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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.


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.

Weighing In

Monday, February 16th, 2009

The Mayor of Elysian was overhead leaving one of the many town meetings held in District 25 over the weekend, “That was kind of fun.” I couldn’t agree more. It is not every Saturday that local citizens get a chance to gather to discuss the issues of the day. We discussed a variety of issues and I was impressed with the level of discussion, the interest and knowledge of the participants and the respectful tone of the meetings….even when participants took opposing views. So what did the citizens of District 25 bring to the table?
Two weeks ago, I visited Waterville, Elysian, LeCenter and Cleveland. Last Saturday, I held town meetings in Belle Plaine, LeSueur, Montgomery, and New Prague. Foremost on everyone’s mind was the budget deficit and the economy. Several expressed concerns about proposed cuts and the long term effects of such cuts. Specifically, cuts to Local Government Aid, Education, and Health and Human Services seemed to garner the most attention. Most agreed that cuts will be necessary and as we move forward, prioritizing and determining the level of cuts will need to be decided. But other residents said that Minnesota may need to look at new sources of revenue to maintain basic government services and ensure a quality of life we have come to expect in Minnesota.
npragueSeveral constituents in the New Prague and Belle Plaine area have concerns about the CapX2020 project. CapX2020 is a joint initiative of 11 transmission-owning utilities in Minnesota and the surrounding region to expand the electric transmission grid. The transmission lines will be built in phases and several residents have concerns about the line’s route and the impact this project will have on their lives. Representative David Bly and I have introduced legislation to address some of their concerns.
Casinos, Unemployment, Nuclear power, parks and trails, pensions, and the Minnesota Health Plan were part of the agenda in several of the towns. The Green Acres legislation in 2008 also garnered much discussion. I am a co-author on a bill in the legislature that would repeal many of those changes to make sure farmland is valued for tax purposes on its agricultural value, rather than its future development potential or highest and best use value.
Many citizens shared their real life experiences at these meetings. They have expertise in farming, health care, local government, energy, education, and the environment. Dropping two fishing lines in the lake may not seem like a big deal to many, but a proposed law on that very matter prompted one resident fisherman to voice his opposition. I was happy to listen. And if this comes up for a vote on the floor of the Senate, I will consider myself a more informed legislator. Thank you, constituents, for sharing your thoughts and concerns these past few weekends. That was kind of fun.

Town Meetings

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

city-hallI will be conducting town meeting in several neighboring communities over the next few weeks. Feel free to bring your concerns and questions to any of the sites listed. I will be scheduling additional town meetings in Northfield, Arlington, Green Isle, and other communities in March. As we discuss possible budget solutions it is important to gather citizen and constituent input as we move forward this session. Of course you are always free to contact me by mail, email, or by phone. Check out the contact information listed on this site. I can also schedule a visit in my office or in your community as my schedule permits. I look forward to hearing from you.
Feb. 7 – Waterville – Eggs and Issues Breakfast (Educators only) 10am
Feb. 7 – Elysian – Elysian Tourism Center 1-2pm
Feb. 7 – Cleveland – City Hall 2:30-3:30pm
Feb. 7 – LeCenter – City Hall 4-5pm
Feb. 14 – LeSueur – LeSueur Public Library 10-11am
Feb. 14 – Belle Plaine – City Hall 11:30am -12:30pm
Feb. 14 – New Prague – City Hall 1-2pm
Feb. 14 – Montgomery – City Hall 2:30-3:30pm

Vote Kevin Dahle 2012