Employment and business climate issues dominate early bills from Republicans
The public introduction of Senate File 1 by Republicans was mostly about symbolism, and GOP Sen. Geoff Michel did not seem to hide it.
Surrounded by his caucus mates in a Capitol news conference on Monday, Michel announced a $200 million proposal that aims to cut business taxes and reduce regulatory red tape. He admitted the bill would likely be revamped during the committee process, and may not reach a final vote until near the end of the session. Despite that, he still wanted it to be the first out of the gate in 2011. “We want to be very deliberate about our first bill as a jobs bill,” he said. “I hope it can become a marquee issue of the session.”
For most Capitol watchers, it was not surprising that the Senate’s first bill – and many that landed in both GOP caucuses’ top 10 – are aimed at jobs and the state’s business climate. It was what they campaigned on all season long. But the $200 million price tag for the tax breaks proposed by Michel raised eyebrows. Republicans campaigned heavily on cutting spending, and while Michel said he hopes to account for the cost in this year’s budget through cuts and reforms, Democrats are crying foul, saying it only adds to the $6.2 billion deficit and does nothing to create jobs in the near term.
“Anyone who acts surprised by the Republicans’ business agenda is pulling your leg,” said a longtime DFL lobbyist who preferred to remain anonymous. “That’s what they said they were going to do. The question is how much they are going to spend to help the business community with this $6.2 billion deficit facing them and a promise not to increase taxes.”
Republicans focus on businesses
Michel and a throng of his Republican caucus mates – now the majority in the chamber for the first time in nearly 40 years – beamed as he discussed the proposal, which seeks to cut the business income tax by half in the next six years, and roll back and freeze business property taxes to 2009 levels.
Michel said tax cuts would reduce the cost of doing business in the state, while tighter deadlines for permitting would give businesses more confidence. “We want to make Minnesota the best place to start a business and expand a business,” Michel said. “We want to plant a flag at every border that our state is open for business again and that we will do anything to help a job creator.”
DFL Minority Leader Tom Bakk was quick to criticize Michel’s bill, saying cuts to corporate taxes is “extremely costly to our state” and is a “poor tool to spur economic growth.” Bakk, a former Senate Taxes Committee chairman, said the corporate income tax cut would go to out-of-state companies, while tax cuts for companies would force more spending cuts.
The bill would also direct the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources to rule on environmental permits within 150 days of an application. The House GOP took a similar route in their first proposal, brought by freshman Rep. Dan Fabian of Roseau. The bill also lays out a 150-day permitting goal for the two agencies, while sending environmental reviews directly to the Court of Appeals instead of starting at the district court level, and allowing businesses to hire out preparation of environmental impact statements. At a Capitol news conference on Monday, Fabian said that is what businesses in his district told him it would take to keep them in Minnesota.
The second House bill, also brought by a House GOP freshman, Rep. King Banaian of St. Cloud, would change the way lawmakers set the state budget through a process called “priority-based budgeting.” Banaian said the method starts everything at zero, and then figures spending in terms of agency performance. The bill would also require a 10-year review by the legislative auditor on the sunset of all state agencies, boards, committees and their functions, beginning in 2013.
“We live in a world where things change at a faster and faster rate,” he said. The Senate also introduced a “zero-based budgeting bill,” signaling they plan to take a similar approach to fixing the state’s books. A former DFL House Finance Committee chairman, Rep. Lyndon Carlson, said zero-based budgeting would force the Legislature to duplicate the work already done by the state’s Department of Management and Budget. “There may be some disagreement over whether this is zero-based, or priority-based budgeting,” he said, “but zero-based budgeting, it its purest sense, isn’t practical in any way.” [See related story, Page 3.]
House Republicans also called for corporate tax relief in their top 10 bills, and both chambers are looking to repeal a ban on building new nuclear power plants in the state – a move they say will keep energy jobs close to home and address the need for clean energy. The bill cleared the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee on a 10-6 vote Tuesday. [See related story, Page 2.]
Democrats want bonding, redistricting power
Right out of the gate, Democrats like Minority Leader Paul Thissen, Carlson and Iron Range Rep. Tom Rukavina have been promoting a bonding bill as the most effective way for Republicans to hold true to their campaign promise to create jobs, and to do it quickly. They will likely push the idea – with the help of a governor who has expressed interest in bonding – as a counter to Republican jobs bills throughout the session.
“The only real job creator is a stimulus creator,” said St. Paul Rep. Tim Mahoney. “We need some kind of a bonding bill that puts people back to work.”
But that’s not the only way Democrats in new-found minorities plan to carve out their place in the scheme of things. While he may no longer be the head honcho in the Senate chamber, Minneapolis DFLer Larry Pogemiller was the first in his caucus to have a proposal in the Senate, reintroducing his bill to form a commission to recommend boundaries for the upcoming redistricting process. He also teamed up with former Senate Finance Chairman Dick Cohen for a bill that aims to require the state’s budget commissioner to adjust the state’s spending forecast for projected inflation. (Currently, according to the terms of a deal struck between then-legislative leaders Roger Moe and Tim Pawlenty in 2002, inflation is counted only in revenue projections, not spending projections.)
DFL House Rep. Carlos Mariani also returned this year with his bill to offer alternative forms of teacher licensure for those who do not hold an education degree. Last session, Education Minnesota, the state’s largest teachers union, pressured DFL leadership to take alternative licensure out of an overall education package, ultimately derailing the omnibus bill. But Mariani is back with a provision to measure alternatively licensed teachers’ proficiency, and he has most of the Republican majority behind him.
The head of Education Minnesota, Tom Dooher, was on the defensive at a Tuesday news conference, saying he is open to some forms of alternative teacher licensure that place mid-career professionals in classrooms to teach subjects in which they hold a degree.
But Education Minnesota does not sound like it will stand for programs like Teach for America, which trains just-graduated college students for five weeks before putting them in classrooms across the country. “There is a responsible way to go about it, and we intend to work with anyone who takes a responsible route,” Dooher said. “We need to make sure that when people go into our classrooms, they are not experimenting on our children.”
First 10 House bills
H.F. 1: The first bill from the House GOP caucus aims to establish a 150 day permitting goal for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources, while allowing environmental review decisions to head to the Court of appeals, and allows businesses to hire out help to draft Environmental Impact Statements. The bill carried by Rep. Dan Fabian will be heard in the Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee.
H.F. 2: Freshman Rep. King Banaian carries a bill that would provide for zero-based budgeting for 2013 and 2014 and require a 10-year planned review by the Legislative Auditor on the sunset of all state agencies, boards, committees and functions. It will be heard in the Government Operations and Elections committee.
H. F. 3: DFL Rep. Carlos Mariani and Kim Norton are joined by returning GOP Rep. Sondra Erickson in bringing a bill to allow for alternative forms of teacher licensure. The proposal is referred to the Education Reform Committee.
H. F. 4: GOP Rep. Keith Downey is the chief author on a proposal to reduce the state workforce and create an early retirement program. He is joined by representatives Steve Drazkowski, Kur Zellers, Bruce Anderson and Peggy Scott. It will head to the Government Operations and Elections Committee.
H. F. 5: This proposal would implement a salary and wage freeze for state employees, brought by Republican Rep. Denny McNamara. It’s heading to the Government Operations and Elections panel.
H. F. 6: Brought by a Republican cadre of legislators, including Tony Cornish, Kelby Woodard, John Kriesel, Mike LeMieur, Tom Hackbarth, Ernie Leidiger and Scott, this bill would increase the penalty for criminal sexual conduct in the first degree. Naturally, the bill will go first to the Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance panel.
H. F. 7: This bill aims to abolish a slew of mandates pertaining to local governments. The bill brought by Drazkowski, Banaian, Woodard, Fabian, Roger Crawford, Kurt Daudt, Bud Nornes and Bob Barrett will get its first hearing in the Government Operations and Elections Committee.
H. F. 8: This human services bill seeks to start the “healthy Minnesota contribution program,” according to introductions, and redesign service delivery for lower-income MinnesotaCare enrollees. That is heading to Health and Human Services Reform. It’s brought by GOP representatives Steve Gottwalt, Sarah Anderson, Duane Quam and Woodard.
H. F. 9: House GOPers want to get rid of the ban on constructing new nuclear power plants.It passed with a 10-6 vote in the Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee on Tuesday, and now heads to Commerce.
H. F. 10: Republicans in the House propose to cut the corporate tax rate. The bill was brought by GOPers Jenifer Loon, Sarah Anderson and Fabian. It will go to the Taxes Committee.
First 10 Senate bills
S.F. 1: Sen. Geoff Michel and Amy Koch carry the first Senate File of the session, which aims to cut corporate tax rates, business property taxes and speed up some permitting. It will head to the Jobs and Economic Growth Committee.
S.F. 2: Republicans hope to restore Green Acres classifications to pre-2008 status. Rural Senate President Michele Fischbach is joined by two rural freshman legislators – Sen. Al DeKruif and Sen. Sean Nienow – in carrying the proposal. The bill will head to the Taxes panel.
S.F. 3: Fischbach is joined by Sen. Mike Parry, Sen. Paul Gazelka and freshman senators Dan Hall and Ted Lillie on a bill providing for zero-based budgeting. The proposal will be heard in the State Government Innovation and Veterans Committee.
S.F. 4: Amy Koch is joined by senators DeKruif, Michele Benson, and Dan Brown in her efforts to repeal the nuclear moratorium. The bill will be heard in the Energy Utilities and Telecommunications Committee.
S.F. 5: Larry Pogemiller is the first Democrat on the list to introduce a bill, proposing a commission to recommend boundaries for the upcoming redistricting process. That will head to the Rules committee.
S.F. 6: DFL Sen. Katie Sieben made the list as well, bringing a bill that would modify insurance for part-time employees. The bill is heading to the Jobs and Economic Growth Committee.
S.F. 7: Sieben is joined by GOP Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen in her push to ban synthetic marijuana. The proposal will be heard in the Judiciary and Public Safety panel.
S.F. 8: A swath of DFLers joined up to bring a Health and Human Services bill that would starting the Minnesota Health Plan, Minnesota Health Board, Minnesota Health Fund, Office of Health Quality and Planning, an ombudsman for “patient advocacy,” and an inspector general for the Minnesota Health Plan. Senate Minority leader Tom Bakk is joined by DFL senators John Marty, Patricia Torres Ray and Linda Scheid in carrying the bill, which will be heard in the HHS Committee.
S.F. 9: Pogemiller and former Senate Finance head Dick Cohen will bring a proposal that requires the state’s commissioner of the Minnesota Management and Budget office to adjust the forecast for projected inflation. It will be heard in the Senate’s Finance Committee.
S.F. 10: Another Pogemiller-Cohen joint bill. The two aim to require the Legislature and governor to balance the budget for an additional biennium. The proposal will be heard in the Taxes Committee.