Posted: 05/22/13 14:08
by Dave Mindeman
It was an extraordinarily busy session. The DFL majorities had enormous pressure from within and without. On the whole, they did pretty well. Let's talk about it....
It was interesting how the Governor, the Senate, and the House had parallel but very different paths for the end product. This lack of coordination was probably a bigger obstacle this time than Republican opposition.
The High Points
Balanced Budget - Governor Dayton's original budget plan was real reform. You can tell real reform by the amount of opposition. This plan was heavily opposed. Reduced sales taxes, broadened base on sales taxes, transit funding, and income tax reform were all solid attempts at a full structural fix. And I hope that we revisit more of the parts of it going forward.
The Governor backed off of the plan ...probably seeing the pushback as problemsome for a reelection bid. But at least there was a serious discussion and examination of where we probably need to go eventually. The Governor may have backed off too far, but his campaign signature issue of tax fairness did end up being the centerpiece of the tax bill.
The other pieces of the tax bill left the legislative houses at odds. The Senate put together an odd business service tax portion. I don't disagree with the concept but the parts chosen are a bit problematic. Warehousing is a tricky taxation issue and the attempt to exempt agricultural products adds more complications. It is also a little strange to exempt agricultural products as much as possible, but still taxing equipment repairs. Agricultural equipment are big repair projects at times. Finally, telecommunications taxation is also an issue because this changes so rapidly. It is hard to keep up with state of the art advances, let alone taxation on every change. It is quite probable that this part of the tax bill will get tweaked in the future. House Tax Chair Ann Lencewski seemed a bit peeved in this regard - she seemed to indicate that the Senate insisted on the changes and then at the last minute backed off, which would have left a gaping hole in the funding process. The Senate and House tax committees must have had an interesting conference discussion.
The House was also very attatched to the income tax surcharge that would pay off the school shift. The Governor and the Senate backed off of that because they wanted to focus on new money for education. The House wanted both. However, the school districts were not clamoring for an immediate payment and were more concerned with new funding that would stabilize budgets in the future. In the end, the House backed off the surcharge which was probably the prudent way to go.
Property Tax Relief - This was also an important promise. In his original budget, the Governor wanted rebate checks...that did not get legislative support. But relief did occur in more LGA money and an increase in the property tax credit and renters credit. These will help with local government budgets and also get some credits to the people who need it most. It won't be as visible as a check but still looks like good policy.
Education - This is the crown jewel of this budget. Education, both K-12 and Higher Ed, get significant investments. This is going to pay off, economically, over the long haul. Most Minnesotans get the benefits of education investment and hopefully this will manifest itself in visible changes. The MOST visible will be all-day kindergarten. Although its is voluntary for school districts, I can't imagine that any district will not take advantage of this. It will be beneficial for working parents and increase academic excellence for these kids in later years. This has been a long time coming and, of course, it took the DFL to accomplish it.
The bill also adds $40 million to special education. This is still not enough as we still have Fed funding problems, but additions here will free up revenue for other aspects of the curriculum. Another part of education that only the DFL seems willing to address.
Scholarships for low income parents and changes to testing are also included. This is a very important piece of legislation.
Transportation - Although transportation advocates are disappointed by the status quo funding in this area, I have to give a shout out to Sen. Scott Dibble for making room for funding the Southwest Rail Corridor. This might have died without this funding and keeps us on track to keep matching Fed funds coming. It is a very important piece of a complete metro light rail system.
Child Care Provider Union - This is probably the most controversial bill passed during the session, but for this low income worker area, it will be enormously beneficial. Child care is a vital aspect of keeping our work force up to speed. And the compensation is very weak. Although some providers opposed this move to union representation, I think in the long run they will benefit greatly. The vitriolic opposition by Republicans was unwarranted. They seem to get crazy when the word union is even uttered. But in the end, what have they ever done to help this area of the work force? Outside of cutting health and human service payments to them?
Gay Marriage Bill - This was an enormous achievement for the DFL majority. They have righted an enormous wrong in our state and have given same sex partners equal opportunity for happiness. I know there is still divisiveness on this issue but I would be very surprised if that doesn't heal when we find that this is not the gloom and doom scenario that has been part of the opposition rhetoric. There will be some discrimination cases going forward, but the generational shift will take care of all of it in the end.
Although the high points greatly outweigh the low, there are still a couple of things that should be mentioned.
Guns - We still have a ways to go when it comes to gun safety. A lot of people were deeply disappointed that even background checks couldn't get a proper hearing. The almost religious zealotry from the NRA people will not even yield to commons sense safety mechanisms. I know that an attempt to bring this forward next year will be done, but I think the window of opportunity has passed.
Minimum Wage - This is even more disappointing, because both the House and the Senate passed bills. They could not find a compromise position and thus the whole issue was lost. This was another great opportunity flushed away. I have my doubts that this will now happen at all, especially in an election year.
Transportation - Although Sen. Dibble got funding for Southwest Rail, the gas tax and metro transit tax were tabled. This leave transporation running in place with a massive backlog pending. I hope that in the near future, this gets priority.
But on the whole, this was a very successful legislative session. The inner workings of it weren't pretty and the timing gave everybody ulcers, but it still had a successful end product.
Progress has been made.