1) Minnesota lawmakers this week have started firming up surplus-fed budget proposals for this legislative session, including a pay hike for home care workers, additional money for school lunches and another round of potential tax relief. DFL legislative leaders hope to pass the budget measures — propped up by a sunny $1.2 billion budget surplus — by the end of the week, the Star Tribune reports. House Speaker Paul Thissen praised the budget for investing in “bread-and-butter priorities” and stimulating economic growth.
The most important spending to many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, a 5 percent pay hike for home and community-based services workers, will cost a projected $91 million. “I feel awful good about that,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk told the paper. But Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, said he was concerned that the measure could have an outsized budget impact in later years.
Other priorities include $15 million to fix roads and patch potholes after the harsh winter and $3.5 million for low-income kids to be guaranteed a hot lunch at school. Also on the table in the House is a second proposal to provide more than $100 million in tax aid.
Lawmakers have already passed $443 million in tax relief this session.
2) MNsure officials likely slept well last night — if they were free to sleep at all. Enrollment in the health insurance exchange surged and consumers swamped its call center with questions about securing coverage on Monday, the deadline to enroll in private insurance or face a tax penalty, according to the Pioneer Press.
MNsure is set to release preliminary enrollment numbers for the the full open enrollment period — the exchange’s debut — Tuesday morning. By Friday, roughly 152,000 consumers had accessed coverage through MNsure. That includes about 42,000 people who chose private coverage and more than 100,000 in public programs, though those numbers will jump significantly once more updated figures become available. “I’m really heartened by the strong enrollment in our public programs,” Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said on Monday.
The exchange web site faced slowdowns because of high traffic on the deadline to get insurance, and its call center received 17,000 calls by 4 pm — more than three times as many as at the previous Obamacare deadline. But the site didn’t go down like the federal exchange portal, healthcare.gov, and MNsure officials celebrated the extra preparations that kept consumers enrolling. Still, some Minnesotans reported frustrations with a slow system and decided to submit paper applications instead. MNsure reminded Minnesotans that if they made a good faith effort to secure coverage before last night’s deadline, they wouldn’t be penalized as the exchange plays catch up.
MNsure watchers are anxiously awaiting the updated enrollment figures, which will give key details on the exchange’s public-private enrollment mix, plan selection and demographic data.
3) Minnesota’s congressional Democrats are concerned they won’t feel much love from President Barack Obama and outside Democratic spending groups for their sometimes-tough support for the Affordable Care Act, even as Republican-led organizations have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the state criticizing them, Minnesota Public Radio reports.
Republican backed groups have already spent more than $300,000 against DFL Reps. Rick Nolan and Collin Peterson. So far, it doesn’t appear that similar organizations that back Democrats have a coordinated strategy to combat what will surely be a major campaign riff for Republicans heading into the 2014 midterms.
“Democrats in Congress have been taking bullets for the White House and the Administration on this, so we feel it’s incumbent on the office of the presidency and their political organization to step up and help us defend this thing,” Nolan, who is facing a tough reelection bid, told MPR.
COMINGS & GOINGS
Interim MNsure CEO Scott Leitz and Peter Benner, vice chairman of the MNsure board of directors, will hold an 11:00 a.m. press conference at the MNsure office.
The Department of Public Safety is hiring for a communications staffer. Qualified applicants should have a degree in communications, journalism or a related area of study, and at least three years’ experience in either field; some knowledge of the state contracting system preferred. More information at the state jobs website.
Appeals Court Judge Margaret Chutich has filed a campaign committee for her re-election bid. Chutich, appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton in 2011, listed Winthrop & Weinstine attorney Thomas Boyd as her campaign chair.
OutFront Minnesota is holding its lobby day at the Capitol today, with a full calendar of events beginning at 9:00 a.m. this morning, and a list of scheduled legislative visits already booked. More information here.
The Community Action Partnership of Suburban Hennepin County (CAPSH) is hiring for a new executive director. Qualified applicants should have five or more years of experience in administration or management of a private, public or nonprofit organization, and knowledge of state and federal policy as it pertains to community action organizations. More information here.
The Humphrey School of Public Affairs is hosting a forum discussion on the “collaborative tradition” of healthcare policy in Minnesota on Monday, April 7. Reps. Laurie Halverson, DFL-Eagan, and Tara Mack, R-Apple Valley, are scheduled to participate, along with collaborative expert Jan Malcolm; more information about the noon event is available here.