill providing $177 million for continued restoration the State Capitol, Minnesota Veterans Home and flood mitigation and local water infrastructure projects. This year, the Governor released his bonding proposal for over $1.207 billion for items such as Minnesota Zoon ($12M), St. Paul Children’s Museum ($14M), NorShore Arts Center ($6.95), St. Cloud Rivers Edge Convention Center ($11.56M), Nicollet Mall renovations ($20M). Since October, I have been traveling the state with my fellow senators, gathering information on a variety of projects; some with merit and some without. It’s very important as the bill shaping process goes forward that we keep in mind the projects we fund with bonding are both regionally/state oriented and are going towards preserving our valuable infrastructure. If projects do not meet these criteria, they should not be funded. For more information about the proposed projects visit: www.build.mn
Minnesota’s current bullying law is one clear paragraph that requires local school districts to adopt policies that prohibit school bullying (and cyber-bullying) for any reason, yet the DFL wants to expand the policy with ambiguous language and unfunded mandates to our local schools. The bill would allow for anonymous reporting, bullying to be specific to a student’s perceived individual characteristics (race/religion/sexual orientation etc) and the parent’s of the alleged bullying victim and perpetrator will only be notified at the schools discretion. On top of that, it is an unfunded state mandate that will cost over $20 million a year to our local schools. This will mean, less money going into books, technology, additional teachers and infrastructure maintenance. If this bill passes, the Minnesota Department of Education with take on a greater role in our independent school districts, denying parents and local school administrators the ability to govern their school districts how they believe is best for their students.
Business to Business
Last session, the DFL and Governor Dayton imposed new sales taxes on business to business services, like equipment repair (includes farm equipment), warehouse services and telecommunications, which raises concerns about their impact on Minnesota’s competitiveness with neighboring states. The warehouse tax, if enacted, would be the only one of its kind in the country. Four other states enacted a warehouse tax, but quickly repealed them.
Child Care Unionization
Currently, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary injunction on the unionization of the childcare workers and personal care attendants, pending a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. If you would like to keep up to date on the opposition of this issue, you can find the information here: http://www.minnesotafamilychildcare.com/
If you have any questions or concerns on the issues above, or any other legislative issues you would like me to address, please feel free to contact me at any time.
Emergency Propane Assistance Bill Passes the Senate
This winter there has been an ongoing crisis in rural Minnesota in the delivery and sale of propane. By unanimous voice vote, an emergency propane assistance bill of $20 million passed the Senate floor this afternoon.
· The $20million is a supplement on top of the federal heating assistance program that has already supplied $3.4 billion in low income energy aid.
· Due to the particularly cold weather this winter and the increased cost of propane, assistance will be exhausted and that is why the supplement of $20million by the state was added.
· In the Senate Finance Committee and on the Senate floor, I supported an amendment that limited the administrative costs to 5% for the state supplemental appropriation.
· This bill is critical to addressing the public safety needs of vulnerable Minnesotans at risk of running out of home heating fuel during this dangerously cold winter.
The bill does not address the underlying problem; the closure of a Canadian pipeline that previously delivered 40% of the propane to Minnesota consumers, which closed in December. In the upcoming session, we must address what will become an ongoing problem for all Minnesota propane consumers.
Failing MNsure Program Employees Receive Bonuses
On Wednesday, the Pioneer Press reported that fourteen MNsure managers received bonuses totaling $26,000. Reports of these bonuses come on the heels of an Optum report that documented over 200 defects in the MNsure software and recommending a rework of the whole system.
The bonuses did not need to be approved by the MNsure Board of Directors, but were issued at the discretion of the former executive director of MNsure, who did not authorize a bonus herself. The fourteen managers were eligible for a 2.5% per quarter “performance incentive” if they met 5 criteria outlined in the article below – that is 10% annually to a management team that was described as "nonexistent" and whose “management/leadership/decision making is occurring via crisis mode."
This is unacceptable. This program has been nothing but a disaster since its inception and implementation last year. The fact that MNSure officials who oversaw the disastrous implementation of the flawed federal health care law, received large bonuses is a slap in the face to the thousands of Minnesotans who lost health care coverage or have seen their costs skyrocket.
The Governor and DFL lead legislature should take immediate action to reprimand the officials and overhaul the deteriorating system that frivolously spends millions of hardworking Minnesotans’ tax dollars.
You can read the full article on the bonuses and the Optum report here:
Please contact me if you have any questions regarding MNsure or any other legislative issue.
As you have likely heard by now, propane prices are going up. I have heard from a number of constituents regarding how the cost of propane is affecting their budgets to heat their homes and businesses.
The spike in propane is a classic case of supply and demand being out of balance. This past fall’s weather was both cold and wet, which resulted in the increased demand by farmers in order to dry their crops. Furthermore, we have had the coldest winter in 30 years raising residential demand and creating difficulties in delivery.
Additionally, the propane pipeline from Alberta through the northern Midwestern states was shut down for much of December, limiting supply. This pipeline imported 40% of Minnesota’s propane and future supplies from Canada will be shipped via rail rather than pipeline. If you’re interested in reading more on this issue, please see this link: http://www.startribune.com/business/234815871.html.
I have been asked to do what I can to help control the price, but unfortunately this is a market driven commodity. The export prices are more attractive than domestic prices, so domestic prices must rise somewhat to provide the incentive for producers to keep supplies at home rather than selling abroad. If China and Europe are willing to pay more for propane that is where the suppliers will sell. Anything short of a federal ban on exports would be ineffective and limited to only domestic production. Canadian propane would be unaffected. If price controls are placed on propane sold in Minnesota, this could potentially only increase exports and further cripple supplies for Minnesota customers.
There really isn't a state role in regulating the price of propane. Only Hawaii with its very unique characteristics, has any sort of price regulation on propane. Some western states regulate prices for propane systems that serve 10 or more households, but no state regulates delivered propane. From research that I have done, there isn’t any state policy change that can help other than allowing trucks to deliver propane more hours of the day to ease the local supply. In December and January, the Governor and state DOT commissioner have issued orders loosening regulations on the hours of delivery and the US Department of Transportation has also issued waivers from certain regulations for delivery of propane - in effect until February 11.
Companies are delivering night and day, but supplies are tight and prices will inevitably go up with increased demand and decreased supply. Regrettably, I don't see the issue going away until the weather warms up and supply is able to catch up with demand.
Cold weather rules that apply to other utilities do not apply to propane households so the companies aren't required to deliver the same way natural gas or electric utilities are forced to continue to provide heating and electricity during cold weather seasons. If you are in need of assistance because of the increase, you can find out if you are eligible for the federal Low Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and smaller programs are available to those who cannot pay. To find out if you qualify, please follow the links below:
If there are instances where individual companies are gouging, I would expect the Attorney General to have an interest, so please report.
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me.
DFL Fined $100,000 for illegal 2012 campaign practices; Why should you care?
On December 17, 2013 the Minnesota Campaign Finance Disclosure Board fined the DFL Senate Caucus one hundred thousand dollars because it illegally contributed over $300,000 to support the election of 13 DFL Senate candidates in the 2012 general election by developing and publishing certain campaign communications. In aggregate, the 13 DFL candidates illegally received $312,641.19. Inexplicably, while the board found that those candidates “involvement consisted at a minimum” of actively participating and full cooperation, it did not either fine them or require their campaign funds to repay the money, even though it had the legal authority to do so.
So why should we care about an event that had so little notice it was barely mentioned by the media? The following is an explanation why I think it is important for you to be aware of, consider and allow it to influence your decision making process in future elections.
All candidates for state office must raise money to run a campaign because it is universally recognized that a well funded campaign means votes. Consequently political fund raising and campaign expenditures are highly regulated by Minnesota law. In that context, think about the fact that of the 13 senate races in which the $300,000 was spent, all were considered “swing” districts because either party candidate had a good chance of being elected. However in these races which included the illegal campaign contributions, 11 of the 13 DFL candidates were successful and are today sitting Minnesota Senators. A success ratio of 85% in close elections is a distinct anomaly that I believe directly correlates to the Senate DFL caucus and its candidates having employed the win by any means mantra, even if it requires cheating.
So is this important, other than an expectation by the public to hold their elected officials to a higher standard than active participation in a scheme to win elections by illegal means? Yes, I think it does.
Consider this; there are 67 Minnesota Senators. In order for the Republicans to have held onto the majority in the 2012 election, they would have needed to win 6 or about half of the subject 13 races. While there is no way to definitively state the outcome if the DFL caucus and Candidates would have conducted their campaigns in a fair, legal and honorable manner, it is not beyond speculation that had they done so, today Minnesota would not have the travesty that is MNsure, the government oppression that forcibly created day care unionization or the onerous weight of $2 Billion in new taxes, none of which would have ever passed with a majority held by the Republicans in the Senate. Looking at it that way, perhaps a $100,000 fine is cheap or not nearly enough, depending on one’s individual personal political goals and ethics.
In 1978 the people in Minnesota having perceived a violation of principled conduct by their elected officials, threw Wendell Anderson, Rudy Perpich and every other democrat they could get their hands on out of office. Columnist George Will once called Minnesota voters “magnificently ungovernable”. Perhaps we will find out in 2014 whether they still are and if they have appreciably changed in how they view the morals and standards of their elected officials.
If you wish to read the Board’s Findings and exhibit listing the involved Senators and the amount each illegally accepted, follow this link: http://www.cfboard.state.mn.us/bdinfo/investigation/12_17_2013_DFL_Senate_Caucus_Findings.pdf .
The Numbers on Same Day Registration and Vouching
I have been contacted by a number of constituents concerned with the security of our election system in particular same day registration and vouching. Several months ago, I requested the Office of the Secretary of State provide statistics from the Statewide Voter Registration System (SVRS) concerning the above matters. Below is the information provided by the SOS.
301,000 same day registrants/updated their voter registration
22,000 of 301,000 used vouching as their proof of residence
555,000 same day registrants/updated their voter registration
43,275 used vouching as their proof of residence (8%)
532,000 same day registrants/updated their voter registration
44,000 (8%) used vouching as their proof of residence
2,087 (5%) PVC returned undeliverable from vouched voters
10,288 (3%) voters using state id/driver’s license as proof of residence undeliverable PVC
Postal Verification Cards
All voters who register to vote or update their registration, including those who do so through same day registration, are sent a non-forwardable postcard, called a postal verification card (PVC), to verify their address. If the card is returned to the Office of the Secretary of State (OSS) as “undeliverable,” the SOS is then required to determine whether the voter was eligible to vote in the election. If they cannot do so, they are required to turn the information over to the appropriate County Attorney for further investigation and potential prosecution. Starting in 2010, the OSS is required to provide a report to the legislature with the number of cases turned over to County Attorneys. Those results are:
399 cases turned over to county attorneys
218 cases turned over to county attorneys
Of these voters who were vouched for in the 2012 General Election whose PVC was returned, the data show that:
- 185 had moved either in-state or out-of-state
- 115 were temporarily away
- 28 have died
- 10 were returned with the designation of “no such address”
- 1,749 were simply noted as “undeliverable” or “other”
When I requested the information, I expected the number of undeliverable addresses to be higher than what was recorded. However, we need to remember that any fraudulent vote in our system is a disservice to our democracy. Anyone wishing to independently review and verify the information provided by the Secretary of State would certainly have the right to do so.
News from the Capitol: Online Voter Registration
Although we sometimes tend to take them for granted, our local news media continues to serve the vital function of providing us with detailed information that is often overlooked or barely covered by regional media services out of the metro area. The recent creation of Online Voter Registration (OLVR) by the Secretary of State is one such topic.
While the time has probably come for the State of Minnesota to reconsider online voter registration and candidly, I think we should, the first I heard of it being implemented was a very cursory news report that OLVR was a fait accompli by SOS Mark Ritchie. The immediate question that jumped out is; Where did he get the legal authority to do that? Generally speaking, it is for the Legislature to enact laws governing our elections and the responsibility of the Secretary of State, as part of the Executive Branch, to implement those laws. Separation of Powers is a cornerstone of our republican form of government and we as citizens must be constantly vigilant against the erosion of that basic constitutional protection. To put Mr. Ritchie's actions into context, in 2007 and 2009 the Legislature passed OLVR bills that were ultimately vetoed by the governor. So rather than request a bill in 2013 to establish OLVR legislatively, Mr. Ritchie simply implemented the system on his own authority.
I see this to be one of those issues that could have large scale precedent setting implications but with very little citizen awareness. In this case, the precedent is, if the legislature and the governor fail to act, the SOS will. Therefore, in an effort to raise that level of awareness. I recently sat down with the McLeod County Chronicle and the Hutchinson Leader in hopes that they would do what they do so well, provide information to the general public. My thanks to both papers for the courtesy extended.
Below is a link to the articles written by the respective papers, which I encourage you to read. I have also listed links to various sources that I provided to the Leader and to the Chronicle so that you may also read that information.
- Online voter registration: Whose job to decide? Legislature or Ritchie?
- Online voter registration controversy heating up
- Newman challenges Ritchie over online voter registration
Below you can read a timeline events since the program was implemented and the concerns that were raised.
- October 10th: Jim Nobles’ Review and House Research Legal Analysis
- October 14th: Letter from Senator Sieben
- October 22nd: Dayton wants lawmaker ok online voter sign up, kstp:
- October 24th: Senator Hann and Senator Newman Op-Ed
- October 24th: Letter from Secretary of State Richie
- October 29th: Senate Review
It is my opinion that Sec of State Ritchie has clearly overstepped his legal authority and remains bafflingly stubborn in his refusal to reconsider his actions and stop taking on line registrations, particularly in the face of bipartisan opposition from multiple fronts. No doubt OLVR will be taken up by the Legislature in the near future. However, Mr. Ritchie's conduct will make that task all the more difficult for Legislators in trying to decided how to handle voter registrations and elections conducted prior to the necessary enabling legislation.
RE: Editorial in Hutchinson Leader: “Watching Property Taxes Fall”
The above editorial proclaimed, "Good news is coming....for property owners in southwestern Minnesota". Unfortunately, there are two facts that are glaring in their omission from the article:
First, the 2013 Legislature did not "overhaul the state's tax system," it simply passed a $2 billion tax increase. That is not reform nor an overhaul! While it is true there will be a Local Government Aid increase, it will be paid for by all of us in the form of new taxes. That's not transparency in government, it's a shell game. I wish we could get a bill from the state government, like the real estate tax statement we get from the county, which shows just how much each of us pays on an annual basis in income, gas, sales, excise, corporate and the myriad of other taxes and fees. Now that would be an eye opener.
Second, the state does play a part in affecting local real estate taxes. However, the majority of that decision making process lies with our local units of government. Depending where you live, contact your city council, town board or county board members with your thoughts about the amount of tax you pay on your real estate. They set the budget and then levy against your real estate to pay for their budget.
The information relied on in writing the editorial was former DFL house minority leader Matt Entenza and his ultra liberal political action group Minnesota 2020. Make no mistake, Mr. Entenza and his PAC remain very active in Minnesota politics. Consequently I urge caution when reading this editorial. The facts as stated are not unbiased. Rather they are they spun, stretched and embellished just a bit.
You can read the full article here: http://www.hutchinsonleader.com/news/opinion/editorial-watching-property-taxes-fall/article_323f9e17-4f48-5741-8d68-9bfe86f35b19.html.
Special Session Summary
On Monday, September 9, the legislature met in St. Paul for a Special Session to address disaster relief for eighteen counties that were hit by severe storms, high winds and flooding between June 20 and 26. They include Benton, Big Stone, Douglas, Faribault, Fillmore, Freeborn, Grant, Hennepin, Houston, McLeod, Morrison, Pope, Sibley, Stearns, Stevens, Swift, Travers and Wilkin.
The total damage estimate for Minnesota from the storm is over $17 million. President Barack Obama signed a federal disaster declaration which paved the way for federal aid. Minnesota’s share for the recovery and rebuilding efforts is $4.5M. The State’s contribution requires legislative authorization hence the special session. These funds will be available to local governments for emergency work; including debris removal and repair or replacement of public infrastructure damaged in the storms, like roads, bridges and water control faculties. The State’s share that McLeod County will receive is $166,021 with Sibley County receiving $70,329. I am pleased to have stood with my colleagues to ensure we supported our counties when they needed help.
There is one part of our community which was denied funds. For the third year in a row, The Meeker Electrical Cooperative sustained significant storm related damage, but was denied funds on the basis it was ineligible even though municipal power companies are eligible. The only difference, I see, is that one entity provides power to folks who live in a municipality while the other provides power to those residing in the country.
I requested that disaster funds be reconsidered for the Coop, but that effort ultimately was blocked by DFL leadership in the Senate. Therefore, I am having a bill drafted for the 2014 session and will be working with the Coop to correct this inequity.
Finally, the special session gave the Legislature the opportunity to repeal the business to business taxes (Warehouse, Heavy Equipment/Farm Machinery Repairs and Telecommunications) that were unfortunately passed in the last session. I was the chief and coauthor of several bills to do so. Not surprisingly, the DFL led legislature and Governor Dayton blocked all efforts to repeal those harmful taxes that have been levied on all hard working Minnesota taxpayers. We will revisit this issue also in 2014.
I enjoy receiving input and feedback from you, the constituent. Please continue to provide me with your insight and do not hesitate to contact me if I can ever be of assistance.
It is essential that we have the voices of small businesses owners and those most impacted by the ACA on the advisory board.
-----MINNESOTA MANAGEMENT AND BUDGETFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: John Pollard
July 29, 2013
Legislative and Communications Director
MNsure seeking applicants for Advisory Committees to MNsure Board
Expertise from industry and consumer stakeholders sought
ST. PAUL, MN – MNsure is seeking applicants for two Advisory Committees to the Board to provide guidance, advice, and recommendations as it carries out its mission. Two committees have been established: the Health Industry Advisory Committee and the Consumer and Small Employer Advisory Committee.
The Consumer and Small Employer Advisory Committee will consist of no more than 17 members and can include, but is not limited to, individuals and employers that may purchase health plans through MNsure, individuals who may enroll in a public program, or organizations that may help facilitate enrollment through MNsure.
The Health Industry Advisory Committee will consist of no more than 17 members and can include, but is not limited to, insurance agents and brokers, health insurers, hospitals, clinics, and doctors, and other health care industry experts.
Information on the posting and how to apply can be found on the MNsure website: http://mnsure.org/hix/about-us/directors/board-advisory.jsp
Applications are due by 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, August 15, 2013.
MNsure is a one-stop health insurance marketplace where individuals, families and small employers will be able to get quality health coverage at a fair price. MNsure will empower more than 1 million people to compare, select, and get help finding health insurance. It will facilitate enrollment in public health insurance and private insurance products, calculate eligibility for tax credits and allow Minnesotans to shop and compare between insurance products.
Enrollment in MNsure begins October 1, 2013 and runs through March 31, 2014. For more information about MNsure, how it will benefit Minnesota consumers and businesses, and how to provide input or learn more about the stakeholder process visit www.mnsure.org.
Legislative and Communications Director
Minnesota Management and Budget
Office: (651) 201-8039
Below is a letter I sent to the Hutchinson City Council last night in support of the Helicopter installation at the McLeod County Veterans Park:
To: Hutchinson City Council
Re: Location of a Helicopter at the McLeod County Veterans Park
I am aware of the controversy surrounding the placement of a Helicopter in the McLeod County Veterans Park. Please accept this letter of support in adding the helicopter to the park for the following reasons:
1. This park was the brainchild of our veterans and the various veteran organizations they belong to. They raised the money to construct it and they pay the City of Hutchinson to maintain it.
2. The park is dedicated to all of our veterans, irrespective of when they served. I cannot think of any other purpose it serves other than to honor their sacrifice to protect us.
3. Although I understand the park is technically owned by the city for various legal reasons, it is truly a McLeod County Veterans Park. It just happens to be located within the City of Hutchinson but is dedicated to all veterans throughout McLeod County.
4. Our McLeod County Veterans have overwhelmingly supported the inclusion of this helicopter in their park for a variety of reasons, including the fact that it is representative of an instrument that is responsible for saving thousands of lives from the Mash Units of Korea, through the Viet Nam era and into the present Middle East Wars.
My Senate District includes all of McLeod County and as such I represent all McLeod County veterans. As their Senator, I respectfully request that the Hutchinson City Council abide by the wishes of our veterans. In these circumstances, to do otherwise would be a disservice to them and the park that is dedicated to honoring all McLeod County Veterans.
Senator Scott Newman
End of the 2013 Session Wrap-up
On Monday, May 20, the Minnesota Legislature addressed the state’s budget for Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015. The tax plan to pay for it passed almost exclusively by House and Senate Democrats and includes $2.1 billion in a variety of new taxes. In total, it spends $38.3 billion, the largest in state history. This is an 8.1% increase over the current budget of $35.4 billion and reflects an increase of over $10 billion in less than a decade. I voted in opposition to this tax plan that includes an array of sales, income, and business taxes.
The following are bullet points on some of the more important bills that were taken up by the Legislature in 2013 and a link if you wish to review the actual bill;
- Taxes: $2.1 billion in new taxes paid for by everyone, not just the rich
- Health and Human Services: Spends $11 billion. Sends approximately a $167 million to Washington to help pay for Obamacare; creates almost 200 new full time government jobs, yet fails to fully fund our nursing homes.
- K12 Education: This very important bill consumes 40% of our budget, yet provides no meaningful reform to the school funding formula. Additionally, it eliminates all high school graduation requirements and delays the law which requires teachers to prove they are qualified to teach.
- Jobs and Energy: Includes new expensive solar energy mandates and provides 26 weeks of additional unemployment benefits for certain union workers, adds almost 200 full time government employees to implement the various programs created in the bill.
- Judiciary: Properly funds this third branch of government. However, it fails to fully fund local probation officers as required by law, leaving an unfunded mandate for county governments.
- Transportation: Doesn’t fully fund local roads. Rather it spends millions on light rail in the metro.
- Higher Education: Includes significant funding increases to the University of Minnesota and MNSCU, a tuition freeze and the DREAM Act.
- Anti-Bullying Bill: Proposes significant changes to our current law, including a school policy that is triggered by “perceived” harassing conduct at a cost to local school districts of $20 million annually. This bill was withdrawn at the end of session but no doubt be back next session.
- Energy Conservation Improvement Bill (CAPx / Buy the Farm): This bill includes a provision to help landowners dealing with utilities that take their land through eminent domain for a public purpose.
- Minimum Wage: Provides an increase to $7.25. Although passed by the Senate the measure failed in the last hours of the session. It’s likely this bill too will be back next session.
- Gay Marriage: This has been a very divisive issue. Same-Sex Marriage was passed and signed into law the last week of session. It effectively repeals the Defense of Marriage Act.
- Day Care and Personal Care Attendant Unionization: This bill was overwhelmingly opposed by care providers who for the most part are self employed. Those who support unionization testified in committee that staying at home to care for a loved one is a career choice and therefore they are entitled to benefits, such as health insurance, vacation and higher wages. Please read my previous “News from the Capitol” on the issue for more information.
- Health Care Exchange: The Minnesota Health Insurance Exchange was created this session as part of the larger Federal Obamacare program. This bill is a costly and frightening piece of legislation that will push free market and private insurance industry out of business in Minnesota.
Remember you do have enormous influence on the outcome of legislation as evidence by the change in Governor Dayton’s budget proposals. Your input caused him to withdraw his proposed gas tax increase, portions of his business to business sales tax, and the snow bird tax. If we consider that in this legislative session, your state government grew by approximately 1,400 full time employees, increased spending by over 8%, and did little to reform its business practices, it becomes very easy to understand why it is so vitally important for you to remain involved in the government process.
I want to thank all the constituents who wrote, called, emailed, and visited me during the session. Your views, opinions, experience, and expertise you shared is very important, and I’m honored to serve as your state Senator. Please stay in touch.
Daycare and Personal Care Providers Unionization Bill
At 8:00am this morning, the Senate passed the Daycare Providers and Personal Care Attendants Unionization bill after 17 hours of debate. During this time, the Senate DFL was unwilling to work with the Senate GOP to create a bill that would ensure a fair process giving childcare providers and PCA the opportunity to decide whether they want to be unionized.
There are tens of thousands of eligible voters, but a mere 500 people need to sign a petition for the union to receive a list of all the contact information of daycare and PCA providers, and only 30% of all actual voters (not eligible voters) to approve the measure.
I disagree with the heavy handed way which union advocates used to push the bill through the Senate and voted against it for the reasons listed below:
- The entire concept outlined in SF 778 is preempted by federal law and the law suit that will surely follow, should it become law in MN, will overturn it.
- I philosophically disagree with the notion that private employers, which child care providers and personal attendants are, can be legally defined as state employees, which there are not, for purposes of being able to form a union to collectively bargain for more taxpayer dollars. For example, 46% of personal care attendants are folks who stay home to care for family members who are disabled. Some of these providers who favor unionization testified that they felt caring for their loved one was a career choice and as such were entitled to better wages, health care coverage, paid vacations and state pensions, all paid for with your tax dollars. I do not agree.
- If this union is formed, union dues or "fair share" will be deducted by the state from child care/Personal Care Attendant state subsidies and paid directly to the union which in turn uses the money to elect officials sympathetic to union causes. No groups, other than public unions, have a money train of this scale which can be used to influence the outcome of elections and ultimately public policy.
I encourage you to stay informed and up-to-date on this issue as the organization pushing this agenda will soon be contacting providers and sending out balloting information to create the union. I cannot stress the importance of providers becoming engaged in this process; otherwise a minority of individuals will be creating a union for the whole. If you, as a Daycare/PCA provider are opposing unionization, you MUST collaborate with your fellow providers to distribute information and get people to vote.
Please stay in touch.
Gay Marriage Approved by the Minnesota Senate
Today, on a vote of 37 to 30 the Minnesota Senate authorized gay marriage in the state of Minnesota. The bill will now go to Governor Dayton who has promised to sign it into law.
Prior to the vote, I had received approximately 1,000 emails, urging me to vote for or against this bill. I wish to thank everyone who took the time to provide me with their views on this most divisive issue. I believe that when an elected official knows their position on a particular issue, the public has a tight to expect an honest and straight forward answer to inquiries regarding that position. With this message, I am trying to fulfill that expectation and respond to the emails I have been receiving.
I could inquire of you with a rhetorical question of “where will it stop", the question being what type of marriage will Minnesota authorize in the future? With the passage of this bill, I could point out the significant fiscal cost to the taxpayers of Minnesota or I could bring to your attention that some claim it contains “protections” from civil liability or claims with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights when in fact it will withhold public funds from any charitable organization, nonprofit or other institution that does not embrace same sex marriage. I could also tell you that I do not support this bill because it is an attack on family values by establishing a parentage presumption between same sex couples and removes statutory references to husband, father, wife and mother.
Irrespective of the above points, I voted no on this issue for a simple reason: I have a core value belief that “marriage” is a sacrosanct institution, which for numerous millennia, have been reserved exclusively for a relationship between a man and a woman.
Ultimately, this bill forever changes the makeup of a family unit, the way public schools will educate our children and exposes those who do not believe in same sex marriage with liability for failure to conform with the mandates of this newly created institution.
This week the Senate took up the minimum wage bill, which passed. This bill raises the minimum wage from $6.15 to $7.25 an hour. I did not be support this bill for the reasons listed below:
• Minimum wage was never intended to put people in a position to support a family. Minnesota spends tens of billions of dollars a year on education. People should take advantage of the educational opportunities provided by Minnesota in order to obtain a career that pays a living wage.
• The government should not interfering with private businesses by artificially setting a minimum wage. If businesses can not afford the increase, they will inevitably pass the extra cost on to you the consumer, cut back on employee hours or in some cases actually lay off workers.
I have heard the complaint that Republicans only protect business and do not care about the workers. This could not be further from the truth. I believe that by helping businesses flourish and expand, we are helping the employees by creating a business climate that allows private businesses to expand, thereby hiring more employees and providing better wages.
Tax Omnibus Bill
-Everyone pays more
-How does this bill grow Minnesota’s economy?
-What are we getting for this massive tax increases?
How bad is this bill? It is so bad that the DFL majority could not pass their own bill the first time and after twisting some arms REVOTED and pass the bill. This bill raises $1,839,393,000 (1.84 billion) in new tax hikes for FY 2014-15. It would make Minnesota’s income tax the 4th highest in the nation, behind only California, Hawaii and Oregon. This bill freezes tax relief on commercial real estate and creates a new sales tax on services and internet sales.
Minnesotans can't afford the Senate Democrat's tax plan. Everyone will pay more for clothing, auto repair, haircuts and over-the-counter medication. We should not be extracting an extra dime from hardworking taxpayers of Minnesota until the legislature goes line-by-line through our budget and cuts the waste that has been accumulating. Raising taxes penalizes small businesses and jeopardizes the welfare of people who work for those businesses.
Think about this, the DFL party is elated to be raising your taxes. Senator Rod Skoe, Senate Tax Chair, was quoted in Politics in Minnesota as saying: “When I woke up this morning, I was so excited I almost smiled,” on having his Tax Omnibus bill being heard. You can read the whole article here: http://politicsinminnesota.com/2013/04/senate-tax-bill-increases-top-income-tax-rate-to-9-4-percent/
Below are the major provisions in the bill that employers and employees alike will be facing should the DFL pass this tax bill:
Increases sales taxes in the amount of $89 million over FY 2014-15 by expanding the sales tax base to include a new sales tax on:
- CLOTHING, over the counter drugs, personal services (hair, nails, tattoos), other personal services (wedding planning, dating services, personal shopping), auto repair services, household goods repair and maintenance, electronic and commercial equipment repair and maintenance, warehousing and storage services, telecommunications equipment, court reporter documents, and publications (excluding newspapers).
- Increases cigarette/tobacco taxes by $333 million over FY 2014-15 largely through adopting the Governor’s $0.94 per pack additional tax on cigarettes.
Increases individual income taxes by $1.2 billion by increasing the current 7.85% third tier to 9.4%
- Single: $79,730
- Head of Household: $120,070
- Married joint: $140,960
This is not the “Tax the Rich” mantra the Governor has been promoting, but rather a tax increase on middle income, taxpayers.
- Increases the Statewide Property Tax by $176 million largely by freezing the tax rate for Commercial-Industrial (C/I) property at the rate imposed for taxes payable in 2002. The inflator for C/I property is eliminated.
- Increases business taxes by a net $63 million in FY 2014-15 through the repeal of the Foreign Royalty Deduction. With the repeal of this deduction on business income earned outside of the state of Minnesota, why would a corporation remain or come to Minnesota? Does our tax policy affect business decisions, remember HTI?
- Creates a 13% sports memorabilia gross receipts tax ($32 million tax increase) imposed at the wholesale level on licensed professional and Collegiate Division 1 merchandise.
- Recognizes a $24 million estate tax increase by tightening current law criteria on exemptions for qualified farms and small businesses.
- Increases sales tax on rental vehicles by almost 50% from 6.2% to 9.05% raising $15 million.
- Expands sales taxes on internet sales, digital downloads and direct satellite services.
The DFL campaigned that they would only raise taxes on the “rich” and that any tax increases would only impact a few people. As you can see by the proposed tax increases above; that is not the case. The simple truth is that higher taxes do not lead to a healthier economy. Minnesota can’t afford to have thousands of small businesses, pay more in taxes rather than hire new employees, buy new equipment or otherwise expand their business.
So I ask you:
Will you and your family be better off if this bill becomes law?
Omnibus Bills: Health and Human Services and K12 Education
Yesterday, the Senate passed the K12 Education omnibus spending bill. The repealed education standards, delayed teacher evaluations and was all paid for by a new statewide property tax, which is why I voted against the bill. Below is a partial list of why I believe this bill was not right for our students:
- This bill states, “Students are not required to achieve a specified score or level of proficiency on an assessment to graduate from high school.”
- Delays reform that requires implementation of teacher evaluations designed to assess whether teachers have the necessary basics skills needed to be successful in the classroom.
- Does not pay back the school shift despite a proposed overall spending increase of $3 billion.
- Reinstates the General Education Levy, a statewide tax on all real estate.
- Continues the disparity of urban ($14,478) vs. rural ($9,375) per pupil funding and inequity in categorical aids such as integration aid.
- State spending is going up 8%, education spending is increasing 3% but less than 1% will be going directly to students in the classroom.
- With this budget, larger class sizes and teacher layoffs are a distinct possibility.
During the debate on the Senate floor, the Republican caucus introduced numerous amendments that would have addressed the above issues. All were defeated by the majority along a straight party line vote. “Not only are your children covered until 26 under your health insurance, but they may still be living in your basement, because they didn't learn anything on the race to the bottom!” –Star Tribune
Forty percent of our budget is contained in this bill, most of which involves new programs mandating how school districts spend their money. The Democrat’s Education Budget Bill, while increasing spending by nearly one-half billion dollars, fails students, parents, and hardworking taxpayers by lowering standards for students and teachers and adds a new statewide property tax.
More taxes raised to pay for lower educational standards equates to the new norm; “Pay more and expect less”.
Health and Human Services
I was severely disappointed to see the Health and Human Services budget that was presented to the floor. Overall, there is $3 billion in new taxes and fees proposed this session but there has been little attention to services for seniors, nursing homes, long-term care facilities and our most vulnerable citizens. For these reasons and other listed below, I was not able to support the bill.
- Repeals a grant to Teen Challenge, a substance abuse program for kids with a 75% success rate.
- A fee on HMOs will likely raise insurance costs for small businesses.
- Appropriates additional funds for Affordable Care Act Provisions and creates 118 new government jobs.
- New and increased fees on home care license, newborn screenings and lab fees.
- Funding for IT for the Health Insurance Exchange, which is already funded by the Federal Government.
- SHIP Grants for “Community Gardens.”
- A clause that prohibits a parent from making the final decision regarding certain daycare decisions.
The Health and Human Services Omnibus Bill is a true example of misplaced priorities. Democrats are raising $3 billion in new taxes and fees to increase spending in every other budget area, including wasteful projects, and giving little priority to services for seniors, nursing homes, long-term care facilities and our most vulnerable citizens.
- Sculpture Bust at the Capitol: $30,000
- Ski Hill and Golf Course Event Center: $4,900,000
- Bathroom at a Boat Landing: $300,000
- Submarine Party: $200,000
- Designer Handbags and Other Person Expenses for a Department of Health Grantee: $328,993 http://kstp.com/article/stories/s2858589.shtml
- Golf Green Fees and Travel for State Council Executive Director: $20,000 http://www.auditor.leg.state.mn.us/fad/pdf/fad1101.pdf
Omnibus Spending Bills
Currently in the Senate, we are considering various omnibus budget bills. Taken together, the budget for the next biennium will consist of these spending bills. Below is a list of bills that have been passed so far:
- Bill Language Follow this link; https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/bill.php?b=Senate&f=SF0671&ssn=0&y=2013
- 5.3% increase over the 2014-2015 budget
- 8% increase to Judges’ pay which starts at $129,000
- Does not adequately fund the State’s statutory commitment for county probation officers and is an unfunded mandate
State Government (SF 1589)
- Bill Language Follow this link; https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/bill.php?f=SF1589&b=senate&y=2013&ssn=0
- 2.9% increase over the 2014-2015 budget
- Repeal of Sunset Commission which was passed and signed by the Governor 2 years ago. This repeal eliminated the only mechanism in place to reduce duplicative or unnecessary state agencies, boards and commissions.
- Funding numerous councils and commissions like the Black Minnesotan’s Council, Chicano Latino Affairs Council, Asian-Pacific Minnesotan’s Council, Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, MN Arts Board and the Hockey Hall of Fame.
- Bailout of the MPLS, St. Paul and Duluth teachers’ retirement fund.
Higher Education (SF 1236)
- Bill Language Follow this link; https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/bill.php?f=SF1236&b=senate&y=2013&ssn=0
- 10.2% increase over the 2014-2015 budget
- Rewarding U of M with significant additional funding despite spending $2.5M on a coach buyout and on bloated administrative costs rather than on students
- Mandated tuition freeze rejected
When considering these omnibus bills, think about some of the wasteful spending ideas the DFL Leadership has tucked away in various omnibus bills;
- Loan forgiveness Bailout; to the City of St Paul for the St. Paul River Center - $5,000,000. (this is in addition to a similar bailout for St Paul contained in last year’s Viking stadium bill).
- Tree Museum - $100,000
- Bus Passes for Teens - $2,500,000
- Snow Making Equipment - $3,400,000
- Minneapolis Sculpture Garden - $7,000,000
- Exotic Overseas Trips for Artists - $840,000
- Compensation for a study on how and why state employees are underpaid - $200,000
Next week I will update you on more omnibus spending bills as they continue to pass the MN Senate.
Town Hall in Hutchinson
This Saturday Representative Gruenhagen, Representative Urdahl and I will be hosting a town hall in Hutchinson at the Hutch Café on Main Street at 9:00am.
We will be discussing the current legislative session to date, the budget and bonding. I encourage you to attend to learn what is going in St. Paul and ask us any questions you might have about issues that are important to you.
Please do not hesitate contact me if you have any question, comments or concerns.
We are two-thirds of the way through the 2013 session and have not yet completed a budget. This doesn’t mean the majority hasn’t been busy legislating. Below are a few “important” bills that have been introduced by certain Senators that do not focus on the budget:
Teacher basic skills examination requirement repeal
Just last year the Legislature overwhelmingly voted (132-0 House and 60-1 Senate) to continue the requirement and to strengthen it, which the Governor signed.
13th grade establishment and appropriation
Looking to expand the K-12 public school system to Kindergarten through a 13th grade.
Repeals high school graduation requirements
Shouldn’t we insist on competency standards to graduate from high school?
What is the purpose of going to school for 14 years if there are no graduation or teacher competence requirements?
Public money to pay for sex changes when it’s “medically necessary”
Under what circumstances would a sex change be “medically necessary”
Goodwin (Columbia Heights)
Theatrical productions smoking prohibition
Extends the statewide smoking ban in “public places” to include actors in theaters productions.
Cat attacks liability establishment
Creates new way to sue someone
Bridge coatings standards advisory group
A committee of 11 would be established to review paint colors for bridges.
State transportation improvement program (STIP) alternative transportation minimum funding establishment
Require MnDOT to increase funding for bicycle and pedestrian paths.
My question to you: Are these the type of reforms that will help you and how much are you willing to spend on them?
Health Insurance Exchange: Final Version
On March 18, the Minnesota Senate passed the final version of the Minnesota Health Insurance Exchange and sent it to the governor, where it will undoubtedly be signed into law. The significant changes to the bill since my March 11, 2013 newsletter to you are as follows:
- All Republican amendments previously adopted by the Senate were stripped out.
- Prohibition for the use of taxpayer’s money to be used for abortion removed.
- The funding mechanism was changed to a tax on insurance premiums plus $20 million from the general fund.
- Complete autonomy for the board enacting laws for an additional year (until 2015)
- Creates 2 different legal appeal standards to determine eligibility and grievances, one for private citizens and the other for insurance carriers.
- Active purchaser model selected which allows the board to determine which health insurance plans will be offered.
I voted against the Health Exchange bill because, I believe this to be a costly and frightening piece of legislation. Your legislature has all but abdicated its constitutional authority to a 7 member board who will determine the type of health insurance that you will have available and do so without any controls or accountability. Once again, we are growing government by spending money we don’t have on something we don’t need and eliminating consumer control from our free market system.
Governor Dayton’s Revised Budget
Governor Dayton released his revised budget proposal after failing to gain public and legislative support for his all-tax budget.
- Governor Dayton’s revised budget calls for $37.94 billion in state spending compared to his original budget plan of $37.89 billion, which is an increase of $47 million over his first proposal in January.
- The new budget is a 7.7% increase in spending from FY 2012-2013.
- It calls for $1.8 billion in new taxes, even after pulling his $2.1 billion sales tax increase due to public backlash.
Spending Items Still Included
- Fully funding all day Kindergarten for all students, $125million for Special Ed and $80million for the college and university state grant program
Dropped In Revised Budget
- $500 property tax rebate for all homeowners
- 2 year freeze on business property taxes
- Reduction of the corporate business tax rate from 9.8% to 8.4%
New Revenue and Taxes Still Included in Revised Budget
- 100% increase in local sales tax in7-county metro to pay for buses and rail
- Additional $.94 per pack tax on cigarettes
- Minnesota “Snowbird” tax is a new income tax on anyone who is not a resident but annually spends over 60 days in Minnesota.
- 9.85% fourth tier income tax ($250,000 married, $200,000 head of household, $150,000 individual)
- New sale taxes on online purchases (“Amazon” tax).
Under the Governor’s tax plan everyone will pay more. His revised plan includes an increased sales tax to the metro, new taxes on internet purchases and increasing the income tax. DFL leaders in the legislature continue to push for taxes on clothing, snack foods, digital downloads, and higher taxes on gas, alcohol and cigarettes. Please view this list of other proposed tax bills that will send more money to an already bloated government (http://www.scribd.com/doc/130364062/Senate-DFL-Tax-Increase-Proposals).
The Governor argued last week that his plan is a “balanced approach to taxes and spending” but neither of his proposals contained any genuine reforms. We should be focusing on making sure that every dollar of state taxes is being used effectively and efficiently for a government that works for the people and not an unbreakable chain of increasing bureaucracy.
Health Insurance Exchange
Last Thursday, the Senate voted to pass the Democrats' insurance exchange plan as part of the Federal Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which requires each state to set up an internet portal (known as an “exchange”) for the purpose of providing access to health insurance. Frankly, of the health exchange plans I aware of from across the country, Minnesota’s is by far the most flawed. Here are some of the reasons why this bill is a dreadful deal for my constituents:
- Growth of government; this bill grows government by roughly 100 new state employees at an expected cost of $60 million or more per year.
- The exchange will be run by a 7 member board on which the majority will rule; meaning 4 unelected people with almost complete autonomy will run the insurance industry in Minnesota.
- Board members may be removed only by a 2/3 vote of board members. Basically, this means the board can only remove themselves.
- Initially, the board has super expedited rule making authority. This power gives them complete autonomy on making laws affecting the health insurance industry with no legislative or executive branch oversight.
- In the Senate’s bill, the board will have unfettered access to the health impact fund (cigarette tax), equaling $200 million per year. Again, no legislative oversight in controlling what the board spends the money on.
- The board will have complete control over the number of and which insurance companies will be licensed to do business in the state of Minnesota. This means you could well find a monopoly of one or two companies from which to purchase health insurance.
- It is likely health care will become more expensive under the health insurance exchange. The IRS estimates the cheapest cost for a family of 4 will be $20,000 per year under the new plan.
- The exchange itself will cost approximately $332 million between 2011-2016 and will do nothing to improve health insurance or health care in Minnesota.
Throughout the legislative process, the Republican Caucus offered dozens of amendments designed to address the above problems. The DFL accepted no substantive amendments to resolve these issues. I believe this exchange effectively eliminates the business relationship between insurance agents/brokers and their costumers and substitutes in their place a new government agency. The health insurance exchange brings to mind those infamous words "I am from the government and I'm here to help you." There is no way that I can support this concept and the health exchange board will have to change significantly coming out of the conference committee before it will garner my vote.
Following is a link to the actual bill (http://tinyurl.com/a666t68). I urge you to compare the above bullet points to the actual text of the bill.
February Budget Forecast
The February economic forecast came out yesterday. Below is the press release from Commissioner Jim Schowalter, which shows an improvement over previous projections. The highlight is that our projected 2014-2015 deficit is down from $1.1 billion to $627 million which means we will be able to pay back to the school shift an additional $290 million.
The increase in revenue and reduction of government spending is the reason for this budget deficit reduction and comes as a direct result of policies enacted by the legislature over the past two years. The continued economic improvement is evidence that the Republican reforms from 2011-2012 are working. If you recall, at the end of 2010 we had a staggering budget deficit of approximately $6.5 billion, but in two years we erased those deficits, filled our reserve accounts, and put our state back on the path to prosperity.
I fear that the Governor’s budget consisting of massive tax increases plus the cost of Obamacare threatens our fragile economy. Rather than requiring you to pay more for auto repairs, haircuts and over-the-counter drugs, we should continue to do what we have done for the past two years: eliminate wasteful spending, curb excessive regulation, and let you keep more of your money.
Let’s take advantage of this moderately optimistic budget forecast and not unravel the progress we made in the last legislative session.
A Statement from Commissioner Jim Schowalter
The February budget forecast shows a projected budget deficit of $627 million for fiscal years 2014-15. This is an improvement of $463 million from the November budget forecast that showed a projected deficit of $1.1 billion.
Fiscal year 2012-13 is now projected to have a positive balance of $295 million. Current law directs $290 million to buy back the K-12 school shifts, leaving a balance of $801 million remaining. Also under current law, the residual $5 million is put towards the state’s budget reserve bringing that balance to $649 million.
The 2016-17 structural balance improves from $263 million in the November forecast to $782 million.
Senate Judiciary Committee Gun Bill Hearings – Feb 21 and 22
As an avid sportsman and sworn protector of our constitutional rights, I will not vote to infringe on our 2nd amendment rights. I believe that the second amendment, as one of the most important rights in our country, guarantees our personal freedom. If any anti-Second Amendment legislation advances, I will voice my opposition.
We have a strong history of supporting Second Amendment rights here in Minnesota. Most gun owners are law abiding citizens using their firearms for hunting, sport, or personal protection. No law will end gun violence but we can attempt to address the underlying shortfalls we have in our society.
There are currently over 30,000 gun control laws on the books nationwide and I don’t believe that more laws will protect us from criminals or those suffering from mental illness. The issue is not gun control but rather our lack of properly dealing with mental illness in this country. We need to start addressing mental health issues in the same way we have dealt with diabetes, heart disease and cancer. In addition we must give school employees, social workers and law enforcement the tools and ability to better communicate with each once they suspect potential trouble. Sufficiently addressing the mental health issues and training the public are the true steps we need to take to make our country a safer place to live.
If you wish to follow this issue, the following link will take you to the Senate website (https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/status_search.php?body=Senate). The specific bills to search are:
SF 23: Repeat Juvenile or Crime Violence Offenders, Ammunition, Aiding and Abetting Illegal Purchases
SF 458: Transfer of Firearms and Eligibility Criteria to Posses Firearms
SF 69: Permit to Carry Law Exemption for Retired Peace Officers
SF 503: Falsely Reporting Thefts or Losses of Firearms, Transfers to Ineligible Persons
SF 557: Firearm Permits, Mental Health Screening
SF 520: Voluntary Surrender of Firearms, Centralized Registry
SF 400: Firearm Protection Act
SF 413: Modification of the Judicial Process for Restoring Firearms Eligibility to Felons
SF 568: Modification of the Judicial Processes for Restoring Firearm Eligibility and Challenging a Permit to Carry Denial
SF 205: Firearms Transfers and Possession Eligibility, Criminal Penalty Provisions
SF 339: Resolution memorializing the President and Congress to Respect the Second Amendment
SF 635: Constitutional Amendment for Citizens to Keep, Bear and Use Arms
Governor Dayton’s State of the State Address
Below is a link to Governor Dayton’s State of the State address as delivered last night.
If you are a business owner, read it.
If you work in the private sector, read it.
If you pay taxes, read it.
If you receive benefits from the state, read it.
I would like to hear from you and what you think of supporting his $2 billion budget and tax increase.
Are his arguments valid or partisan?
Are his figures correct or spun?
Does he have spending cuts to accompany the tax increase?
Is growth of government and increased taxes helping you and your family?
Is Governor Dayton’s version for the future in the best interest in the state of Minnesota?
Governor Dayton’s Budget Proposal: Higher Education
A significant increase is proposed for public higher education campuses and for financial aid (which affects public and private students). Whereas the overall state spending is going up by 7.6 percent, the higher education budget the Governor would like is an increase of 9.6%. Below are a few of the budget highlights:
- Calls for $250 million in additional spending
- UMN spending is temporarily being held until further review of administrative spending is completed
MNSCU spending to be increased by $80 million
- $46 million would be used to improve employment of graduates
- $34 million to “retain faculty and staff”
Increased spending to the Office of Higher Education by approximately $90 million (roughly 24%)
Most of the new money would be used to fund numerous and generous state grants
- Grants would be extended to undocumented residents like the federal bill called “The Dream Act”
- Most of the new money would be used to fund numerous and generous state grants
I support the suspension of increasing the funding to the UMN when just recently the University was nationally criticized for their extravagant administrative costs (read article here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323316804578161490716042814.html). I also question the increased spending on grants that will be extended to undocumented residents when our current resident students are facing a hard time receiving funding and paying for the astronomically high price of tuition.
Governor Dayton’s Budget Proposal: Snowbird Tax and “Corporate Loopholes”
In the Governor’s recent budget he proposed two major changes that look small, but will be cause of great concern.
This tax would be applied for non-Minnesota residents who remain in the state for 60 days or more in a calendar year. This tax would directly apply to retirees and vacationers who own a home in the state, but choose to live here during the summer months. The Wall Street Journal highlighted this excessive taxation in a recent article, which you can read here: http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB10001424127887324329204578271720286958796-lMyQjAxMTAzMDAwMTEwNDEyWj.html#printMode.
3 obvious areas of concern:
- Adding new administrators (cost and growth of government) to collect and audit funds
- How do you track a person’s days in state: Airline tickets? Gas receipts? GPS?
Hurt vacation industry
- Invitation to avoid Minnesota for the hassle of counting days within the state. Additionally, people would be spending less time and money here or risk going over the 60 day stay limitation and get taxed.
Foreign Operating Tax: “Corporate Loopholes”
Governor Dayton’s proposal includes taxing Minnesota corporations on the money that they earn outside of the state of Minnesota. His proposal suggests that the income currently made by a corporation outside of Minnesota is a “loophole” that corporations are using to subvert income taxes owed to Minnesota. This change will negatively affect numerous companies in Minnesota. HTI owns manufacturing plants in other states and internationally. Under Governor Dayton’s plan they would be required to pay income tax on their gross earnings regardless of where the plants are located.
At a time when other states are reducing individual and corporate income taxes in order to attract their business, Governor Dayton’s plan is an invitation to leave Minnesota. You can read some of the tax reforms other states are doing here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323968304578245720280333676.html.
Please contact me if you have any questions, concerns or suggestions.
Governor Dayton’s Budget Proposal: K12 Education
It was a disappointment to read Governor Dayton’s budget and find that the major issues facing the state education system were not addressed. As rural legislator it’s frustrating to see the funding inequality to our schools due to location (rural vs urban and suburban). The Governor was quick to highlight the additional funding under his plan, but neglected to pay off the existing debt or make any meaningful improvements. Below are a few highlights of the Governor’s plan. Note the absence of any real reform.
Increases E-12 education by $344 million
$118 million General Education Money
- Does not offer a reform of the per student formula
- Increases the equalization disparity between outstate and metro schools
$124 million Special Education
- Cuts the gifted and talented programs
- Special Education program already exceeds the Federal standards
- $9 million Limited English Proficiency
- $118 million General Education Money
- Does not pay any portion of the $1.1 billion owed to schools in the shift
$500,000 to establish a “School Climate Center” which will be used to address safety and bullying issues.
- We already have a Health and Safety program but currently it can only be used for issues like air quality rather than the physical safety of our children.
School trust fund
- No reform to the state trust fund program, which had been mismanaged for years by the DNR. Expediting permitting for mining in Northeast Minnesota could produce significant sums for out-state schools
Providing the best education is a constitutional requirement in Minnesota. The Governor’s proposed plan does not offer that to our students.
Please contact me if you have any questions, concerns or suggestions.
Governor Dayton’s Budget Proposal: Taxes
The Governor claims that his budget contains significant tax reforms. Unfortunately, it is largely a tax plan consisting of higher taxes and increased spending. His plan does offer a reduced sales tax rate, but at the expense of a broad tax expansion on clothing and services. Additionally, his homeowners’ property tax rebate does little in the way of reforming a complicated and burdensome property tax system that does not help renters or commercial business owners. Below are a few highlights of the Governor’s new tax plan under his 2014-2015 budget plan:
$2.1 BILLION of NEW sales taxes, including
- Clothing over $100 per item (coats, shoes)
- Admissions and memberships (health clubs, YMCA)
- Over the counter drugs (Advil)
- Personal care services and instructions (haircuts)
- Legal accounting (tax services, family will)
- Auto services (oil changes, auto tune ups)
- Online purchase (Amazon, Ebay, iTunes)
- See comprehensive list here: http://www.minnpost.com/political-agenda/2013/01/taxed-or-not-heres-list-items-and-out-daytons-sales-tax-plan
Income Tax Changes
2% income increase on:
- $250,000 married, $200,000 Head of Household, $150,000 individual
- Would make MN the 4th highest income tax state in the nation
- “Snowbird tax” – would extend income tax to part-year residents who maintain a house in Minnesota for at least 6 months
- No reform
- 2% income increase on:
Real Estate Tax
$500 tax rebate for FY 2014-2015 to all Minnesota homesteads
- Zero rebate for renters
- Zero Rebate for commercial or recreational real estate
- No reform on homestead, commercial and recreational real estate taxes
- $500 tax rebate for FY 2014-2015 to all Minnesota homesteads
Other Significant Tax Changes
- Temporary suspension of automatic annual increase on commercial statewide property tax (real estate), no reform on underlining tax
- $.94 per pack additional tax on cigarettes
- Significant increase LGA funding for St. Paul, Minneapolis and Duluth
I would support a reform of our current tax system; in fact I believe it is much needed. However, I believe that we should focus on reducing our overall tax burden, not simply increase it by over $2 billion and call it reform.
Governor Dayton’s Budget Proposal
Governor Mark Dayton unveiled his 2014-2015 proposed budget this past Tuesday. The budget of $37.9 billion is roughly an 8% increase from the previous budget. His proposed budget calls for a tax increase of $3.7 billion, but little in the way of spending cuts or tax reform and no reduction in the size or growth of government. For every $1 in spending reductions, the Governor raises $16 in new taxes. Below are a few highlights of the Governor’s proposed budget:
- Increased budget from $35.2 billion to $37.9 billion
- $3.7 billion of new taxes and only $225 million in cuts
- Largest budget increase ever proposed by a Minnesota Governor
- 2 year freeze on tax rebate for all homeowners
- $80 million increase in LGA
- $2.1 billion of NEW sales taxes on goods and consumer services
- $.94 per pack additional tax on cigarettes
- 2% increase income taxes for married $250,000; HoH $200,000; and individual $150,000
- Increased income tax to Minnesota’s “snowbirds” through a prorate income tax base on the number of days they are present in the state
- .25% transit tax to 7-county metro area to go towards buses and rail
- New taxes on online purchases (“Amazon” tax) and digital downloads
- Fails to pay back the $1.1 billion school shift, pushing the pay off date to the 2015-2016 budget
On average, this budget would collect over $389 more sales tax from every Minnesotan. The tax increases proposed will primarily impact the middle class, already stretching their budgets to make ends meet. In the following weeks, I will send further break downs, examining the different areas of the budget that will be impacted like education, business, transportation and real estate taxes.
It is important to note that this is not the final budget, but an outline for potential legislation that we should expect to see this session.
RE: Redefining Marriage
Over the past two weeks, I have received numerous of emails from concerned constituents requesting that I do not support any bill to redefine marriage in Minnesota. I believe they are in response to an email sent out by Minnesota for Marriage. Below is my position on the issue of Marriage in Minnesota:
- I do not believe that the Marriage Amendment’s defeat was a mandate to legalize same sex marriage in Minnesota.
- Under state law, Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Minnesota continues to recognize only a marriage between one man and one woman.
- I have not supported nor will I support the repeal of DOMA or any bill that may be introduced to legalize marriage between same sex couples.
I believe that when an elected official knows their position on a particular issue, the public has a right to expect an honest and straight forward answer to inquiries regarding that position. With this message, I am trying to fulfill that expectation and respond to the emails I have been receiving.
RE: Beginning of the 2013 Session
Today marks the start of the 2013 Legislative Session. I intend to send out a weekly update as I have the past two sessions. You can look for them to arrive early of each week. I encourage you to with any questions you may have.
This past election cycle brought a change of leadership in both the House and the Senate. Because of this, my committee responsibilities have changed. I will now be serving on the Finance Committee, Sub-Committee on Elections, Capitol Investment and Rules and Administration Committee.
As we move forward into this new legislative year, I hope that the new majority party will honor their opening day remarks. As related by our new Majority Leader Senator Bakk: “We’re going to have our differences, but as I think back [on] the spirit of our debates, [they] should always be aimed at finding solutions and common ground, not gridlock…challenges today represents the start of our opportunity to confront these challenges and build a better future for Minnesota.”
I look forward to working with all the new members in the Senate to work for a more prosperous Minnesota.