Quantcast
Home / All News / Legislative funding may hit bumps
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, speaks Wednesday during Fredrikson & Byron’s Legislative Session Outlook Forum in St. Paul. Joining Bakk on the panel (left to right) are Deputy Senate Majority Leader Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake; House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park; and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown. The panel’s moderator, journalist Mary Lahammer, stands at the lectern. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, speaks Wednesday during Fredrikson & Byron’s Legislative Session Outlook Forum in St. Paul. Joining Bakk on the panel (left to right) are Deputy Senate Majority Leader Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake; House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park; and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown. The panel’s moderator, journalist Mary Lahammer, stands at the lectern. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

Legislative funding may hit bumps

It might not be as easy as advertised to re-pass the legislative budget that Gov. Mark Dayton line-item vetoed last year, an action that was upheld by the Minnesota Supreme Court.

That was the key bit of news to come out of Fredrikson & Byron’s annual Legislative Session Outlook panel, held Wednesday in St. Paul.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, took part in the forum, along with Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and Deputy Senate Majority Leader Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, was not present.

Among topics addressed during the 90-minute discussion were the renewed appropriation, several possible 2018 constitutional amendments, and ways to grapple with sexual harassment at the Capitol.

The biggest surprise was a speed bump that Hortman tossed before the legislative budget’s re-passage. Daudt has said several times — and repeated Wednesday — that the path toward that bill’s passage is clear.

“I had lunch with the governor prior to Christmas,” Daudt said. “And the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘First day, first week, whenever you send it, send me a legislative funding bill and I will sign it.’ I think that issue is behind us.”

Dayton has made similar statements in press briefings, provided the Legislature sends him a “clean” appropriations bill.

But it might not be so easy. While Hortman acknowledges that the Republican-led Legislature can pass a budget bill without much DFL help, negotiations are needed if the GOP House hopes to reel in any Democratic votes.

The sticking point is an Oct. 6 decision by the Subcommittee on Employee Relations. It rejected a negotiated state employee contract that included 2 percent per year salary increases; the 6-4 vote fell along strict party lines.

(Ironically, that committee is chaired by Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, who voted with the majority against the contracts after earlier filing suit against Daudt to force him to authorize a $15,000-a-year pay raise for legislators. Daudt relented last fall before it went to trial.)

The Legislature is still operating on an emergency funds shift from the Legislative Coordinating Commission. Daudt has said a new bill for full legislative funding would be a top order of business when the session starts Feb. 20 and seemed surprised when it met with resistance from Hortman.

“I can’t imagine my members voting to fund a $15,000 a year raise for legislators without taking care of the 2 percent raises for state employees,” Hortman said. “I have a hard time picturing that.”

“Do you have a problem here?” moderator and TV journalist Mary Lahammer asked Daudt.

“I don’t think so,” Daudt replied, chalking Hortman’s stance up to electoral politics. He said he plans to present the same budget in February that Dayton vetoed last May.

But he soon altered his take on the smoothness of the path ahead. “I stand corrected,” Daudt said. “Maybe it is not going to be as optimistic as I think.”

Bakk said the issue is “complicated.” In an hourlong private meeting Tuesday with Gazelka, Bakk said he also linked the budget’s passage to the employee contracts. “There is no reason not to do that,” Bakk said. “They’re good negotiated agreements.”

Benson seemed stunned. “If you want to conflate those two issues, then things have changed,” she said. “I would like to pass a clean bill, day one.”

Contacted later, Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier said the flap could signal rough times ahead. If the Democrats present a unified bloc against the bill, the pressure might be on Dayton to veto it again.

“I think there may be difficulties here,” Schier said. “On the other hand, do Democratic legislators basically want to close the Legislature over this?”

Constitutional amendment

The forum took place a day after the first court hearing in Dusosky v. Fischbach, the lawsuit pitting Sen./Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach against a constituent who wants to force her from the Senate on grounds that she can’t hold two offices at once.

There was some sniping on that Wednesday, with Daudt saying the suit is calculated to throw the Senate into a paralyzing 33-33 tie — assuming recently resigned Sen. Dan Schoen, R-St. Paul Park, gets replaced by another Democrat after Tuesday’s special election, and the court unseats Fischbach.

He scoffed when Bakk said the suit is instead purely a constitutional question that has nothing to do with the Senate.

“Nothing to do with the Senate!” Daudt said. “It’s only the first thing [Bakk] thinks about in the morning when he wakes up and the last thing he thinks about before he goes to bed — being the majority leader of the Senate.”

Yet there was unanimous interest in correcting the succession plan that forced Fischbach to ascend to lieutenant governor — a job she does not want — after Dayton elevated his former lieutenant, Tina Smith, to the U.S. Senate.

All four leaders expressed interest in a constitutional ballot measure in 2018 that would allow governors to appoint new lieutenant governors if the post becomes vacant.

“I think a constitutional amendment to give the governor his choice and have that person approved by the Senate is definitely worthy of debate,” Benson said.

Other ideas for constitutional amendments — one possibly to permanently dedicate auto-parts sales taxes to highway maintenance and another to keep the government partially funded in the event of a shutdown — were met with less uniform interest.

Bakk said he wonders if any constitutional amendments will actually end up on the ballot this year. The 2012 amendment to outlaw gay marriage backfired on Republicans, he noted, driving up DFL turnout and leading to defeat.

That might make Republicans skittish about offering any amendments this year, he said, particularly given the party’s low turnout in last week’s statewide caucuses.

“My instinct is that the GOP leadership will be skeptical about putting things on the ballot,” Bakk said. “I think there is probably a little anxiety about putting anything on.”

Sexual harassment

Several new ideas were floated for dealing with the sexual harassment controversy that has swept the nation and led to the resignations of two state legislators and U.S. Sen. Al Franken.

Benson suggested that the Legislature’s existing human resources offices could be opened to lobbyists and others whose livelihoods depend on working at the Capitol, but who are not actual employees there.

Speaking after the meeting, Hortman was dubious about that. She said a lobbyist or reporter subjected to harassment by a House member, for example, is unlikely to report it to human resources employees who get hired and fired at the will of the speaker. That could endanger that person’s career, she said.

She was equally skeptical about Bakk’s idea, which would create a new sexual harassment reporting entity under the purview of the Legislative Coordinating Commission (LCC). While that body is ostensibly nonpartisan, its oversight panel is controlled the majority party, she said.

“The LCC decided to sue the governor this summer,” she said. “You might have noticed there weren’t Democratic votes for that.”

Hortman said her preference would be to use an entity like the Office of Administrative Hearings to adjudicate disputes. “It needs to be something more judicial,” she said.

She was also open to an idea pitched by Minnesota Management and Budget Commission Myron Frans. He has said the executive branch plans to establish an independent investigative and reporting office for sexual harassment complaints and would be open to sharing that resource with the Legislature.

Bakk, too, said that could work — but only for people not actually employed by the legislative branch. For others, a shared legislative-executive office could create separation of powers problems, he said.

Whatever the ultimate solution, Daudt said legislators need to act. He announced that a new Rules Committee subcommittee, to be chaired by Assistant House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, is being formed to oversee “workplace safety and respect.”

He also said the House is enacting a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment. And he threatened any House member with the loss of all their committee spots if they don’t show up for sexual harassment training on day two of the upcoming session.

“Then you can explain to your constituents why you don’t have committee assignments,” he said. “We are taking it very seriously.”

It might not be as easy as advertised to re-pass the legislative budget that Gov. Mark Dayton line-item vetoed last year, an action that was upheld by the Minnesota Supreme Court.

That was the key bit of news to come out of Fredrikson & Byron’s annual Legislative Session Outlook panel, held Wednesday in St. Paul.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, took part in the forum, along with Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and Deputy Senate Majority Leader Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, was not present.

Among topics addressed during the 90-minute discussion were the renewed appropriation, several possible 2018 constitutional amendments, and ways to grapple with sexual harassment at the Capitol.

The biggest surprise was a speed bump that Hortman tossed before the legislative budget’s re-passage. Daudt has said several times — and repeated Wednesday — that the path toward that bill’s passage is clear.

“I had lunch with the governor prior to Christmas,” Daudt said. “And the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘First day, first week, whenever you send it, send me a legislative funding bill and I will sign it.’ I think that issue is behind us.”

Dayton has made similar statements in press briefings, provided the Legislature sends him a “clean” appropriations bill.

But it might not be so easy. While Hortman acknowledges that the Republican-led Legislature can pass a budget bill without much DFL help, negotiations are needed if the GOP House hopes to reel in any Democratic votes.

The sticking point is an Oct. 6 decision by the Subcommittee on Employee Relations. It rejected a negotiated state employee contract that included 2 percent per year salary increases; the 6-4 vote fell along strict party lines.

(Ironically, that committee is chaired by Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, who voted with the majority against the contracts after earlier filing suit against Daudt to force him to authorize a $15,000-a-year pay raise for legislators. Daudt relented last fall before it went to trial.)

The Legislature is still operating on an emergency funds shift from the Legislative Coordinating Commission. Daudt has said a new bill for full legislative funding would be a top order of business when the session starts Feb. 20 and seemed surprised when it met with resistance from Hortman.

“I can’t imagine my members voting to fund a $15,000 a year raise for legislators without taking care of the 2 percent raises for state employees,” Hortman said. “I have a hard time picturing that.”

“Do you have a problem here?” moderator and TV journalist Mary Lahammer asked Daudt.

“I don’t think so,” Daudt replied, chalking Hortman’s stance up to electoral politics. He said he plans to present the same budget in February that Dayton vetoed last May.

But he soon altered his take on the smoothness of the path ahead. “I stand corrected,” Daudt said. “Maybe it is not going to be as optimistic as I think.”

Bakk said the issue is “complicated.” In an hourlong private meeting Tuesday with Gazelka, Bakk said he also linked the budget’s passage to the employee contracts. “There is no reason not to do that,” Bakk said. “They’re good negotiated agreements.”

Benson seemed stunned. “If you want to conflate those two issues, then things have changed,” she said. “I would like to pass a clean bill, day one.”

Contacted later, Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier said the flap could signal rough times ahead. If the Democrats present a unified bloc against the bill, the pressure might be on Dayton to veto it again.

“I think there may be difficulties here,” Schier said. “On the other hand, do Democratic legislators basically want to close the Legislature over this?”

Constitutional amendment

The forum took place a day after the first court hearing in Dusosky v. Fischbach, the lawsuit pitting Sen./Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach against a constituent who wants to force her from the Senate on grounds that she can’t hold two offices at once.

There was some sniping on that Wednesday, with Daudt saying the suit is calculated to throw the Senate into a paralyzing 33-33 tie — assuming recently resigned Sen. Dan Schoen, R-St. Paul Park, gets replaced by another Democrat after Tuesday’s special election, and the court unseats Fischbach.

He scoffed when Bakk said the suit is instead purely a constitutional question that has nothing to do with the Senate.

“Nothing to do with the Senate!” Daudt said. “It’s only the first thing [Bakk] thinks about in the morning when he wakes up and the last thing he thinks about before he goes to bed — being the majority leader of the Senate.”

Yet there was unanimous interest in correcting the succession plan that forced Fischbach to ascend to lieutenant governor — a job she does not want — after Dayton elevated his former lieutenant, Tina Smith, to the U.S. Senate.

All four leaders expressed interest in a constitutional ballot measure in 2018 that would allow governors to appoint new lieutenant governors if the post becomes vacant.

“I think a constitutional amendment to give the governor his choice and have that person approved by the Senate is definitely worthy of debate,” Benson said.

Other ideas for constitutional amendments — one possibly to permanently dedicate auto-parts sales taxes to highway maintenance and another to keep the government partially funded in the event of a shutdown — were met with less uniform interest.

Bakk said he wonders if any constitutional amendments will actually end up on the ballot this year. The 2012 amendment to outlaw gay marriage backfired on Republicans, he noted, driving up DFL turnout and leading to defeat.

That might make Republicans skittish about offering any amendments this year, he said, particularly given the party’s low turnout in last week’s statewide caucuses.

“My instinct is that the GOP leadership will be skeptical about putting things on the ballot,” Bakk said. “I think there is probably a little anxiety about putting anything on.”

Sexual harassment

Several new ideas were floated for dealing with the sexual harassment controversy that has swept the nation and led to the resignations of two state legislators and U.S. Sen. Al Franken.

Benson suggested that the Legislature’s existing human resources offices could be opened to lobbyists and others whose livelihoods depend on working at the Capitol, but who are not actual employees there.

Speaking after the meeting, Hortman was dubious about that. She said a lobbyist or reporter subjected to harassment by a House member, for example, is unlikely to report it to human resources employees who get hired and fired at the will of the speaker. That could endanger that person’s career, she said.

She was equally skeptical about Bakk’s idea, which would create a new sexual harassment reporting entity under the purview of the Legislative Coordinating Commission (LCC). While that body is ostensibly nonpartisan, its oversight panel is controlled the majority party, she said.

“The LCC decided to sue the governor this summer,” she said. “You might have noticed there weren’t Democratic votes for that.”

Hortman said her preference would be to use an entity like the Office of Administrative Hearings to adjudicate disputes. “It needs to be something more judicial,” she said.

She was also open to an idea pitched by Minnesota Management and Budget Commission Myron Frans. He has said the executive branch plans to establish an independent investigative and reporting office for sexual harassment complaints and would be open to sharing that resource with the Legislature.

Bakk, too, said that could work — but only for people not actually employed by the legislative branch. For others, a shared legislative-executive office could create separation of powers problems, he said.

Whatever the ultimate solution, Daudt said legislators need to act. He announced that a new Rules Committee subcommittee, to be chaired by Assistant House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, is being formed to oversee “workplace safety and respect.”

He also said the House is enacting a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment. And he threatened any House member with the loss of all their committee spots if they don’t show up for sexual harassment training on day two of the upcoming session.

“Then you can explain to your constituents why you don’t have committee assignments,” he said. “We are taking it very seriously.”

Like this article? Gain access to all of our great content with a month-to-month subscription. Start your subscription for as little as $32. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*