By Danielle Nordine
A Republican push to streamline government and make it easier for businesses to build and expand moved forward Thursday when the House approved a bill 79-49 speeding up state permitting.
Bill author Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said the changes will “help create a better economic climate and foster economic development in our state.”
A 150-day clock for the permitting process would begin when a business submits its application, according to the bill.
The proposal also allows businesses to hire licensed applicant professionals to assist with applications and would create a state coordinator to help businesses through the process.
“We are trying, from the very start, to increase communications,” Fabian said.
Permits mostly are issued by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources.
This proposal fits with Republicans’ goals of streamlining government and helping business and builds on efforts that started in 2011 to speed up permitting, Fabian said.
Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, called the bill premature.
“The agencies are working on the reforms we adopted last year,” he said. “Not all sequels are great, and this is a sequel to last year’s bill.”
An amendment approved Thursday also would create a small pilot program for different, faster environmental reviews for some mining projects in northern Minnesota.
The amendment was introduced by Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, who said “the goal is to shave off the time of the permitting process” for specific “low-risk projects.”
Tax awaits full vote
A tax plan is headed to the full Senate after 8-4 approval in committee Thursday, despite concerns about its funding.
The bill would phase out the statewide business property tax, as well as provide tax cuts for married couples, veterans and others.
To offset the more than $102 million in tax cuts planned next year, with more in the future, the proposal calls for cuts in state spending and using some of the budget reserve funds.
Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter said the bill “is taking us in the wrong direction” by using the reserves.
“The last two forecasts have been positive, and they’ve helped us restore some of our reserves,” he said. “This bill takes us going the other way.”
Those funds only would be used if the savings cannot be found by cutting state government spending, bill author Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said, adding she thinks there still is room to trim.
Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans said the governor also is skeptical of the jobs creation claims Republicans made about the bill.
Ortman, chairwoman of the Senate Taxes Committee, said she hoped House and Senate tax bills, which have “some substantial differences,” could be reconciled.
For example, the House bill cuts renters’ refunds to help offset tax breaks while the Senate version does not.
Keeping lights on
The Senate approved two measures Thursday that would state operations open should a shutdown like last summer’s occur again.
Sen. Al DeKruif, R-Madison Lake, put forward bills keeping the racing commission, state lottery, Gambling Control Board and state parks open even during a state government shutdown. The parks bill passed 37-28 and the gambling one received a 35-30 vote.
He said private companies such as racetracks should be able to continue business, and “the state parks in Minnesota are owned by the people of Minnesota.”
These are among many so-called “lights-on” bills proposed in reaction to state shutdown last year.
“To use the people of Minnesota as a pawn when the governor and Legislature can’t agree is wrong,” Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, said.
Democrats argued the bill focuses on the wrong angle.
“What this bill does is remove all the consequences for us not getting our work done,” Sen. Mary Jo McGuire, DFL-St. Paul, said. “I do think it sends the wrong message to the public.”
Legacy funding approved
Appropriation of legacy funds was unanimously approved by the Senate Thursday in the form of a bill carried by Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria.
The bill would commit $5.5 million for Asian carp barriers and $1.8 million for a University of Minnesota aquatic invasive species research center, among funds for a number of other projects and programs.
The approximately $100 million in the so-called legacy funding comes from a sales tax voters approved in 2008 and is spent on a variety of outdoors, arts and cultural programs.
The House version of the legacy bill appropriates more money for those projects.
Legislators have said the university research center would develop better monitoring, deterrent and eradication procedures for invasive species, from carp and other animals to nonnative plants.
Ingebrigtsen noted the Legislature will be dealing with more environmental issues in separate bills.
“I think this is in the best interest of the people of the state of Minnesota,” Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, said of the allotments.
Immunity could be gone
A bill clarifying that legislators who drink and drive are not immune from arrest unamimously passed a Senate committee Thursday and now awaits full House and Senate votes.
In Minnesota, legislators get what some consider a “get out of jail free” card protecting them from arrest for certain crimes, and some students from Concordia University in St. Paul are working to exclude drunken driving from that protection.
The students’ “No Boozin’ and Cruzin’ in Minnesota” bill adds drunken driving to an existing list of offenses that still could get lawmakers arrested.
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, commended the students on the bill and said legislators should not be above the law.
Some senators questioned whether the immunity is from consequences or solely from arrest, but said they did not see the harm in adding this provision.