Work on ‘people’s house’ to proceed

Dayton

Minnesota citizens will have more space and senators less space when a $273 million state Capitol renovation project is completed two years from now.

“There is a winner here: the people of Minnesota,” said Paul Anderson, a former state Supreme Court chief justice, shortly after the Capitol Preservation Commission on Thursday approved a space allocation agreement among those who use the nearly 110-year-old building.

That deal, combined with formal approval to spend money for the final phase of renovation work, means construction will proceed as planned. A stalemate among Gov. Mark Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook and House Speaker Kurt Daudt of Crown about dividing space threatened to delay construction, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars a month.

Dayton and Bakk told commission members that they reached agreement late Wednesday about how to split up the space.

“We rolled up our sleeves pretty hard on this,” Bakk said.

Bakk dropped his plan to put 23 senators’ offices in the Capitol, with the possibility they also would have offices in a building under construction across the street.

The deal would allow “up to” four senator offices in the Capitol, with the rest in the new building, Bakk said. No senator would have more than one office.

Senators who hold the majority traditionally have had Capitol offices. With Democrats in the majority now, 39 senators are in the facility. Republicans are in a building across the street that also houses all House members.

The House will have offices in the Capitol that its leaders can use, but no representative would have a permanent office there.

Putting most Senate offices in the new building opened up space throughout the Capitol for the public.

“That’s what is important,” Dayton said.

All five floors will have more public space, beginning with an expanded restaurant area in the basement. There will be space for lawmakers to meet with groups and individuals in the Capitol and areas for displays around the building.

“It is just a thrill to see how much public space has been incorporated into the Capitol,” Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said. “It is the people’s house.”

While the House and Senate use most of the Capitol space, all of the governor’s office also is in the building. The Supreme Court sometimes still will meet in its historic Capitol chambers, but it generally is housed in a building just to the east. The attorney general has Capitol offices, but also has some in downtown St. Paul.

Food services, the media and Minnesota Historical Society also will have spaces in the renovated facility.

Work started several years ago to repair the outside of the Capitol after pieces of the marble walls began to fall off. The leaking dome also was fixed.

Then attention turned to the inside, where problems include peeling paint, antiquated heating and air conditioning and handicapped visitors struggling to get around. Lawmakers and Dayton approved funding the renovation, and Capitol employees began moving out more than a year ago.

Now, only a third of the Capitol is open as construction workers take over the rest.

Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said he is glad the work is progressing and that people in his west-central Minnesota district appreciate the work.

“If we can’t maintain this building, I don’t know what we can maintain,” Urdahl said.

While the main part of the project is funded, Urdahl said that the current appropriation does not fully restore some Capitol artwork, so the Legislature or private business may need to come up with funds for that.

One of the major reasons for renovation was what officials call “life safety.” For instance, there now are no safe fresh air intakes at the Capitol. After renovation, all air will come from vents away from pollution such as vehicle exhaust.

The plan is to have 90 percent of the building protected by fire sprinklers, compared to 40 percent that now has sprinklers. The work also is replacing all of the building’s plumbing.

U of M president throws flag on banning early games

Gov. Mark Dayton’s wish to start all football games after noon would result in a penalty, the University of Minnesota president says.

“The governor and I had a conversation about that,” President Eric Kaler said Tuesday after a reporter asked him about the issue.

Kaler explained to Dayton that the university gives the Big Ten Conference media rights and if Minnesota broke away and made its own television deals, it would lose a lot of money.

Games often are moved away from their traditional 1 or 1:30 p.m. start times to accommodate when TV executives want to air them.

In a late-December interview, Dayton complained about 11 a.m. kickoffs.

“If you want to tailgate, you have to be there by 9 a.m.,” Dayton said. “Most students, I don’t think, are awake at 9 a.m.”

Minnesota started football games at 11 a.m. at home four times in the 2014 season.

“It’s all driven by television and the dollars involved there,” Dayton said, remembering that it was easier for personal schedules when TV did not dictate team schedules.

The governor said he planned to discuss the issue with governors in other states with Big Ten teams.

While Dayton complained about lower attendance when games start in the morning, Kaler said that there is little difference between morning and afternoon starts.

Not only did Kaler object to the loss of money that would follow if Minnesota requires afternoon starts, but he said that he likes earlier kickoffs.

“You have a lot of day left in front of you,” he said.

‘No choice’ but to raise Minnesota taxes for transportation

Dibble

There is no choice but to raise taxes to improve Minnesota’s transportation system, say state Senate Democrats.

“I can’t think of another path … without some increase in revenue,” Sen. Vicki Jenson, D-Owatonna, said Monday as she and colleagues introduced a bill that will raise and spend more than $1 billion annually for roads, bridges and transit projects. “We are going to have to pay.”

Sen. Susan Kent, D-Woodbury, said that changes are made because transportation needs remain unmet.

“We are not addressing these needs with our current approach,” Kent said.

While House Republicans suggested a short-term $750 million spending bill over four years, Democrats said more money, and permanent funding, is needed.

“We are very much headed in the right direction,” Kent said about the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party bill. “This is basic math.”

The plan, similar to one expected later this month from Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and one already released by transportation advocates, would impose a new wholesale 6.5 percent sales tax on gasoline, on top of the current 28.5 cents per-gallon gas tax.

The wholesale gas proposal would add the equivalent of about a dime per gallon at the current wholesale price.

Also, it would raise vehicle license plate fees, increase a Twin Cities sales tax for transit projects and borrow money for other transportation needs.

The proposal would add nearly $800 million in the next year, with more than $1 billion coming in future years.

Republicans were critical of the Senate Democratic majority.

“The proposed Senate DFL tax hike will hit the pocketbooks of Minnesota’s middle-class with a vengeance,” President Mark Drake of the GOP-leaning Minnesota Jobs Coalition said.

House Transportation Chairman Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, last week released a $750 million proposal that he said was designed as a short-term fix until the House could determine the state’s real transportation needs. He said $200 million of it would come from other state programs and the rest of the money would be from money the state already has on hand, such as funds the Legislature has approved for road projects, but not spent.

The DFL plan’s author, Minneapolis Democratic Sen. Scott Dibble, said that state leaders have taken too long talking about the problem of crumbling roads and congestion.

“The time has come to stop the admiring of the problem,” he said.

Dibble said the state needs to spend $21 billion over 20 years to maintain what is in place, and pegged the price at $55 billion to compete internationally.

The senator said lack of proper transportation funding is driving the elderly, disabled and young people out of their homes and communities, which costs Minnesotans money. He also said that it increases the number of wrecks and fixing the problems will cost more if not done now.

Dibble and Jenson said that the state’s transportation problems reduce the chances of businesses moving to the state.

Sen. Roger Reinert, D-Duluth, said money for regional centers such as where he lives can keep them “economically viable.” The Dibble bill sets aside some funds for a passenger rail line from the Twin Cities to Duluth, which could proceed if federal money becomes available.

Salisbury retires — almost — as Minnesota political reporter

Salisbury, right, interviews the governor

At least you can say that Bill Salisbury’s start in newspapers attracted attention.

About 64 years ago Salisbury was 6 and one day in west-central Minnesota’s Belgrade Tribune, which his father owned, he happened onto the front page before it went to press.

“I pulled the ‘b’ out of ‘Tribune’ and turned it upside down and stuck it back in so it came out looking like ‘Belgrade Triqune,’” Salisbury admitted during an interview about his retirement as a full-time St. Paul Pioneer Press political reporter.

A couple of years later his job was sweeping up newspaper scraps from under a folding machine and by 16 he was covering the Belgrade city baseball team for the correctly spelled Tribune.

Since then, the always-mustached, soft-spoken Salisbury has become one of Minnesota’s best-known political journalists.

After covering Gov. Mark Dayton’s second inauguration last Monday, Salisbury retired one day short of covering the Minnesota and national capitols for 40 years. “Retired” might not be exactly right; he still will work 14 hours a week for the Pioneer Press.

“I like it here,” Salisbury said about the state Capitol. “I enjoy politics. … I just did not want to quit abruptly. I wanted to phase out. I never felt like I had to get away from it.”

Salisbury has been influential for 40 years because his job opened doors to governors’ offices and a presidential limousine. He has interviewed the famous and powerful, as well as the ordinary who managed to change the course of events.

In the past few weeks, since it became known that he was retiring, people of all political stripes have wished him well.

“Bill Salisbury is an outstanding journalist, and one of the very best reporters I have known,” Dayton said. “He epitomizes the highest journalistic standards of integrity, objectivity and fairness. I wish Bill the very best in his well-earned retirement.”

Salisbury covered six presidents’ trips to Minnesota and held White House press credentials during his five-year stint as the Pioneer Press’ Washington reporter. He said one of his most memorial assignments was riding with then-President Bill Clinton alone in the presidential limousine from a northern Twin Cities stop to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.

Despite his federal government coverage, Salisbury made it clear that his real interest is in Minnesota politics. His enthusiasm rubbed off on colleagues.

“I sat next to Bill in the Capitol basement for years, and it was always a thrill to watch him work,” former Pioneer Press reporter Denny Lien recalled. “Being a reporter covering politics was the perfect calling for him. … He was energized by the ideas, by the pursuit of the story, and by the people he encountered. He seemingly knew everyone and everyone knew him. Moreover, they all knew they’d get a fair shake from him.”

When Salisbury was on a Minnesota Public Radio show just after he retired, former state Rep. Marty Seifert of Marshall called in to say that even after years as a politician, he only has one story framed and hanging on his office wall: one by Salisbury.

It is appropriate that the compliment came from Seifert, who last year ran for governor touting his rural upbringing. Salisbury said the same type of background helped him.

“I still think of myself as a small town boy,” Salisbury said. “I still think of myself as a kid from Belgrade.”

“I feel there are some things I understand,” he said, recalling conversations with reporters raised in cities who did not understand, for instance, rural Minnesotans’ attachment to guns.

Salisbury said he had a shotgun and a rifle as a youth and worked hard to keep them shiny. “I remember how much I loved those guns.”

“I think it is an asset to understand rural Minnesota,” said the reporter whose introduction to newspapers was a bit upside down.

Salisbury stories

Salisbury often is called the dean of the Capitol press corps, having been there the longest.

“I say ‘dean’ is a synonym for ‘old fart,’” he said.

Regardless of the definition, for years he has been leader of an unofficial press corps organization.

—-

His retirement is partially because a $270 million, multi-year state Capitol renovation is making working around the 110-year-old building difficult.

“Have you seen the Capitol lately?” he asked. “It’s a maze.”

For the past year, Salisbury and the rest of the Capitol press corps have been housed a couple of blocks away from the Capitol, but still in a basement.

“I spent my entire (political reporting) career in the basement,” he said.

—-

There was a time when Salisbury did not know if he wanted to be a journalist. A short time. He shook off the doubt and became addicted to journalism, especially the political variety.

“It’s an inherited disease,” he joked about being a newspaperman.

He credits President John F. Kennedy for his interest in political journalism.

Belgrade high school students were let out of regular class to attend religious classes and Salisbury would sneak away to watch Kennedy news conferences, which were held most Thursdays.

“I just thought he was fascinating,” Salisbury said, and his interaction with reporters was most interesting.

Politicians who visited his father’s newspaper, such as Hubert H. Humphrey, also intrigued Salisbury, he said.

—-

Salisbury’s resume is not very long.

Before joining the Pioneer Press, he worked at daily newspapers in Rochester and Fairmont, as well as being a copy boy for U.S. News and World Report magazine. He was at the Post Bulletin of Rochester when he began his political reporting career.

He worked for university relations at the University of Minnesota Morris for two years following his graduation from there.

School newspapers at Concordia College in Moorhead and the University of Minnesota Twin Cities also had him as a reporter when we was a student.

Garrison Keillor hired Salisbury as a writer for his Ivory Tower literary magazine, but Salisbury left after a quarter.

—-

Salisbury said he would not consider going to work for an advocacy group like many of his colleagues have when they left political reporting.

“I don’t think I could ever work for a politician,” he said. “I would feel like I was selling out my principles.”

—-

So why did Salisbury go to the Pioneer Press?

“I thought it was THE job,” he said. “I was excited writing for a big paper that everybody in the Capitol read. … I like it because they pay attention to us.”

—-

One of the toughest stories for Salisbury was covering U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone’s 2002 death in a plane crash.

Salisbury had got to know Wellstone well while based in Washington.

Wellstone, Salisbury said, had a news conference about every day. “He was a bit of a publicity hound.”

—-

The reporter especially liked covering ordinary people who make a difference, such as parents who last year convinced legislators to legalize medical marijuana so they could use it to treat their children.

It doesn’t always happen like that, he said. “It is tough for them to compete with full-time professional lobbyists.”

—-

Like many political reporters of his era, Salisbury was a sports nut as a youth.

His newspaper-owning family subscribed to three daily newspapers, but the first place he would look was the West Central Tribune and its legendary sports columnist Lefty Ranweiler.

Salisbury by the numbers

43: Years as daily newspaper reporter

40: Years as political reporter

34: Annual legislative sessions covered

7: Governors covered

19: statewide elections covered

13: National political conventions covered

6: Presidents he covered on Minnesota visits

Piolitical Chatter: Transportation plans evolving

Transportation funding this legislative session is about as easy to navigate as a rural dirt road after a summer thunderstorm.

It is obvious to every Minnesota Legislature observer that transportation will be a major issue, but the issue became pretty confusing in the opening days of the 2015 session.

Gov. Mark Dayton has given a good idea about what he will propose for transportation funding, but not the details. Senate Democrats did not place transportation in their top six priorities, a surprise to many, but are releasing their plan this morning. House Republicans suggested spending $750 million they say the state already has. And a transportation advocacy group suggests a plan that looks a lot like Dayton discusses.

Let’s see if we can pave over some of the mud.

First, House Republicans did not make it clear when they unveiled their priorities Thursday that their plan was only a short-term one, not one that would fix all the road and bridge problems they think should be addressed.

Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said that more time is needed to compile a comprehensive transportation funding plan. So for now, House Republicans limit their request to $750 million, with a bigger proposal coming later.

Kelly said that he is getting money for his bill from a variety of places, including from projects that were funded but not built, projects that did not need all the money appropriated and making the Department of Transportation more efficient. About $200 million also would come from the general fund; usually, most transportation money comes from funds dedicated to roads, bridges and transit.

While House Republicans put transportation No. 4 on their priority list, it did not make the top six for Senate Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, emphasized that senators understand the importance of transportation funding and that Dayton and House Republicans want something done. Dayton says he will focus on education and transportation this session.

Senate Transportation Chairman Scott Dibble, D-Minneapolis, said that unlike the GOP, his plan will include a transit component. It likely will include some form of a gasoline tax increase and a Twin Cities tax for transit.

Dibble said his plan will look a lot like one Dayton has sketched out and that transportation advocates in Move MN propose.

The Move MN plan mixes a wholesale gasoline sales tax increase with higher vehicle license fees. Also included is an additional tax in the Twin Cities to fund transit needs there.

Estimates for transportation needs in the next 10 years range from $2 billion to $6 billion.

Sibling representatives

Brian Daniels sat in his new desk on the Minnesota House floor looking a bit overwhelmed before the 2015 legislative session began.

“This is totally out of my wheelhouse,” he said.

On the other hand, as new and re-elected lawmakers flowed into the chamber, many with families in tow, he added: “This is very exciting.”

The Faribault Republican will not have to go far to learn about the legislative process: His sister also is a GOP representative.

While Daniels was taking his first oath of office, Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, held her right hand up to begin her second term.

They are the first brother-and-sister combination to serve in the Minnesota Legislature.

“I’m proud of the history we made, but I’m even more proud of the example we set,” O’Neill said. “Having a big brother with a physical disability follow his younger sister to the Legislature – to have the opportunity to be the voice for 40,000 Minnesotans — is a testimony to the power of love, family and faith.”

Daniels has been a warranty manager for a tool supply company 16 years and said he never has done anything like serve in the Legislature.

While the siblings may be the first sister-brother act, two brothers served in the Legislature at the same time, but with a twist. Ted Lillie was a Republican senator before he was defeated for re-election in 2012 while Leon Lillie, a Democrat, continues to serve in the House. The representative has served in the House since 2005.

Politicians left off

A council charged with the task of recommending university of Minnesota Board of Regents candidates skipped over two former politicians who wanted spots on the school’s governing board.

Former Republican state Rep. Morrie Lanning of Moorhead and ex-Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Luther will not be among those recommended for the board when the full Legislature picks regents in the coming weeks. Lawmakers do not need to accept the council’s recommendation. The council picked two candidates per congressional district to pass on to a legislative panel that will recommend one for each seat to lawmakers.

Stumpf, Obama agree

On Thursday, Minnesota state Sen. LeRoy Stumpf proposed the state pay for two years of a student’s technical or community college education.

On Friday, President Barack Obama suggested that the federal government pay 75 percent of those students’ education, with states picking up the rest.

Stumpf, D-Plummer, said that Minnesota businesses need skills that two-year college graduate possess.

The White House press office, like Stumpf, used a Tennessee program as an example.

State governments would need to participate if the Obama plan is implemented in any state. If all states did participate, the White House said, about 9 million students could benefit and the average student would save $3,800 a year.

BNSF plan required

BNSF Railway Co. must give the federal government a detailed plan about how it will deliver coal to make sure power plants do not run out during heating seasons.

The Surface Transportation Board issued the order after plants, including several serving Minnesota, ran low on coal.

“Disruptions in rail service caused rising prices and subpar service across Minnesota,” U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said.

Dayton, DFL legal

The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board says that Gov. Mark Dayton’s campaign and the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party did not illegally coordinate campaign efforts last year.

State law limits how much a party and a candidate can work together.

The Republican Party told the state board that Democrats and Dayton violated the law by using a three-second video clip that the GOP showed the party and candidate worked together. The board ruled there was no coordination.

The Dayton campaign had put the video on YouTube, thus making it available to anyone that wanted to download it.

Democrats all along said they did not violate the rule, but Republican Chairman Keith Downey was not happy: “The ruling exposes a huge loophole for political groups to get around illegal coordination laws by using the internet.”

Dayton looks for unity

Dayton gets directions

Uniting Minnesota is one of Gov. Mark Dayton’s goals as he begins his second, and final, term as the state’s chief executive.

“What helps some Minnesotans usually helps all of us,” Dayton said in his Monday inaugural address to about 400 invited guests. “So let’s cheer each other’s successes, not resent them.”

The governor, who at 67 has said he will not run again, complained that Minnesotans divide themselves up into camps: “There’s greater Minnesota against the metro area. Central cities vs. suburbs.  Urban schools against rural districts. East metro vs. west metro. Cities, counties and townships compared to other cities, counties and townships.”

The former U.S. senator, state auditor and economic development commissioner called for state residents to become “one Minnesota.”

“Someone always believes that someone else is getting a better deal,” Dayton said in his speech at St. Paul’s Landmark Center. “Those rivalries are not going to disappear. However, they cannot be permitted to blind us to the larger truth that we are all one Minnesota.”

The Democratic governor’s comments came a day before Republicans take control of the state House The GOP credits its November ballot box win in a large part to a Democratic-controlled Legislature and Dayton ignoring rural needs the last two years.

Dayton did not specifically mention the GOP taking over the House, but encouraged policymakers to look at things his way: “What binds us together is much more important than what pulls us apart.”

“Economic growth in one area pays for property tax relief in another,” Dayton added. “Good farm prices in southern Minnesota boost sales and revenues in metro stores. Shops in Duluth do better when the Range is at full production. “

Republican leaders did not attend the inaugural. The man to become House speaker today, Rep. Kurt Daudt of Crown, said he was in a couple of long-scheduled fundraisers before during the ceremony. He said he tried to call Dayton Monday morning to congratulate him and attempted to connect with him after the inaugural.

Daudt said that he and Dayton have a good relationship, but said his colleagues are concerned about rural Minnesota.

“We are very sincere that rural Minnesota was left behind,” Daudt said.

While GOP leaders were absent, so was Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, who was interviewing potential Senate employees.

Monday’s inaugural, which lasted less than an hour, was an all-Democratic affair.

Along with Dayton, new Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and just-elected Secretary of State Steve Simon were sworn in. Also taking oaths were Attorney General Lori Swanson and State Auditor Rebecca Otto, both starting their third terms.

Smith, a former Dayton chief of staff, replaces Yvonne Prettner Solon, who opted not to seek re-election.

Simon, a Hopkins resident, served 10 years in the Minnesota House before winning his first statewide office. He takes over from Democrat Mark Ritchie, who decided not to run again.

The new secretary of state, who appeared emotional when talking about voting rights, promised to make it easier for Minnesotans to vote.

“As secretary of state, I’ll work with anyone, of any political affiliation, from any part of our state to secure and strengthen our right to vote in Minnesota, to help make our democracy worthy of our best traditions,” Simon said.

Dayton emphasized education, but like most governors in inaugural addresses, offered no specific proposals.

He long has said that he wants to increase education spending in every state budget while he is in office. However, he said, he will not seek more money just to do the same things now happening in schools.

Legislators last year funded all-day, every-day kindergarten and Dayton said he wants more early child programs.

“Additionally, some children’s needs go beyond early education,” Dayton said. “They must be better-protected from neglect and abuse.”

He added: “I will dedicate the next four years to regaining our state’s position as a national and global leader in education excellence.”

Smith also promoted education, crediting a good school system for Minnesota inventions from Bisquick to Twister, from water skies to supercomputers.

“The heart of invention beats in every corner of our state, from the apartment buildings in Cedar Riverside to the farms and small towns across Minnesota,” Smith said. “Let’s make sure these inventors and creative people have the tools they need to make their ideas fly.”

Minnesota Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea gave the oath to Dayton, Simon and Swanson, while Dayton appointee Justice David Lillehaug swore in Otto and Smith. Justice Alan Page was master of ceremonies.

Help wanted for rural workforce, housing problems

“Help wanted” signs hang in front of businesses and factories throughout rural Minnesota and in many communities even if those jobs are filled, workers may not find homes nearby.

Training workers and building homes are two parts of the same problem that rural legislators hope to fix. The workforce issue is one of the major ones that will be brought to St. Paul by rural lawmakers, who will control the Minnesota House and say the problem hinders economic growth in their districts.

The 2015 Legislature begins at noon Tuesday.

“We want to enjoy the growth,” Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, said. “It is a nice place to live.”

He just has to look in his own district to explain the problem. The town of Jackson, population about 3,300, hosts an industrial park with 2,100 workers, taking all available housing.

A major farm tractor manufacturer is always looking for workers, as are other area businesses. Some manufacturers have pulled out of the community because there was not enough housing for workers, Gunther said.

From his southern Minnesota district to those in the north, the story is similar. In northwest Minnesota’s Perham, for instance, the company that makes Barrel O’ Fun snack foods last summer took to recruiting Ukrainians and busing them the 24 miles from Wadena because workers and housing for them are scarce.

Further north, in Thief River Falls, Digi-Key and other businesses create another housing and employee crunch.

“We’re very fortunate,” Mayor Jim Gagg said earlier this year. “We have 8,600 residents and we have 10,000-plus jobs in our community. That’s just a wonderful thing, but it leaves us with a housing problem.”

Gov. Mark Dayton often talks about Digi-Key, one of the country’s fastest-growing electronic companies. Dayton points to a problem the company has getting trained workers.

A college across the street from Digi-Key has an architectural engineering program, he said in a recent interview, but not a mechanical engineer program the company needs.

One of his goals during the nearly five-month legislative session is to get state-run colleges to train workers Minnesota companies need.

Many legislators say there is too much emphasis placed on a four-year degree.

“There are good jobs in the technical area,” Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, said.

However, Rep. Bud Nornes said, there are some state rules that make it more difficult to get funding for adults to be retrained. As chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, the Fergus Falls Republican said that he hopes to drop those roadblocks.

Dayton and lawmakers have increased spending for housing, but in the interview Dayton did not appear ready to dramatically increase housing aid. He said that builders will step up and increase housing starts once it is apparent that the need will remain over the long term.

“I don’t think we are going to be able to significantly impact” the rural housing shortage, the governor said.

Gunther said he hopes the state can help. People are living in Iowa to work in Jackson, he said, and he would rather see them in Minnesota.

His southern Minnesota district alone has lost 17,000 people since the 1960s, said Gunther, who will lead the newly created House Greater Minnesota Economic and Workforce Development Committee.

“We want to have anything that impacts growth and prosperity eliminated as much as possible,” Gunther said.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said that housing is a critical issue in some greater Minnesota communities, but like others he is not sure just how the Legislature can solve it.

“It seems like some kind of state (financial) bridge to make those projects is going to be required,” he said.

As a carpenter, Bakk said that housing construction costs about the same in the Twin Cities and rural Minnesota. “You can’t get (rural) rent payments or mortgage payments high enough to work, like they do in the Twin Cities, where wages are higher.”

Bakk predicted that the Senate will put money into one fund that could help rural housing and could tweak another fund to help greater Minnesota.

“Our focus is going to be on things that try to improve the economy,” Bakk said. “That probably is not as demanding a need in the metropolitan area, but in a whole lot of rural areas in the state they are not sharing in this economic recovery.”

Dayton said that a minimum wage increase he championed is helping rural Minnesotans afford housing. Anderson, however, said wages are higher than the minimum wage, making it “almost a nonfactor.”

“Do you subsidize housing or do you say wages should be higher so they can afford housing?” Anderson asked. “That is a tough question.”

Dayton inaugural speech

Remarks of Governor Mark Dayton – As prepared for delivery
Inaugural Address
Monday, January 5, 2015

Thank you, Chief Justice Gildea. It has been an honor to work with you during the past four years. Justice Page, thank you for your extraordinary service to the people of Minnesota. Justice Lillehaug, it is great to have you up here.

On a personal note, I’d like to welcome the members of my immediate family, who are with me today. My father, Bruce Dayton, who is now 96 years old, is here with his wife, Ruth. My brother, Brandt, and my sisters, Lucy and Anne, have traveled from New York City and Helena, Montana. You just saw my wonderful son, Eric, and daughter-in-law, Cory — along with my grandson, Hugo, who makes four generations of Daytons here today.

I give special thanks to my father, Bruce Dayton. Dad, you have been a guiding light throughout my life. I would not be standing here today without your love and support. Thank you.

To: Vice President Mondale; Senator Klobuchar; our Constitutional Officers; other Distinguished Guests; and my fellow Minnesotans.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Governor for four more years. I especially want to thank you, who voted for me, and placed your trust in me. I will do my very best to serve you well.

I will do my very best to serve all Minnesotans well.

We gather today at a much better time, than when I took this Oath of Office four years ago. Back then, both our state and nation were struggling to recover from “The Great Recession.” Minnesota’s unemployment rate was 6.8%; nationally it was 9.1%.

Since then, our country’s economy has improved; and our state has helped lead the way. Minnesota’s unemployment rate has dropped to a remarkable 3.7%.

We have added over 191,000 jobs during the past four years – and we’re not done yet.

Recently, it was reported that our nation’s economy grew at a 5% annual rate during the third quarter, the fastest pace in over 11 years. The Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 18,000. Many economists are now optimistic that our country is entering a period of more robust growth.

Yet, recent reports also show that inequities in Americans’ wealth and income are at record highs. Perhaps that explains the large divide between the new optimism on Wall Street and the persistent pessimism on Main Street, where real wages and median family incomes have continued to fall, even during this recovery.

Two-thirds of Americans currently believe our country is “On the Wrong Track.” Only one-fourth say it’s now going “In the Right Direction.”

But what is the “Right Direction”? Many Americans would like to go back in time – to regain what they had before. The world, however, has moved into a new era – marked by Globalization – where companies and countries engage in fierce competition to create the lowest-cost production sites in the world and reap the profits from doing so.

This dispersion of economic activity has cost millions of Americans their jobs, their economic security, and their confidence in the future.

The world today offers many good opportunities. Yet, while there are many roads to successful, fulfilling lives, there is, essentially, just one path. It is through education, training, and the development of marketable skills.

Surrounded by low-cost competition, the United States retains one enormous advantage – the inventive and entrepreneurial abilities of our people. Most of our challengers, be they companies or countries, have not mastered the complexities of conceiving and designing new products and services; then organizing and financing them; then managing a group of people to produce or provide them.

In Minnesota, we have a further advantage – one that has been our greatest asset for generations. Our citizens have long-known that a good education is the key to our success. Now, we need to realize that a good education is the key to our survival.

And that an excellent education unlocks the door to unprecedented opportunities.

Our future success – the health of our families, the vitality of our communities, and the prosperity of our state – will depend upon our making those excellent educations available to all Minnesotans. We’re part-way there.

We have ample evidence that most of our students are now receiving good educations.
Many are getting great educations, from talented teachers, professors, and other educators throughout our state.

But are all of our students learning what they will need – to find good jobs and achieve success in the world that awaits them? If we’re going to improve people’s lives in our state, we have to improve their educations. We have to create a State of Educational Excellence.

How? By investing in it.

There’s a big difference between spending and investing. Spending is for now. People spend money to buy what they need or want right away.

Investing is for the future. People invest money now to produce future benefits and rewards.

Wise financial management requires understanding this difference. And striking a proper balance between them.

In the coming months, we will make important decisions about spending or investing a projected state budget surplus of one billion dollars. We could spend it to provide goods and services for more people. We could spend it to provide tax cuts for some people.

I recommend that our top priority be to invest it in a better future – first and foremost, by investing it in Excellent Education. This means elevating our citizens’ educations from good to excellent.

And making that educational excellence available to everyone.

To begin, we need to make quality educational experiences available to all our children, even before they reach school age. In one of the best initiatives of my first term, we now offer free, all-day kindergarten throughout Minnesota. We have created better opportunities for five year-olds everywhere to develop the intellectual and social skills they will need – not just to survive, but to thrive.

This new effort has also shown us the number of children, who are not ready for kindergarten. If our response is to do nothing – or too little – to remedy the disparities, we know that they will later cause worse crises for those kids – and for us.

So, we must expand and improve our early education and child-care programs. Additionally, some children’s needs go beyond early education. They must be better-protected from neglect and abuse.

We must do more to prevent the mistreatment of Minnesota’s children and to intervene quickly and effectively, when necessary. We must also develop the mental health resources to help them overcome those traumas.

I don’t have the expertise to design those initiatives. However, we have many legislators, educators, doctors, social workers, judges, and others, who do. During the next five months, let us decide what more we must do to save our children. Then, do it.

After we get healthier, better-prepared children into our schools, we need to elevate their academic experiences — from better elementary and secondary school academics, to better emotional support and career guidance, to postsecondary educations that will better lead to success.

I don’t want to spend more education dollars on what is being done now. And I won’t spend more on doing less.

I’ll oppose four-day school weeks, less time in classrooms, or shorter school years. The era of shortchanging our students’ educations is over.

Instead, I want investments for more time in studies and other developmental activities. For year-round school options. For after-school and special help services. For advanced high school and college courses in skills needed for the jobs of the future.

In the face of such intense global competition, for the sake of our children and the continued growth of our economy, we cannot do anything less.

Some critics will say: Invest more money in education? But we spend so much already! Unfortunately, No – we don’t. According to the most recent US Census report, Minnesota presently ranks 24th among the fifty states in per-pupil Elementary and Secondary School spending.

Our state’s support for Higher Education in real dollars recently fell to its lowest level in thirty years.

During the past four years, we started to reverse the previous decade’s disinvestment– with all-day kindergarten, early childhood scholarships, per-pupil aid increases, and more postsecondary assistance. But those new investments have only returned Minnesota’s education expenditures to the national average – and that’s not good enough.

Now, with $1 billion surplus, the question is not: “Can we afford to provide Minnesotans with the best educations?” It is: “Can we afford to continue providing less?”

The answer, obviously, is “No!”

For that reason, and for the sake of our state’s future, I will dedicate the next four years to regaining our state’s position as a national and global leader in education excellence.

I want all Minnesotans to have access to the best possible educations, to the skills and training they will need to achieve their highest aspirations.

In the days ahead, I will talk about other essential investments – including transportation.

I also recognize that there are other important, unmet needs in the lives of many Minnesotans.

I know that many advocates sincerely believe their needs – or their clients’ needs – should be our state’s top priority – and funded accordingly.

I look forward to working with the outstanding legislative leaders, who are here today, and with their colleagues, who will begin tomorrow, to better address those needs.

In closing, I note that much attention has been given recently to the divisions within our state. Most of them are familiar. During my forty years in and around Minnesota governance, those resentments have simmered and, occasionally, erupted.

There’s Greater Minnesota against the Metro Area. Central cities versus suburbs. Urban schools against rural districts. East Metro versus West Metro. Cities, counties, and townships compared to other cities, counties, and townships.

Someone always believes that someone else is getting a better deal.

Those rivalries are not going to disappear. However, they cannot be permitted to blind us to the larger truth that we are all ONE MINNESOTA.

What binds us together is much more important than what pulls us apart. What helps one region usually benefits our entire state. Not always, but usually.

Economic growth in one area pays for property tax relief in another. Good farm prices in southern Minnesota boost sales and revenues in metro stores. Shops in Duluth do better, when the Range is at full production.

Better transit in the west metro adds to the vitality of the east metro, and vice versa. Counties benefit, when cities within their borders are thriving – and when other cities in other counties are thriving.

What helps some Minnesotans, usually helps all of us. So let’s cheer each other’s successes, not resent them.

And, finally, let’s remember that not only are we all One, we are also Number One. When it comes to promoting Minnesota’s virtues, we’re too modest. Besides, we’re often so focused on what we think is wrong, we forget everything that is right. And – if we do remember – we’re careful not to talk about it.

But we do need to talk about it. Not as an exercise in collective self-esteem, but because we’re competing with 49 other states and many countries to attract the best and the brightest – students, scientists, nurses, doctors, mechanics, machinists, entrepreneurs, executives – the talent upon which our future success depends.

When it’s all added up and all sorted out, most of us live in Minnesota, because we want to.
We know we’re not perfect; but we’re very good – and getting even better. Let’s not forget that our state is often recognized by national and international experts as among the best or even the very best.

Casting all Minnesota modesty aside – we should be proud. Because we so often are the best. And because, when we are, we have earned it. Through smart minds, good ideas, and hard work.

Through all of us pulling together and making our state – despite lacking the advantages of ocean beaches, or Rocky Mountains, or fossil fuel riches – into a place unique and extraordinary.

A state upon which we proudly emblazon our motto: “L’Etoile du Nord,” “The Star of the North,” and bequeath it even brighter to future generations.

Dayton urges ‘one Minnesota’

Dayton takes oath

Minnesotans need to act as one, not allowing long-standing divisions come in the way of progress, Gov. Mark Dayton said this afternoon in his second and final inaugural address.

“Someone always believes that someone else is getting a better deal,” Dayton told about 400 in St. Paul’s Landmark Center. “Those rivalries are not going to disappear. However, they cannot be permitted to blind us to the larger truth that we are all one Minnesota.”

The Democratic governor’s comments came a day before Republicans take control of the state House, claiming a Democratic-controlled Legislature and Dayton ignored rural needs the last two years. Republican leaders did not attend today’s ceremony.

Dayton did not specifically mention the GOP taking over the House, but encouraged policymakers to look at things his way: “What binds us together is much more important than what pulls us apart.”

“Economic growth in one area pays for property tax relief in another,” Dayton added. “Good farm prices in southern Minnesota boost sales and revenues in metro stores. Shops in Duluth do better when the Range is at full production.”

Dayton emphasized education, but offered no specific proposals during the inaugural address.

He long has said that he wants to increase education spending in every state budget while he is in office.

The governor said critics will say education already gets too much money, but he disagreed. He said Census Bureau figures show Minnesota ranks 24th among the states in per-pupil education spending.

Legislators last year funded all-day, every-day kindergarten and Dayton said he wants more early child programs.

“Additionally, some children’s needs go beyond early education,” Dayton said. “They must be better-protected from neglect and abuse.”

He added: “I will dedicate the next four years to regaining our state’s position as a national and global leader in education excellence.”

Dayton’s father, 96-year-old Bruce, made a rare public appearance for the inaugural.

“Dad, you have been a guiding light throughout my life,” the governor said. “I would not be standing here today without your love and support.”

Monday’s inaugural was an all-Democratic affair.

Along with Dayton, new Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and just-elected Secretary of State Steve Simon were sworn in. Also taking oaths were Attorney General Lori Swanson and State Auditor Rebecca Otto, both starting their third terms.

Smith, a former Dayton chief of staff, replaces Yvonne Prettner Solon, who opted not to seek re-election.

Simon, a Hopkins resident, served 10 years in the Minnesota House before winning his first statewide office. He takes over from Democrat Mark Ritchie, who decided not to run again.

Simon, who appeared emotional when talking about voting rights, promised to make it easier for Minnesotans to vote and to get more to go to the polls.

“As secretary of state, I’ll work with anyone, of any political affiliation, from any part of our state to secure and strengthen our right to vote in Minnesota, to help make our democracy worthy of our best traditions,” Simon said.

Dayton, who turns 68 later this month and will be Minnesota’s oldest governor, faces a Republican-controlled House and a Democratic Senate when the Legislature convenes Tuesday.

For the past two years, the Legislature and governor’s office have been under Democratic-Farmer-Labor control. That produced a $2 billion tax increase to provide money to a variety of state programs as well as retiring a debt owed to school districts around the state.

When Republicans controlled the Legislature four years ago, things did not go well. The GOP and Dayton could not agree on a state budget, leading to an impasse resulting in a three-week government shutdown.

State leaders say a shutdown is not expected this year, but it is not clear how Dayton and the Republican House will compromise and end the legislative session by the constitutionally required May 18 date.

The governor has latched onto a Minneapolis editorial writer’s “Dayton unbound” title, a reference to his comments that he will not run for office again. In a late-2014 interview, he said that he already feels “freer” to make decisions with no more elections looming.

Minnesota Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea gave the oath to Dayton, Simon and Swanson, while Dayton appointee Justice David Lillehaug swore in Otto and Smith. Justice Alan Page was master of ceremony.

Minnesota Legislature to start with wants, limits

 State Sen. Kent Eken wants to boost state funding 5 percent for home-based care Minnesota’s elderly and disabled receive, as well as giving a similar raise to nursing homes.

The Twin Valley Democrat suggests a higher gasoline tax for transportation needs and would like more money so state-run colleges and universities can continue a tuition freeze.

Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, agrees that nursing homes need more money, even if a tax increase is needed. He also would not rule out backing a tax increase to boost transportation funding.

The story is the same for many of the 201 Minnesota legislators returning to the Capitol for their 2015 session at noon Tuesday. They have wants  – wants that usually cost the state money that is raised by taxes.

But they need to keep their wants in check if Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders stick to their guns. They say no general tax increase is needed to fund state government, although there is at least some support for considering a transportation-related tax increase.

It is budget time in the Capitol, with nearly five months to write a two-year state budget expected to top $40 billion.

In many recent years, lawmakers arrived in St. Paul facing a budget deficit. This year, they expect to enjoy a $1 billion surplus, and hope it grows when a new economic and budget report comes out in late February or early March.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk warned his colleagues not to expect big spending increases.

“It will be a pretty austere budget,” Bakk said. “We are still in a pretty fragile economic recovery. I think we need to be a little careful.”

That surplus? State finance officials say it will disappear if inflation is considered, spending such as giving pay raises and paying for higher utility bills. But those who get state money should not count on a increase for inflation, many lawmakers warned.

“It doesn’t take long to burn through a billion dollars,” Bakk said.

Since half of the surplus comes from lower-than-expected spending, Bakk said, only about half of it is ongoing revenue.

“I already know most of these groups coming to ask for money will be disappointed,” the senator said.

Democrat Dayton said throughout his 2014 re-election campaign that he does not think the state needs to raise general taxes. In a recent interview, he was optimistic that an improved national economy could enlarge the surplus finance officials predicted in early December.

Dayton said that his office has received $3 billion in requests for the $1 billion surplus, and most are good causes.

The governor said he will focus on improving transportation and education funding, but will not release specifics until he hands out his budget on Jan. 27.

The Republican-controlled House and Democrat-run Senate likely will release their budget plans in March, after the new economic report comes out. Dayton will revise his plan following the report.

In the meantime, legislative committees will begin looking at budget issues, as well as policy issues that do not involve money. However, committees will not be able to make many decisions until spring.

Eken, like many rural lawmakers, put his funding emphasis on nursing homes and home-based elderly and disabled care. Advocates say rural Minnesotans get less state help than those in the Twin Cities.

“We have seen this disparity between metro, rural and deep rural grow greater and greater as years pass,” Eken said, adding that with a surplus now is the time to even things out.

With a new rural majority in the House, and Bakk being from rural Minnesota in the Senate, there is plenty of optimism that rural issues will receive more attention than in the past.

“I think it is good that there is a rural focus,” Eken said, but quickly added: “I think the last two years (with a Democratic House and Senate) were also good. A lot of good things were accomplished.”

Much of the discussion this year will be about transportation, one of the Republicans’ main 2014 campaign issues.

“I’m a rural guy and I see the need for road and bridge work in rural Minnesota,” Anderson said. “It is going to be a high-profile issue.”

Overall, optimism is high around the Legislature before committees debate issues and spending. But for Bakk, the surplus, no matter how small it may be (“razor thin” he calls it), is a good sign.

“There are some tough votes involved, but it just feels pretty good,” Bakk said. “The last time anyone probably felt like this was going into the ’01 session.”

Finding a compromise is possible, he added. “If everyone comes to the table willing to compromise … it is not insurmountable.”

—-

By the numbers

House–

72 Republicans

62 Democrats

90 men

44 women

26 newly elected

21 new Republicans

5 new Democrats

Senate–

39 Democrats

28 Republicans

44 men

23 women

Senate seats were not up for election in November

Key dates for Minnesota Legislature

Jan. 5: Gov. Mark Dayton sworn in for second four-year term

Jan. 6: House and Senate begin 2015 session at noon, with House officially electing speaker and other officials

Jan. 27: Last day Dayton may submit his budget proposal

Late February or early March: State finance officials release latest report on economy and expected state revenue

May 18: Last day Legislature may meet, unless Dayton calls lawmakers into a special session

How to follow Legislature

– Legislative Web site: www.leg.state.mn.us

– Mobile devices may automatically call up a mobile legislative site (www.leg.state.mn.us), but if not, there is mobile link at the top of the page

– Find out who represents you: tinyurl.com/MNLegWho

– Calendar for legislative meetings: tinyurl.com/MNLegCal

– The House and Senate stream legislative committee hearings and House and Senate sessions on their Websites: tinyurl.com/MNMedia

– Public television’s Minnesota Channel statewide and some cable TV systems carry legislative hearings and House and Senate sessions. Schedules and channels are at tinyurl.com/MNMedia

– How a bill becomes law: tinyurl.com/MNBillLaw

– Find House bills: tinyurl.com/MNHBills

– Find Senate bills: tinyurl.com/MNSBills

– Follow activity on specific bills: tinyurl.com/MNLegBills

– Governor’s office Website: mn.gov/governor/

– Bill signings and vetoes: tinyurl.com/MNBillGov

– Ways to follow committees and other legislative activity: tinyurl.com/MNLegLists

– Summaries and other information about bills and government issues: tinyurl.com/MNHouseResearch and tinyurl.com/MNSenateResearch

– Legislative background from Legislative Reference Library: www.leg.state.mn.us/lrl

– Printed directories with legislators, committee and other information will be available in House Public Information Office and Senate secretary’s office once they are printed. Until then, a directory is available at tinyurl.com/MNDirectory

– The nonpartisan House Public Information Office produces Session Daily, with stories about what is happening in the House: tinyurl.com/MNSDaily

– The Senate and House staff telephones to answer questions about the process of passing bills, the status of legislation and other questions. The Senate numbers are (651) 651-296-0504 and (888) 234-1112. To contact the House, call (651) 296-2146 or (800) 657-3550.

– Forum News Service Minnesota Capitol bureau: Blog, capitolchat.areavoices.com; Twitter, @CapitolChatter; Facebook, www.facebook.com/CapitolChatter

Note: State Capitol building renovation and new equipment installed for House and Senate television productions could mean some video services will not be available when the legislative session begins.

 Major issues

From St. Paul Pioneer Press and Forum News Service

Budget

Dayton and state lawmakers will have a $1 billion surplus to work with as they start crafting a two-year state budget this session.

That’s sounds like a lot of money, but state finance officials warn that is just enough — just over 2 percent of the projected $41 billion budget — to cover the cost of inflation in health care, salaries, fuel and other state expenses.

Dayton said he has received $3 billion in requests for that surplus and suggested that groups seeking more money should temper their expectations.

But the surplus should make it easier for the split government — a DFL governor and Senate and a Republican-controlled House — to pass a balanced budget next spring.

Taxes

Aside from a possible gasoline tax increase for roads and bridges, don’t expect lawmakers to pass any major tax increases or tax cuts this session.

After pushing through $2 billion in new taxes in 2013, Dayton said he won’t propose any general tax increases this year.

He will call for increasing income tax credits to help about 137,000 families cope with rising child care costs.

Incoming House Tax Committee Chairman Greg Davids, R-Preston, said the first job of the Republican-controlled House is to “do no harm,” meaning no more tax increases like the ones DFLers passed two years ago. But with DFLers controlling the governor’s office and Senate, he said, GOP leaders won’t be able to pass the tax cuts that many conservatives want.

“I want to spend time on what we can get done,” he said.

Transportation

One of biggest challenges facing Minnesota lawmakers is how to pay for the projected $6 billion in road and bridge improvements that are needed over the next decade.

Dayton supports a new tax on wholesale gasoline to help pay for the state’s future infrastructure needs.

Republicans are against the idea, calling it unpopular with residents. They prefer a reprioritizing of transportation projects to free up money for roads and bridges.

K-12 Education

Schools also are a top priority for both parties as educators continue to work to close Minnesota’s large achievement gap between poor and minority students and their peers.

Dayton has said he wants to increase school spending in targeted areas that are proven to close those gaps. School leaders are pushing for lawmakers to pay for “unfunded mandates” and increase the state per pupil funding formula.

Republicans are expected to push for new reforms to the state education system. Those could include eliminating teacher seniority as a consideration during layoffs, expanding school choice and updating the teacher licensure system.

Higher education

State lawmakers will have to weigh whether they want to increase funding to keep tuition at Minnesota colleges and universities frozen for another two years. Both parties agree keeping tuition in check is important, but there are opposing views on how it should be funded.

Eric Kaler, University of Minnesota president, said last year a tuition freeze would require more taxpayer support. Leaders in both the House and Senate have questioned whether the state’s higher education systems could cut costs to cover some of the money needed to hold the line on tuition.

Lawmakers also want colleges and universities to strengthen their roles in workforce development. Both DFLers and Republicans have noted there are nearly more than 187,000 job openings without qualified applicants.

Healthcare

MNsure, the state’s health care marketplace under the federal Affordable Care Act, is expected to receive new scrutiny after a disastrous 2013 roll out.

Open enrollment went more smoothly in 2014, but critics have a long list of questions and proposed improvements.

Peppin said the system needs better, more transparent oversight and she hopes someone from the insurance industry will be appointed to the MNsure board. Some have called that proposal a conflict of interest.

“Many in our caucus believe it’s necessary to have someone on the board who knows what they are talking about,” Peppin said.

Dayton and other DFLers have said they’re open to suggestions for improving MNsure, but they don’t want to rehash the debate over “Obamacare.”

Nursing homes

A priority for Greater Minnesota lawmakers is improving funding for long-term care programs that serve elderly and disabled residents.

Rural residents have long complained their facilities are underfunded and a growing number have shut their doors. Others have trouble keeping employees, who get experience and move to higher-paying jobs in the Twin Cities.

It will likely take new revenue to improve funding for long-term care facilities and it’s unclear where that money will come from.

Child protection

Minnesota’s child-protection system will be up for improvements.

A task force has issued preliminary recommendations calling for the elimination in state law of the preference for “family assessment” in addressing child-protection cases. Family assessment focuses on engaging and supporting families instead of investigating wrongdoing. Task force members have said the approach is used in about 70 percent of cases, including some where kids are at substantial risk of harm and investigation would be the safer course.

The task force also advocates repealing a law that prevents county officials from considering prior “screened-out” reports when deciding what to do about a new allegation. The idea is to allow officials to see a pattern of behavior in making their determinations.

The task force’s final recommendations are due by the end of March.

Super Bowl tax breaks

Officials involved in bringing the Super Bowl to the new Vikings stadium in Minneapolis in 2018 say they will ask the Legislature this session for additional tax exemptions for the National Football League.

An existing state law exempts tickets to the game itself from tax. Officials have said they will try to get that extended to include events related to the game as well.

According to information from the state Department of Revenue, waiving the tax on tickets to the “NFL Fan Experience” would mean about $400,000 in forgone revenue to the state.

It’s not clear whether additional tax breaks will be sought, or what they might be. Those involved in preparing the successful bid to secure the 2018 game have refused to release it publicly, citing a need to keep the details under wraps for competitive reasons.

Sex offenders

One of the issues that is little discussed, but carries big consequences is how the state should deal with sex offenders.

A federal judge says Minnesota’s system of holding sex offenders who have completed prison sentences is unconstitutional. But Minnesota legislators have been reluctant to take action.

Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, said the state needs to take action soon, or the courts will take over the system. If that happens, he said, a federal court-run sex offender program could cost the state much more money.

“It needs to be bipartisan if it needs to be done,” Eken said.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, places fixing the sex offender issue near the top of the agenda. He agreed with Eken that both parties must agree.

“That probably is the toughest vote of the session,” Bakk said.

Sunday liquor

Once again, lawmakers will be urged to end the ban on Sunday liquor-store sales, something social conservatives oppose and liquor store lobbyists say will add to retail operational costs.

Although minor changes have been made, the repeal has been a perennial loser at the Capitol. Lawmakers who represents areas near states that allow Sunday sales are especially pushing for the change, citing loss of business to those other states.

Dayton focuses on education and transportation, but open to other ideas

Dayton

Gov. Mark Dayton plans to focus on education and transportation funding when the Minnesota Legislature opens next week, but said he welcomes anyone “to knock on the door” and offer suggestions for what else should be accomplished.

“I’m open to anything,” the 67-year-old Dayton told Forum News Service and St. Paul Pioneer Press reporters during a wide-ranging Tuesday interview.

The Legislature convenes at noon Tuesday for a nearly five-month session that is to center on approving a two-year state budget likely to top $40 billion.

Dayton has promised to increase education funding in each budget as long as he is in office, but said he does not yet know how more he will seek when he releases a budget proposal Jan. 27.

The education initiative Dayton has discussed the most is a tax cut he proposes for middle class families to help pay for child care.

One of Dayton’s major initiatives has been to improve early-childhood education. While Rep. Paul Marquart, D-Dilworth, applauds Dayton’s moves in the area, he worries that facilities are not adequate to hold more young Minnesotans.

Dayton agreed that could be a problem, but said his all-day kindergarten plan has resulted in few space problems. For other early-childhood institutions, expanding facilities may be expensive, but existing funding sources need to be used, the Democratic governor said.

“That would be important to look at some state dollars in that area,” countered Marquart, who will be an assistant House minority leader.

In higher education, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and the University of Minnesota propose getting more state money to continue a tuition freeze.

“I am all for freezing tuitions,” Dayton said, but first state officials need to decide how much money needed to pay for freezes would come from the state and how much from the higher education systems being more efficient.

In the interview, Dayton did not commit to backing a tuition freeze. He said he plans to meet with leaders of the two systems soon.

Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said continued tuition freezes “would require a fair amount of new state dollars.” As House higher education chairman, however, Nornes said that he does not know where he would find the money.

“The spread between the state investment and student investment has been getting wider,” Nornes said about the decreasing percentage of state money going to higher education. “Narrowing that is a goal that I think all would agree on.”

Dayton’s transportation proposal likely will center on adding a sales tax on gasoline, estimated to produce $5.85 billion over 10 years. Unlike the 28.5-cent-a-gallon state tax already charged at the pumps, this one would be at the wholesale level. At today’s gasoline prices, the new tax could add 12 cents a gallon.

Everyone agrees transportation is a major issue, Dayton said, but “nobody wants to pay for it. … I just recognize the necessity of it.”

Besides the gas sales tax, Dayton said he probably will propose a small increase in car license fees. He also would double a sales tax from 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent in the Twin Cities to be spent on transit.

“We will see when we get down to the details if we can agree,” Dayton said.

House Republicans put a high priority on improving road and bridge funds.

Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, said he hears a lot of support for a major transportation borrowing bill, as occurred during Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration. “I would prefer doing that instead of a gas tax.”

The governor said that while his plan will call for some borrowing for transportation, that will not be a major part of a proposal and that any plan must have a dependable funding source.

Many Democrats in the Senate majority appear open to a transportation tax increase.

While many Republicans oppose tax increases, some Republicans who control the House say they would consider a higher transportation tax. As Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said: “I have an open mind.”

Dayton said he has an open mind about other issues people want to bring up, suggesting they can “knock on the door” or “slip it through the mail slot” if they want to share any with him.

But whatever is suggested, he said that he hopes not to raise general taxes, with only those going to transportation programs getting a boost.

Higher taxes? Take a guess

Drazkowski

This is one of a series of stories previewing the 2015 Minnesota Legislature. It concentrates on Republicans’ policy initiatives as they will retake control of the House. The Senate and governor’s office remain in Democratic control.

Let’s face it: What most Minnesotans want to know about the upcoming legislative session is whether lawmakers will raise their taxes.

The answer is a resounding maybe.

In most years, Republicans could be expected to reject any tax increase proposal. But some in the GOP, including a leader or two, say there could be tax increases for priority items such as nursing homes and transportation. Democrats in general are much more open to raising taxes to fund new or expanded programs.

“I don’t think this is the time of year you rule out taxes,” Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said. “This is the time you throw all the spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks.”

House speaker-designate Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, has left the door open, if only slightly, for new tax revenues. Others, however, have securely locked that door.

“Absolutely no new taxes,” Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said.

All of that talk comes at a time when Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders say no general tax increase is needed in 2015.

Nornes promotes the type of revenue increases generally favored by Republicans: Find ways businesses can make more money, allowing the companies to pay more taxes, along with employees who are earning higher wages.

“If we can increase tax revenue without increasing taxes, by just increasing productivity and the economy, that would be the hope that we all have,” Nornes said. “It is kind of a pretty delicate procedure.”

Daudt agreed with Nornes that improving the economy can help. Putting more money in Minnesotans’ pockets, he said, “solves Minnesota’s problems.”

Nornes added: “We have raised so many taxes in the last two years that I think people are fed up.”

Republicans campaigned before the November election against the $2 billion tax increase approved by Dayton and his Democratic legislative colleagues when the DFL controlled the Legislature and governor’s office the past two years.

Some Republicans could consider a tax increase as a top priority. For Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, that exception would be nursing homes.

“At least on the nursing homes, I would support some kind of an increase of some form of tax or revenue increase,” Anderson said. “I think it is that serious out here in rural Minnesota.”

Republicans are talking less this year about tax reductions than in the past, but farm property taxes may be an exception.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa plans to offer a plan that would remove farm property taxes for new school and local government buildings.

Drazkowski said that he will talk to members of the Property Tax and Local Government Finance Division that he leads before coming out with a final plan. The beginnings of the plan were hatched when he talked to some southern Minnesota farmers who said they paid $55 an acre for local government building projects.

“That’s a lot of money when you begin to add up the cost of those property taxes,” he said, adding that the building taxes were not the only items farmers pay.

During his re-election campaign, Dayton said that he leaned against providing special relief for farmers. He said that to so would force other property owners to pay more; to make that change, he said, would take a reform of the entire property tax system.

Drazkowski promised that his committee will hold listening sessions about his and other property tax plans, perhaps including some away from St. Paul.

His committee also will govern state aids paid to local governments, and if he has his way things will change.

Local Government Aid, a program for cities, mostly goes to Minneapolis, St. Paul and greater Minnesota cities. For the most part, suburbs get little if any LGA.

Drazkowski and other Republicans say the program, set up to help cities with little property that can be taxed, should return to its original concept, to pay for fundamental services such as public safety. He said cities like St. Paul and Minneapolis have plenty of property to tax, so do not need LGA.

“Why are we giving Minneapolis $76 million Local Government Aid,” the chairman-to-be asked. “I don’t know.”

While Drazkowski may want to eliminate some cities from the LGA list, and make other changes, he also realizes that the Republican-controlled House cannot dictate such things. “We also have to remember we have got a Democratic Senate and a Democratic governor.”