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The Governor Unallots

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

Property taxes and college tuition will rise, hospitals and nursing homes will see deeper cuts, and school districts may be forced to borrow to make ends meet after Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty enacts his proposed unallotments. Pawlenty announced his intentions to drastically reduce funding for aid to cities and counties, cut funding for nursing homes, and to shift nearly $1.8 billion in school funding at a press conference this afternoon.
Unallotment is a little used power that was put into law in 1939 that allows the Governor to cut funding for state expenditures. It was originally designed to aid in fixing small, unanticipated budget deficits. The power has been used only six times in 70 years, with Pawlenty using it three of those times. The Governor’s proposed $2.7 billion unallotment is larger than all five of the previous unallotments combined and nearly 10 times more than the largest.
The Governor’s proposed unallotments include:
• $300 million in Local Government Aid and County Program Aid, primarily used for local public safety and essential services
• $1.77 billion K-12 education funding shift that may cause some schools to have to borrow to bridge funding
• $51 million decrease to the renters’ refund program resulting in a tax increase for renters
• $236 million reduction of health care, including eliminating the General Assistance Medical Care program, which provides health care for the sickest and poorest Minnesotans, one and a half months sooner than would have happened as a result of Pawlenty’s line-item veto
• $100 million cut to Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and the University of Minnesota
• $33 million in cuts to most state agency operating budgets
The cuts to aid for cities and counties are particularly troubling. Cutting LGA (Local Government Aid) is likely to lead to increases in property taxes and cuts to local police and fire departments and additional basic services. The State has a budget deficit, but the problem seems to keep getting passed on to local governments. In addition, reductions in funding for hospitals and our higher education institutions will mean additional private and public sector job losses throughout the state. It doesn’t make sense to cut even more jobs when our state is struggling with high unemployment.

Remembering…All Year

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

memorial-picThis week I had the opportunity to serve as a guest speaker at the Memorial Day Service at the American Legion Post in Montgomery. There was tremendous turnout: veterans, Legion members, and of course, local citizens. And the messages heard that day remind us all the true reason for the Monday holiday each spring. There are several things we can do throughout the year to honor and remember our service men and women, those who have served this country so admirably.
First, we must teach others about the sacrifices that have been made on our behalf so that we might continue to enjoy the liberties and freedoms granted in our Constitution. And while that is easier for me, as a 9th grade Civics teacher, I challenge each of you to teach these lessons to your own children, friends, and neighbors. Teach them to understand that, politics aside, the act of committing yourself to your country and being willing to fight for the freedom of others is among the most noble of endeavors.
Volunteer to help those veterans who are still with us, by assisting a family who is grieving the loss of a service member, by visiting those injured in service to the nation to help them build a new life.
Second, each of us must find ways to ensure the legacy of our heroes endures in what has become a “sound-bite” culture. These dedicated men and women are worth more than that. Their history deserves telling and re-telling. Find a way in your life – at work or home, at church or a youth group meeting, wherever – to keep their memories alive. Honor their sacrifices, tell their stories, and cherish their memories.
And finally, continue to gather together on Memorial Day each year to pay homage to each of them. Make Memorial Day an annual reminder of the need to give of yourself in honor of those who have given everything. Treat Memorial Day with reverence and respect …and others will follow your lead.
Thank you, citizens of Montgomery, for allowing me to be a part of your day of remembrance.

So Now What?

Friday, May 15th, 2009

The Governor, as stated in a press conference yesterday, said he would decide to take matters into his own hands and use his line item veto pen and power of unallotment to balance the budget. He says if the legislature can’t do it, he will have to do it himself. There are several things wrong with this scenario, none of which are good for Minnesota.

First of all, Governor Pawlenty says the legislature has not done its job. On the contrary, all of the major budget bills have been placed on his desk earlier than at any time in recent memory. All of the major budget bills, with the exception of the Health and Human Services budget bill (which cut over $500 million), have made deeper cuts than what the Governor had proposed. The Governor’s health care budget bill was debated in the Senate several weeks ago. It received 9 votes.

The Senate and House have developed several plans to come up with a balanced approach to resolving this budget crisis. We have cut budgets, maximized federal stimulus dollars, and introduced a revenue bill which was promptly vetoed by the Governor. The Senate chose not to employ accounting shifts, delay payments, or borrow against future income from tobacco bonds. When the House placed the Governor’s tobacco bond provision on the floor of the House a few weeks ago, it received 2 votes.

What will unallotment mean for Minnesotans? The Governor, last night, has already line item vetoed over $381 million in General Assistance Medical payments to hospitals. The impact of this unallotment? The Queen of Peace Hospital in New Prague will lose $185,000 in GAMC payments in 2011. The Northfield Hospital stands to lose $113, 776. At the top end, the Hennepin County Medical Center will be out $108 million and Regions Hospital in St. Paul will eliminate $46 million from its GAMC program in 2011. Not only do patients suffer, but these cuts mean lost jobs and income for our communities. And all of us will end up paying more to insurance companies or hospitals, as more people end up in emergency rooms for primary care, provided any emergency rooms remain open.

capitol-photoThe Governor has also indicated that he will unallot Local Government Aid to our cities and towns in July. Cities are still reeling from the unallotment that took place this past December. Loss of LGA means serious budget cuts to our local services such as police and fire protection, libraries, street maintenance, and other community services. It most certainly means greater property tax increases to make up the difference.

The House and Senate will continue to work with the Governor to find some compromise. He has indicated his willingness to talk to us about shifts, money from the Reserve account, and additional borrowing. The House will have to decide whether an override attempt is in order, the Senate already having override numbers. With a Monday midnight deadline, we will continue to work with the executive branch to wrap this up without having to slash, even further, those budgets that affect communities and our most vulnerable.

Lows and Highs

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

aThis was the week of highs and lows. I had a great bill up in the Commerce Committee on Tuesday that would have brought some badly needed oversight to the Payday Lending industry. So many good people worked on this bill since the last session, only to see it go down in flames on Tuesday. The bill would have allowed consumers to get three payday (short term) loans within a 6 month period. Inquiry into a fourth loan would have triggered a conventional loan allowing the consumer to pay off any debt in installments at much more reasonable interest rates. Payday loans are a booming industry where consumers find themselves caught in a debt trap that tends to spiral out of control. This bill would have offered an escape route for costumers beholden to an industry that is growing across the United States at an alarming rate. I feel I was on the right side of this issue. Unfortunately, fellow committee members did not agree.
On Thursday I presented a bill that attempt to level the playing field in eminent domain cases. Farmers and residents in the northern part of District 25 are up against CapX2020, a Public Utilities transmission line project that runs across Minnesota. In 2006, the Minnesota legislature enacted some changes to eminent domain laws that included several positive steps in trying to bring fairness and protections to property owners. Not only did they set the rules on the use of eminent domain for redevelopment activity, but they also tried to curb abusive practices that gave an unfair advantage to the condemning authority. While the law applies to cities, counties, and state governments…oddly, the law exempted Public Utilities. One of my testifiers shared his recent financial and emotional difficulties in negotiating with those Utility companies. This bill, SF1112, seeks to remove those exemptions. After some tough questioning and passionate testimony, the bill passed the Judiciary Committee.
Also on Thursday, I was allowed to chair the Education Committee. This was my first chance to hold the gavel and lead the discussion on a couple of bills. The last bill, involving an alternative teacher licensure plan, passed on a voice vote just before we adjourned before session.
It was a busy week with plenty of late nights as each committee tries to move policy bills before the March 27 deadline. Some bills will continue on while others fade away, leaving plenty of time for more highs and lows.

Tuesday

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

It has been a busy time at the Capitol, but Tuesday March 10 was especially hectic. Tuesdays are typically full. I have committee meetings scheduled throughout the day, but on this day five of my own bills were moved in several committees. The day went like this:

• 7:30am – Rural Caucus: discussed the State budget and the Green Acres bill, scheduled to go to the floor of the Senate on Thursday.
• 8:30am – Education Committee: bill on Mandate reductions
• 9:28am – I have a bill up in the Tax Committee to increase the LGA (Local Government Aid) for Green Isle, a town in my district…the bill passes committee.
• 9:45am – Back to the Education Committee in time to defeat a provision in the Mandate bill that would have cut teacher prep time 80% in future contract years.
• 11:03am – Step out of committee to meet with some friends from Faribault representing the Friendship House which serves adults with mental disabilities.
• 11:20am – Freshman DFL Caucus with Senate leadership – discussed the budget
• 12:05am – Grab a bag of chips and a Diet Coke for lunch. Discuss bills and afternoon schedule with Legislative Assistant.
• 12:30am – Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee meets. We discussed bills related to Homeowner Insurance and Health Care Insurance coverage.
• 1:12pm – Run to the Transportation Committee. I have a bill that keeps Hwy 19 in New Prague closed one weekend in Sept. for the Dozinky Festival. Bill passes.
• 1:35pm – Back to the Commerce Committee where I present a technical bill on behalf of the Commerce Department which updates statutes relating to measurements and the definition of biofuels. Bill passes out of committee.
• 2:15pm – Meet with constituents representing the Pork Producers in my office
• 2:30pm – Called my wife to see how my daughter’s allergy appointment went.
• 3:00pm – Energy, Utilities, Technology, and Communications Committee – Presented two bills on behalf of the Public Utilities Commission, dealing with technical changes and consumer refunds for unlawful charges by Utility companies. Both passed out of committee. Heard a bill dealing with refunds for unauthorized cell phone use from a lost cell phone.
• 5:00pm – Just enough time to run across the street to the Kelly Inn to meet with the Snowmobilers Association. Chatted with constituents from Faribault and New Prague.
• 6:45pm – Commerce Committee reconvenes to discuss the Homeowners- Lender Mediation Act. After a thorough discussion, the bill passes out of committee.
• 8:45pm – Drove home in icy, windy, and snowy conditions.

While Tuesday was busy, there will be longer and even busier days ahead.

Vote Kevin Dahle 2012