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Capitol Chatter: Does Minnesota Legislature really need to do anything?

ST. PAUL - It's a refrain often heard in the Minnesota Capitol complex: "There's nothing we have to do this year."...

Don Davis
Don Davis

ST. PAUL – It's a refrain often heard in the Minnesota Capitol complex: "There's nothing we have to do this year."

The two-year state budget passed last year, so anything that happens in the legislative session starting March 8 is purely optional. There certainly are issues that many people want debated, but nothing is mandatory.

Take, for instance, a tax bill that sits in a House-Senate conference committee from last year. Republicans want big tax cuts, while Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton emphasized late in the week that he wants "targeted" ones.

Or consider the matter of extending unemployment benefits for laid-off Iron Range workers. Most state leaders appear to back the cause, but there is nothing to mandate that lawmakers consider the issue.

Even funding public works projects, which there is little doubt will happen, technically is not a must-do.


Go down the list and you can find people giving impassioned pleas for one cause or another, but must-pass? No.

Then there is something Dayton has mentioned plenty of times in recent days: "Anything you do this year is going to be perceived through the prism of an election year."

More of a realist than many politicians are in public, Dayton said that those election questions could mean his favorite programs may not get a lot of Republican love.

Republicans, of course, want to keep state spending down. That may especially hamper Dayton's efforts to pass a $1.4 billion bonding bill, the measure funded by the state selling bonds to provide money for public works projects. GOP leaders wasted no time Friday in opposing the Dayton figure.

Dayton knew the Republican response was coming, saying that passing his plan would be like pushing a boulder uphill.

Even though Dayton likely will not get all he wants in the bonding bill, he could get more than some expect. Republicans dislike constructing new buildings, but nearly everyone this year seems to back a "fix it" bill that brings existing state facilities up to snuff and that is what Dayton emphasizes.


Bakk: No surplus


Anyone following the Minnesota Legislature may get tired of hearing about a nearly $2 billion surplus.

Actually, it is closer to $1.2 billion after state officials fulfilled a law that requires money to be put into budget reserves.

Then, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said, inflation could eat up $1.6 billion. That means there is no surplus.

State law does not allow inflation to be figured in when state officials make budget projections. But lawmakers can think about inflation when they work toward writing budgets.

If inflation is not factored in, expected pay raises and other budget increases may not happen.

When Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities officials-who want more state aid-were asked about facing a no-surplus budget, former Rep. Marty Seifert of Marshall said that cities did not get their fair share of money in last year's budget.

"We were left stranded on the island of dysfunction," Seifert said.

Even if there really is no surplus, as Bakk claims, Minnesotans can expect a stream of requests seeking a part of the "surplus" before lawmakers land in St. Paul on March 8 for their regular session.



Minnesotan runs for president

Minneapolis resident Bill McGaughey Jr. says he knows he will not be the next president, but just running will drive home some points.

One of 28 presidential candidates in the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary, McGaughey is in New England to press his case.

"Not standing a chance to be elected president, I nevertheless think that my candidacy and those of other 'minor' candidates are more than freak shows featuring delusional characters," he said.

McGaughey said he "plans to challenge the system" by going "on a 'white man's walk' in each New Hampshire city or town I visit and invite the more courageous souls to join me."

He said that his main issue is jobs, and by instituting a four-day, 32-hour work week would help the economy.

McGaughey ran in Louisiana's 2004 Democratic primary, focusing on trade issues.



Special session fades

All the talk about a special state legislative session a couple of weeks ago appears a mere memory.

Blame the federal government.

Federal officials announced a bit more than a week ago that Minnesota would have two to four years to re-do driver's licenses and state identification cards to meet new standards. State officials had expected a 120-day notice, which federal homeland security officials also told Forum News Service.

"It takes away one of the urgent reasons," Gov. Mark Dayton said.

However, he quickly added, extending unemployment benefits to laid-off Iron Range workers remains important enough for a special session, as well as starting to fix black Minnesotans' financial problems.

Even the new Real ID standards' fix could be started in a special session, Dayton said. A 2009 state law forbids the public safety commissioner, who is in charge of issuing driver's licenses, from even discussing Real ID-related issues, so a special session could remove that gag rule and allow work to begin.


"We don't to run the clock on this," the governor said.


No workforce center change

North Dakota earlier this month announced it would close seven of its 16 Job Service offices, and eliminate 60 jobs as federal funding dropped.

The Minnesota version of Job Service also receives less federal money, "but we've managed to limit the impact to our workforce center system," Deputy Commissioner Blake Chaffee of the state Department of Employment and Economic Development said. No Minnesota offices have closed.

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