Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sen. Ortman’s Capitol Report – April 6, 2010


First budget bill passed

The Minnesota Senate passed its first major budget bill the week before Easter/Passover break. The bill contained some cost-cutting measures but no real reforms, and was concerning in its deep public safety cuts.


As an alternative, Governor Tim Pawlenty's complete budget was offered, including job creation initiatives. It did not pass. During the debate, there was an appeal to fellow senators to reconsider the proposed $39.2 million in cuts - more than twice the Governor's requests - and to support amendments to reinstate funding to the fire safety fund, restore the state portion of funding for Sentencing to Service and lessen deep cuts to the state's courts, nursing homes and home care.


Throughout the process of cutting Minnesota's budget and reprioritizing spending, the scare tactic of cutting police and firefighters is often held over the heads of taxpayers. This partial budget seems to also demonstrate a trend towards limiting the options the Governor and Legislature will have later to force K-12 cuts or tax increases.


This piecemeal approach also ignores a comprehensive solution to this year's billion-dollar deficit and, like the earlier passage of the $1 billion bonding bill, shows a lack of sensible priorities by the majority leadership. Other budget bills will follow after the Easter/Passover break.

An amendment to repeal the Green Acres property tax changes to pre- 2008 rates was defeated 32-34.

Senator Julianne Ortman lead a press conference of Republican legislators in asking Attorney General Lori Swanson to file a lawsuit against unconstitutional provisions in the federal health care legislation.

Mid-Session Issue Update


On behalf of constituents, Minnesota legislators called on the state's congressional delegation to reject the federal health care reform bill prior to its passage last week and sought protection from the state's attorney general to file a lawsuit against the unconstitutional measure and abuse of power by the federal government. A letter signed by all 68 Republican legislators (47 House & 21 Senate) requesting legal action against H.R. 3590 was delivered to the office of Attorney General Lori Swanson. Governor Pawlenty has also requested the same action. The mandate in the federal law that would force U.S. residents to buy health insurance is unconstitutional, and it imposes an unconstitutional tax on individuals who do not comply with the mandate. Other problems with the legislation include the elimination of individuals right to choose private health care plans, a questionable funding mechanism for a new entitlement called the CLASS Act, and overall long-term funding and national deficit questions. Recent polling shows that a majority of Americans oppose the health care legislation, think it will hurt the economy, and will drive up health care costs.




The Legislature passed a second bonding bill at about $1 billion of borrowing. Once again the Governor performed the work of the Legislature by reducing the size of the billion dollar bill down to $680 million. Some improvements were made to the bill in the area of public safety provisions including $47.5 million of the $89 million Moose Lake phase II expansion, Department of Corrections radio system, security system and perimeter fence upgrade for the state prison at Oak Park Heights, and renovation for the Minneapolis Veteran Affairs Building 17.


The General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) fix has been passed and signed by the Governor. Effective June 1, 2010, the plan creates a new hospital-based coordinated care delivery system in partnership with county agencies. Coordinating Care Organizations (CCO) will manage health care and provide medically necessary services for GAMC eligible residents. Capped block grants to CCOs will be funded with $71 million from the state's General Fund. The agreement also includes a six month Uncompensated Care Pool (UCP) for hospitals that are not designated as CCOs. The temporary UCP will be funded with $20 million from the Health Care Access Fund. People eligible for the program continue to be low-income adults, ages 21-64, who have no dependent children, yet have the means available not to qualify for federally funded health care programs.


Again this year, lawmakers were denied the opportunity to vote on lifting the state's 16-year ban on new nuclear power plants, an issue that has become increasingly popular with Americans seeking clean, inexpensive energy. The measure was offered as an amendment to a solar energy bill in the full Senate, but no vote was taken after the bill's author pulled it from consideration. Recently, a bill that would have lifted the ban was denied by a few unsupportive members of a Senate energy committee. President Obama has recently announced federal government loan guarantees to build the first nuclear plants in the U.S. in three decades.


A bill has been working its way through the committee process which would shrink the Minnesota Legislature from a total of 201 to 168 legislators. Currently, Minnesota has the 9th largest House of Representatives and the largest Senate of all legislatures in the 50 states.


A new comprehensive elections reform law that had its genesis from the 2008 Coleman-Franken U.S. Senate recount has some good corrections such as ballot reconciliation measures to help ensure that all ballots are accounted for and tabulated according to the law by creating a chain of custody from election judges to municipal election officials. It also requires the Secretary of State to update the statewide voter registration system with the "challenged" status for convicted felons and illegal residents. The post-election sampling report will help legislators determine the number of illegal same-day voter registrations. The bill does not address election reforms such as provisional balloting or photo identification.


A bill designed to encourage donations to earthquake relief in Haiti has been signed into law. It allows those who contributed to relief efforts between January 11 and March 1 to deduct charitable donations on their 2009 state income taxes instead of waiting until next year. It also lets corporations deduct donations from corporate franchise taxes. The changes match state tax law with federal law.


Talk of Racino – the proposed expansion of slot machine gambling to the state's two horseracing tracks – continues in light of the state's budget shortfall. Supporters say it could potentially supply $125 million annually for the state, money that could be used for a variety of needs, including education or to finance a new Vikings stadium, as well as provide jobs. There are also opponents who resist the expansion of gambling or feel promoters over promise its potential for return. It is unclear whether the proposal will see any further consideration during this session.

Mid-Session Issue Update


Senators Julianne Ortman and Warren Limmer discuss legislation during a Senate floor session.

According to a Gallup Poll, 62 percent of Americans support nuclear power. (3/23/10)