Legislative notebook: GOP suggest using reserve for schools

Garofalo

By Danielle Nordine and Don Davis

Republicans want to use some of the state’s surplus to pay back schools across Minnesota.

“I think it is a higher priority to pay back our debt than to have cash on hand,” Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said Thursday.

Garofalo, House education chairman, suggested using the funds to pay back school funding shifts part of the July budget agreement that ended the state shutdown, as well as starting to pay for those made in 2010.

The plan still leaves some funds in the reserves, Garofalo said.

Gov. Mark Dayton said that while he wants to pay back the schools, taking reserve funds is a political ploy and not wise right now.

“Now they’re trying to remedy themselves by next November by raiding the reserves fund,” he said of Republicans suggesting the plan.

Dayton would have to sign Garofalo’s proposal if it is to become law.

Commissioner Jim Schowalter of Minnesota Management and Budget told Garofalo’s committee that draining reserves too low would hurt the state’s credit rating.

“If you want to use it, beware,” Schowalter said, adding that it is “a very bad idea.”

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said he does not expect the state to need more funds from the reserves.

“I think we’re on a good track,” he said. “This is the prudent fiscal thing to do now.”

The bill passed Garofalo’s committee Thursday and is expected to be before the House later this month.

Voter ID alternative

A Democrat-backed alternative to requiring voters to provide photographic identification would be cheaper and able to be implemented quickly, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said Thursday.

“Our proposal can be used in the 2012 election almost for free,” he said.

The plan would create electronic poll books, which would include digital photographs and voter information that could be used to verify identities at the polls.

It comes as a counter-proposal to a suggested constitutional amendment requiring voters to show photographic identification before casting ballots. Republicans who are promoting the ID amendment say it would prevent voter fraud.

Gov. Mark Dayton said the electronic poll book proposal is a more effective system to detect any voter fraud than the photo ID system. He also said it accomplishes Republicans’ goals “without disenfranchising people.”

Even some people who don’t have driver’s licenses will have photos in the system, Ritchie said. Others could have pictures taken or other IDs scanned at the before elections or at polling places.

“It’s a solution that takes a small investment but will take us into the future,” Ritchie said.

Speedy permitting

Senators voted 47-16 Thursday to speed up state-issued business construction permits.

The bill, like a similar one in the House, takes permitting by the Department of Natural Resources and Pollution Control Agency a step beyond a law passed last year setting a 150-day goal for the agencies to issue permits. The bill also extends to 10 years, from the current five, for feedlot permits.

“This is another big step in streamlining permitting and creating a better business climate for jobs in our state,” Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said about his bill.

Last year, the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton put a high priority on streamlining the issuance of permits. Business owners say the state takes too long, which discourages some firms from expanding in the state.

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