It is crunch time at the Capitol, so this week has been very busy. My days are spent in Committees, reviewing the final batch of bills to decide if they should be passed and debated on the Senate floor; lobbying the GOP leadership to have issues important to our community scheduled for hearings on the floor; and drafting and presenting amendments for bills that did not make deadline.
All the while, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with members of our community as they stop in as part of organized lobbying days. This week we had around 15 people come by the office. Visits, phone calls and emails I receive from constituents mean so much.
I am privileged and honored to be your Senator and will continue to represent you to the best of my ability. Thank you for engaging with me by way of Capitol Updates.
The Senate Capital Investment (bonding) package provides $494.9 million of the $2.1 billion for the statewide requests made this year. This is comparably smaller than the $775 million proposal presented by the governor. Most notably for our community, the package does not include the Southwest Corridor Light Rail.
I feel strongly that the Southwest Corridor Light rail is good for our community and for our State (and I’m not alone). The line has broad and vocal support from the business community with the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and the Twin West Chamber of Commerce leading the way. I was proud to be joined by our Twin West Chamber leadership among others this past Wednesday as we huddled with the Governor to affirm our commitment to this project. It has resolutions of support from the cities of Eden Prairie, Edina, Hopkins, Minneapolis, Minnetonka and St. Louis Park (the cities that interact with the line). Even the Federal government is behind the project - SWLRT was 1 of 10 Federal New Starts projects selected to move into Preliminary Engineering amongst over 100+ applicants!
I introduced an amendment in Finance to include this project in the bonding bill, but withdrew it because I did not believe there was enough support at that time. Getting a “NO” vote on the record weakens one’s argument going forward.
Note: The bill was scheduled to be debated on the Senate floor today (Friday, March 30), but has been rescheduled
The Senate Omnibus Tax Bill, (SF1972) is coming to the floor today. The bill largely makes cuts to business taxes, paid for with $100 million worth of yet unspecified cuts in other areas of the State budget. The bill allows the Governor to determine where these cuts are made and if they are not identified, the State budget reserve will end up being used for this purpose.
This package of business tax cuts includes (1) a phase-out of the statewide business property tax; (2) an up-front sales tax exemption for capital equipment purchases; and (3) an increase in the angel investment tax credit.
The decision to draw down our state’s budget reserve for these business tax changes is problematic. I am for the changes, yet I feel strongly they should be paid for within the broader tax reform package. The tax bill also contains a levy provision to help the Wayzata Schools.
While I don’t agree with the spending of reserves, I may agree to it given the other provisions in the bill. I strongly support the angel investment credit and the upfront capital exemption.
If passed on the floor, the bill will head to a conference committee where the differences will need to be resolved between the House and Senate conferees before it can be sent to the Governor.
No Movement on Teacher Seniority Bill; Meetings Cancelled
As I have discussed in previous updates, I have been participating in a Conference Committee designed to address Teacher Seniority/Teacher Effectiveness as it relates to layoffs. After three meetings, the bill is still not any closer to landing on the Governor’s desk. In fact, we have now learned that the Governor intends to veto this bill. I am not certain whether we will submit the bill for his signature or strategically hold it back in hopes of pursuing compromise at a later date.
Controversial Exchange Bill Passes the Senate floor
A bill to set up premium trust fund accounts and to create the framework for important pieces of the Affordable Care Act passed off the Senate floor this week.
The bill would set up a trust account system, administered by insurance brokers or banks, for payment of premiums to health insurers. The concept of pooling together funds to help individuals pay for health care premiums is beneficial with respect to obtaining and maintaining health care coverage.
This option presents an innovative approach to insuring accessibility and portability while reducing the employer burden. I fully support it. However, another part of the bill troubled me. Senator Hann created an additional task force to study and implement “exchange like reforms.” The Governor created a task force many months ago. A tremendous amount of work has been done on this. The GOP chairs of the Health committees have chosen not to participate on this task force. I have wished they would be part of the process as some of the best minds are working to come up with an appropriate “Minnesota model” for an exchange. Creating a duplicate structure for a new task force was not something I could support. I offered an amendment to remove the task force and that amendment passed. I then did vote for the bill.
A bill allowing transferability of tickets for major entertainment and sporting events passed the Minnesota House on Tuesday. It is now up to the Senate to debate this issue on the floor to determine whether it will be delivered to the Governor’s office.
I have heard from many of you on both sides of this issue. I sincerely appreciate hearing from you and understand why this is such a contentious issue. I have given both sides serious consideration.
The Xcel Energy Center and the Target Center provided compelling testimony in committee regarding this legislation and the effect it would have on some of the most popular artists or events. Paperless tickets are popular for promoters and artists as a way to prevent businesses that sell secondary tickets from buying up large quantities of tickets. They argue that current law is good for customers because they have a better chance of buying a ticket at face value rather than being forced to purchase tickets on the secondary market – usually at a much higher price.
Some argue that this strips the right of the consumer to do with a ticket whatever they would like (i.e. give it as a gift or sell it). One argument I hear is, “fans are putting up hard-earned money to buy tickets so they should be protected from efforts to take their choices away.” I get that.
However, if Minnesota cannot provide these protections, our state may lose out on a lot of great concerts and other popular events because the biggest names in the industry won’t come here. Big name artists want their fans to have access to their shows. Paperless tickets allow that.
The Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Vikings and the Timberwolves also argued against the bill, saying their goal is to sell as many tickets as possible at face value. In addition, sports teams are working to make sure it is easy to transfer paperless tickets. They argue that it is in their best interest to have concert and event customers happy.
I feel that consumers have a better chance of getting tickets at face value without this law and I feel compelled to support our local teams and event centers. I voted no in committee and will vote no when it is brought up on the floor.
There was a surprising occurrence today in Finance committee. Senator Olson put forward a technical bill to which Senator Robling offered an amendment to present Racino as a means of paying back the schools. After three hours and many amendments, Senator Robling’s amendment was passed (I supported it). For those who support Racino, there is still a ways to go before it is passed into law, but this is a breakthrough. Stay tuned.
Assorted News and Links:
- This past weekend, I was endorsed as the DFL candidate for State Senator of the new SD44.
- An interactive guide to MN constitutional amendments (MinnPost)
- Adjournment fever pandemic strikes Capitol (Politics In Minnesota)
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