Updated: Avian flu funding heads to negotiations

A provision Democratic senators added to avian flu funding legislation resulted in House Republicans rejecting it and forcing negotiations to resolve the differences.

The Minnesota Senate joined the House Tuesday afternoon in passing avian flu funding legislation, but with an unrelated provision that produced Republican objections. As midnight approached, the House took up the issue and opted to send the bill into House-Senate negotiations instead of accepting the Senate change.

Senators unanimously voted to provide $514,000 to the state Agriculture Department and $379,000 to the Board of Animal Health for state expenses in dealing with the outbreak. The House also was unanimous in passing its bill last week.

A provision in the Senate bill to change when officials report information on how much money is in the state budget reserve  drew strong opposition from Republican senators, who said it only would delay appropriating the emergency money. The provision would move the reporting date from January to August.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said that the House could not accept the unrelated provision, and late Tuesday other Republican joined him.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said that the report provision was innocent and by sending the bill to negotiations only leads to a delay in getting money out to state workers.

“We could solve this situation tonight,” Thissen said.

Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, said the bill must be changed because the report provision has not been vetted by House committees. The delay, she said, is because senators added it.

“We have games being played in the Senate,” Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said.

A Hamilton motion to send the bill to negotiators passed 73-58.

In the Senate, Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, offered an amendment to strip the bill of the report date change.

“It is only common sense to take this language off so it doesn’t slow down the emergency response to the avian flu virus,” Westrom said.

“We are the turkey producing capital of the United States,” Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria said. “We are in a real disaster right now; this has to be dealt with.”

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said the Senate needed to fix the funding bill already approved by the House, so the report provision was not the only addition. He said the House forgot to provide for a pass-through of federal funds that the Legislature must approve.

“The House sent us a bill that was not yet ready to go to the governor,” Bakk said.

Gov. Mark Dayton said that once he receives the funding bill he will sign it as soon as possible.

The governor also said that his chief of staff talked to the Arkansas governor’s chief of staff and convinced that state to not ban Minnesota turkeys. Apparently the only state considering banning Minnesota birds, Arkansas has reported an avian flu outbreak, too.

Health experts say there is no danger to humans eating turkeys and state Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson says there is no way an infected bird will get into the food supply.

Also Tuesday, the state Board of Animal Health reported that 2.1 million turkeys have died of the flu or been euthanized to prevents its spread. There are 31 farms in 15 counties affected. The first case in central Minnesota was reported in a commercial turkey flock of 310,000 in Wadena County

Minnesota Senate passes avian flu funding, but with a hitch

The Minnesota Senate joined the House on Tuesday in passing avian flu funding legislation, but an unrelated provision in the bill could stall its final passage.

Senators unanimously voted to provide $514,000 to the state Agriculture Department and $379,000 to the Board of Animal Health for state expenses in dealing with the outbreak. The House also was unanimous in passing its bill last week.

A provision in the Senate bill to change when officials release information on how much money is in the state budget reserve  drew strong opposition from Republican senators, who said it only would delay appropriating the emergency money. The provision would move the reporting date from January to August.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said that the House cannot accept the unrelated provision, which he said could force the House to write a new bill or send the measure to a House-Senate conference committee to work out details.

Also Tuesday, the state Board of Animal Health reported that 2.1 million turkeys have died of the flu or been euthanized to prevents its spread. There are 31 farms in 15 counties affected. The first case in central Minnesota was reported in a commercial turkey flock of 310,000 in Wadena County

In the Senate, Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, offered an amendment to strip the bill of the report date change.

“It is only common sense to take this language off so it doesn’t slow down the emergency response to the avian flu virus,” Westrom said.

“We are the turkey producing capital of the United States,” Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria said. “We are in a real disaster right now; this has to be dealt with.”

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said the Senate needed to fix the funding bill already approved by the House, so the report provision is not the only addition. He said the House forgot to provide for a pass-through of federal funds that the Legislature must approve.

“The House sent us a bill that was not yet ready to go to the governor,” Bakk said.

Gov. Mark Dayton said that once he receives the funding bill he will sign it as soon as possible.

The governor also said that his chief of staff talked to the Arkansas governor’s chief of staff and convinced that state to not ban Minnesota turkeys. Apparently the only state considering banning Minnesota birds, Arkansas has reported an avian flu outbreak, too.

Health experts say there is no danger to humans eating turkeys and state Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson says there is no way an infected bird will get into the food supply.

 

Dayton sticks to education and transportation, but eases up on buffers

State of State opening

State of State opening

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton stuck to his tried-and-true themes during his Thursday night State of the State speech, but rural lawmakers said they felt he showed a willingness to ease a controversial proposal to require 50-foot buffer strips around all water.

The governor chided Republicans for wanting to cut taxes instead of spending more for state programs and plugged his desire to increase early-childhood education, boost transportation funding and a list of other priorities that he often has promoted.

He took advantage of a later-than-usual State of the State address to attempt to sway opinions of the 201 legislators, each with his or her own priorities.

He urged lawmakers to be bold.

“During the remaining six weeks of this legislative session, we will face our own moments of truth: Will we do what is easy, safe and popular or will we risk our political lives to preserve this great state for future generations?” he said.

Sen. Bakk, Justice Page

Sen. Bakk, Justice Page

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, echoed other lawmakers when he said that there were no surprises in the speech other than an apparent willingness by Dayton to back away from requiring 50-foot vegetation buffer zones around water. Dayton had blamed agriculture for water pollution, but Thursday night he said that more than one industry is at fault.

Dayton said he “is unwilling to wait another year, or longer, for legislation that will significantly improve Minnesota’s water.”

He did not mention his 50-foot requirement, which rural lawmakers took as a sign that he is willing to compromise.

Dayton said that when asked about his priorities this legislation session, he says “everything.” But he said his plan to plan to provide education for 4-year-olds is at the top of his list. Next, he said, is improving funding for transportation projects.

Dayton was critical of Republicans, who propose a transportation funding package less aggressive than the Democratic governor, who wants to add a new gasoline tax. The GOP plan to partially fund transportation by taking money from other programs “will inevitably pit those needs against educating our children, caring properly for our elderly, enhancing our natural resources, fulfilling the important promises of the Working Parents Act and providing quality, affordable health care for all our citizens,” Dayton said. “People should not be pitted against projects. Both are too important.”

Another sharp disagreement between Dayton and Republicans is whether to borrow money for public works projects, such as repairing state buildings and entering construction projects. Republicans say that can wait until next year.

“How can we tell the citizens and businesses in Worthington to ‘just wait another year’ for a reliable supply of safe drinking water?” Dayton asked. “Or tell people in Willmar to ‘wait another year’ before rerouting rail cars with volatile fuels away from their city. Or St. Cloud area residents to ‘wait another year’ for public safety improvements to the nearby correctional facility?”

Among those in the House gallery watching Dayton’s speech was Moorhead Mayor Del Rae Williams, one of five Minnesotans House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, invited because, he said, they represent Democratic priorities that Republicans reject.

Democrats have called for increased rail safety, and Dayton would borrow money to build a safe Moorhead railroad crossing. The governor has made improving the safety of oil trains a major issue.

Major railroad crossing improvements — which also would go to Prairie Island Indian Community, Willmar and Coon Rapids — are in a public works funding bill Dayton proposes but Republicans say is not needed this year.

Republicans also oppose increasing a railroad assessment that Dayton and other Democrats want.

Greater Minnesotans watching the speech paid most attention to what he said about buffers.

Atwater farmer Frans Rosenquist sat with Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, and said what many did after the speech: “One size does not fit all.”

Dayton challenged opponents of his buffer plan to come up with something that would work.

“Everyone professes to want clean water,” Dayton said. “Too many, however, don’t want to do what’s necessary to get it.”

If the state requires buffers, Rosenquist asked, “how much are you going to pay me for that?”

He said buffers would take land out of crop production and he has paid up to $10,000 an acre for farmland.

Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, was happy that Dayton said southwest Minnesota’s Lewis and Clark water system needs to be funded. “That is absolutely a necessity.”

Dayton barely touched on elder and disabled care. House Republicans made increasing long-term care funding one of their top priorities.

“My heart just breaks over the message Gov. Dayton sent to the elderly and disabled,” Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, said.

Democrats, on the other hand, were happy with what they heard.

Rep. Ben Lien, D-Moorhead, said he especially liked Dayton’s call to use the state’s $1.9 billion budget surplus “to move the state forward.”

“There were no surprises,” added Rep. Paul Marquart, D-Dilworth, who said that the governor was careful not to upset Republicans who soon will be negotiating spending and other issues with him.

“He was very firm and strong … but he didn’t back himself into a corner,” said Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley.

“The governor is right,” said Rep. Erik Simonson, D-Duluth. “With a $1.9 billion budget surplus, the time to invest in our future is now.  We may never have another opportunity like this to invest in our students, and to throw that away on corporate tax giveaways as GOP leaders have proposed would be a mistake.”

Rep. Jennifer Schultz, D-Duluth, said she was happy the governor emphasized freezing tuition at state-run colleges.

Dayton’s speech was his fifth State of the State as governor and the first in this second term, which he says will be his last four years in office.

 

Bonding: Dayton for big spending as GOP backs little, if any

Dayton, Frans and bonding map

Dayton, Frans and bonding map

Hallock city officials in northwestern Minnesota want the state to borrow $255,000 to help replace a fire station, $360,000 to replace a swimming pool and $400,000 for sewage system improvements.

In southeast Minnesota’s Red Wing area, requests for state money include $14.8 million for a railroad overpass, $4.5 million for a downtown “renaissance,” $16 million for port improvements, $550,000 for Minnesota State Southeast Technical College repairs and $935,000 for the Minnesota correctional facility in Red Wing.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday said he wants the state to fund those and nearly 180 more projects across the state by selling $842 million in bonds. Republicans and the Senate leader were not on board, but even GOP legislators who have talked against a 2015 bonding bill did not completely rule one out.

Dayton said that his proposal would help Minnesota’s economy by allowing the state to “do what every smart business does, to lay the foundation for a better a better future.”

The Democratic governor said that now is when the state should sell bonds to finance projects with low interest rates. “What better time do we have to make these investments?”

Even Dayton admitted that it is a stretch to think legislators will grant his wish, given Republican reluctance to borrow the money. However, in the hours after Dayton announced his bonding proposal, Republicans gave bonding supporters some hope.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Republicans have no plans to pass a bonding bill this year but didn’t shut the door entirely.

“We are open to listening if the governor thinks some of these projects are timely,” Daudt said. “But we certainly are not planning for one right now.”

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said that he would consider a bonding bill, even if many Republicans want nothing. “I have been here nine years and I have never seen zero yet. This is pretty normal.”

The senator added: “Give it a little time to digest and see what happens.”

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said that he fears if a big bonding bill like Dayton wants passes this year, the governor will push another big one next year (Dayton said that if his passes this year, he may propose a $200 million to $250 million one next year).

“I don’t know that we are going to see anything, but if there is (it must be) very, very modest,” Hann said.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said he has instructed bonding Chairman LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer, to draw up a basic bonding bill that includes statewide needs such as college repairs, but not local projects such as Hallock and Red Wing officials hope to see.

“That is not the real work of this session,” Bakk said about a major bonding bill. “The budget is our priority for this session.”

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said he was happy to see Dayton included $48 million to complete southwest Minnesota’s Lewis and Clark water system. He said that Lewis and Clark should be in a bonding bill unless lawmakers and Dayton opt to pay cash for it.

Lewis and Clark is the largest single project Dayton put in his plan. The proposal also includes $65 million to build four railroad overpasses or underpasses in Willmar, Prairie Island Indian Community, Moorhead and Coon Rapids, places where trains transporting crude oil travel.

Dayton’s office said that $360 million of the projects would be in greater Minnesota, $321 million in the Twin Cities and $161 million for statewide programs. A quarter of the money would go to education facilities.

Dayton said that his office received $1.9 billion in project requests and many items that he included in his plan could use more money. “We could spend $800 million on rail safety,” Dayton said.

“This bonding bill addresses high-priority needs,” Commissioner Myron Frans of Minnesota Management and budget said.

Dayton said that projects like the Hallock pool and the southwest water system are important: “It makes a lot of difference to the people.”

St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter Doug Belden contributed to this story. The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.

 

Education leads Dayton budget, with elderly care officials disappointed

Dayton

Dayton

By Don Davis, Forum News Service

and David Montgomery, St. Paul Pioneer Press

Gov. Mark Dayton proposed hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending for education and families Tuesday, leaving some senior citizens’ advocates disappointed with what they said is a too-small increase.

The governor’s $866 million proposed budget increase would freeze tuition at state colleges and universities, start a new universal state-funded prekindergarten program and give more than $160 million to lower-income families. In all, Dayton is proposing to spend nearly 80 percent of the state’s $1.9 billion surplus on “Minnesota children, students and families.”

“I believe in these investments because Minnesota faces real challenges ahead,” Dayton said.

As Dayton updated his two-year, $42.5 billion budget proposal with new budget surplus funds, he added $25 million for nursing homes that complain state money does not allow them to pay enough to keep employees.

Nursing home leaders said the increase Dayton suggests in his revised budget is not enough, but said they are optimistic about a legislative funding increase plan that started at $200 million.

Dayton said he is open to spending more once he sees legislative proposals. He did not know how much his $25 million would raise nursing home workers’ wages, which is the main focus of the money.

“I anticipate the Legislature might very well want to go beyond that, and I’m certainly agreeable to doing so,” Dayton said.

Vice President-Senior Services Carol Raw of Morris-based St. Francis Health Services said the $25 million “is not going to solve our problems,” but added that it is a good sign that Dayton included anything.

President and CEO Mark Anderson of the Knute Nelson care center in Alexandria said he is hopeful the legislative proposal will prevail, but also appreciates that nursing homes are on Dayton’s radar.

While Dayton, a Democrat, concentrated funding on young Minnesotans’ education, Anderson said the reality is that by 2020, there will be more senior citizens than school-age children as 60,000 people turn 65 each year.

Administrator Deb Barnes of Lakeview Methodist Health Care Center in Fairmont said that for years, it seemed no one listened to nursing home needs. That is, until this year, when legislators decided “we need to look at grand reform,” she said.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said the Dayton nursing home figure is too small, but predicted the final number will be smaller than what care facilities sought.

“Republicans have been talking for months now about how important it is to reform the way we reimburse nursing homes to make sure that we’re showing these folks the respect they deserve,” the speaker said. “We think that number needs to be probably closer to $160 million over the next biennium.”

A group feeling it didn’t receive enough attention, and is unhappy, represents those who care for the elderly and disabled in their homes. They are behind the 5 Percent Campaign, an effort to boost funding.

“Members of The 5 Percent Campaign are stunned that Gov. Dayton’s supplemental budget includes funding for nursing homes, but not a rate increase for home and community-based services,” said Bruce Nelson of the campaign. “It’s really a matter of fairness. It’s important that caregivers in home and community-based services are treated the same as those in nursing homes.”

About 19,000 American Indian students throughout the state, 93 percent of all Indian students, would benefit from $15 million more that Daytona folded into his budget, Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said. The money would be used to improve academic achievement and reduce the dropout rate.

Dayton proposed spending $10 million to build 650 housing units in greater Minnesota communities that have job openings but housing shortages.

While Dayton had already announced his prekindergarten plan and tuition freeze, along with a tax credit for middle-income parents and caregivers, some of his welfare proposals were new.

The governor’s proposing $68 million to increase state assistance for low-income families. That aid that hasn’t been changed since 1986, meaning its value has plummeted due to inflation. A bill from DFL Sen. Jeff Hayden of Minneapolis and Republican Rep. Mary Franson of Alexandria would implement a similar increase.

Dayton also wants to spend $83 million to expand eligibility for the Working Family Tax Credit, given to lower-income families, along with $11 million more to help parents buy school supplies and $50 million on child protection.

Leaders of the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities systems praised the governor’s budget for funding tuition freezes, while the teachers union Education Minnesota also backed it.

This is just the opening salvo in budget negotiations that are likely to last until May. A final state budget needs to be approved by Dayton, the Republican-run House and the DFL-controlled Senate.

Legislative budget plans are due out next week.

While Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said that he wants to raise state aid to local governments, Dayton did not include any in his Tuesday budget. Bakk said Monday that he expects some increase by the time lawmakers go home in May.

“By failing to support an increase in Local Government Aid, the message Governor Dayton sent to families and businesses in greater Minnesota is that even with a $1.9 billion dollar surplus the state doesn’t have the commitment, resources or will to invest in your community,” said Ely City Council member Heidi Omerza, Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities president.

Nursing home leaders have been regular Capitol visitors this year as they try to get more money so they can pay staffs higher wages. They have told legislators that workers often go to higher-paying jobs at hospitals, or even fast-food places. Wages are determined by how much money the state provides.

“I’m trying to be optimistic,” said Raw, whose Morris employer owns a dozen nursing homes around the state from Thief River Falls to Duluth to Renville. “I am feeling better than I have in probably the last 10 or 15 years.”

The $200 million in the initial legislation was what nursing homes need to meet their expenses, Raw said. “We need something that is sustainable.”

“We have critical, critical issues in our nursing facilities,” she added. “We are so far behind that we are desperate for whatever we can get.”

In Alexandria, Anderson said that with a rapidly increasing number of aging Minnesotans, nursing home funding reform is needed.

“Something needs to be done … to ensure that we are able to find sustainable funding sources for the care centers,” Anderson said.

Whatever is done, he added, requires the state to invest more money.

Doug Belden of the St. Paul Pioneer Press contributed to this story. The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.

Transportation brings together Bakk, Dayton

Dayton, Bakk

Dayton, Bakk

“Let’s create a photo op.”

With those words from Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, and a hug with Gov. Mark Dayton, the two most powerful Minnesota Democrats publicly made peace Thursday, after a nearly month-long spat.

The two were in Dayton’s office promoting their plans to raise taxes for a $6 billion decade-long transportation plan. When a reporter asked how the two were getting along, Bakk invited journalists to take his picture with the governor as he put his right hand on Dayton’s shoulder; Dayton tentatively put his hand on Bakk’s back.

They smiled at each other and declared all is well with their political relationship. Bakk said the two are doing fine and Dayton said they are doing their best to serve Minnesotans.

When the news conference started, the two stood awkwardly side by side, wearing serious expressions and not taking note of each other. That all changed when Bakk launched the photo opportunity.

It is a notable accomplishment because a month ago Dayton raised the salaries of his commissioners by as much as $35,000 a year, telling legislators about it weeks later. Bakk quickly sponsored legislation to delay the raises, prompting Dayton to launch into harsh criticism of the Senate leader.

Dayton said Bakk, D-Cook, connived and was a backstabber and said he no longer would meet with Bakk without a witness present. They since said they made up, but Thursday was the first public appearance they planned together.

The appearance came as Senate transportation leaders joined Dayton in promoting their similar transportation plans.

The event featured a large map showing 26 locations the administration has been to promote the transportation proposal.

When a reporter noted that just one of the visits came in the northern part of the state, Dayton immediately responded that he plans to visit Moorhead and Bemidji next week. His spokesman said timing and other details of the visits are to be worked out.

In Moorhead, Dayton likely will discuss the need to build overpasses to allow trains to pass through the city with less traffic disruption. In Bemidji, Minnesota 371 improvements are bound to be on the agenda.

The governor also plans to be in Willmar today.

Sen. Roger Reinert, D-Duluth, said Transportation Commission Charlie Zelle plans to be in his city a week from today.

Reinert said greater Minnesota would be especially helped by the governor and Senate plans to increase transportation funding.

Dayton and other Democrats said the House transportation plan is inadequate and a volatile economy means the state needs stable and dedicated funding rather than relying on variable general tax revenues.

House Transportation Chairman Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, says he plans to continue to investigate the real transportation needs and will come up with a full funding plan later this legislative session.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, was critical of Democrats for continuing to seek a tax increase.

“Over the last two weeks, we’ve heard bipartisan agreement that Minnesotans don’t support a gas tax increase, and it’s the wrong approach for Minnesota families especially in light of a nearly $2 billion surplus,” Daudt said.

Education-focused Dayton budget covers a wide range of issues

Dayton

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s two-year budget plan would pump more than a half billion dollars into education, increase the number of food inspectors by 26, add facilities at some parks, fund better supervision of child abuse programs, improve railroad crossings and provide hundreds of other changes.

He would do it without a general tax increase.

Dayton’s increased spending, which would bring the budget that begins next July 1 to about $42 billion, comes from a $1 billion surplus.

The surplus, announced late last year, normally would have been taken up by state agencies paying for higher wages, utility bills and other inflationary costs. However, Dayton said, he wants agencies to absorb most of that inflation by taking money-saving measures such as leaving jobs open.

Dayton surprised no one by making education his top fiscal priority, as he has since he ran for governor in 2010. He proposes setting aside $418 million of the budget for education through high school and $93 million for higher education.

“Minnesota’s future success — and health of our families, the vitality of our communities and the prosperity of our state — will depend upon our making excellent education available to all Minnesotans,” Dayton said. “That is exactly what my budget proposal aims to do.”

Commissioner Myron Frans of Minnesota Management and Budget said the state is in better fiscal state than it has been for years. Many state officials expect a new state revenue report due in a month to show a larger surplus, and thus giving legislators and Dayton more money to spend.

The budget continues a modern-day trend, broken just once, of increasing the budget each year. The current two-year budget is $39.6 billion.

After Dayton, a Democrat, and the Democratic-controlled Legislature raised taxes $2 billion two years ago, there was little change in taxes in this Dayton budget.

“We are in a position where we can meet the needs without a general tax increase,” Dayton said.

The governor’s budget plan will be used at the basis for legislators to draw up their own spending plans. However, those will not come until after a new report on the state’s economy and expected tax revenues, tentatively scheduled for Feb. 27. Dayton also will revise his budget proposal after the report and propose a public works bill funded by the state selling bonds.

One item not in the Dayton budget drew the ire of nursing home advocates and Republicans.

The Long Term Care Imperative, representing facilities such as nursing homes, issued a statement saying members were disappointed that Dayton did not include more funds for their cause.

“As 60,000 Minnesotans will turn 65 this year, and next year, and until at least 2031, the demand for care will continue to grow,” the imperative statement said. “We need to start the conversation immediately about how we are going to address the care of aging Minnesotans.”

House Republicans won the majority in November’s election by winning Democratic seats in rural areas, where the most nursing home fiscal problems are found. House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said he was not happy that Dayton skipped increasing funding for them.

Dayton said that nursing homes have received $93 million in new founds in the past four years, so opted not to include new funding in this budget. However, he said in response to a reporter’s question, nursing home funding will be near the top of his priority list if the Feb. 27 report shows a bigger surplus.

Overall, Republicans were critical that Dayton wants to increase spending as much as he does.

Daudt said that if Dayton’s budget were to be adopted, its increased spending would cost every Minnesotan $1,244.

Democrats were happy with the Dayton plan.

“Gov. Dayton’s budget proposals reflect the values and priorities all Minnesotans share,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said. “I am pleased his budget proposal funds a comprehensive transportation plan, invests in our youngest learners, supports economic and workforce development initiatives, and maintains the balanced budget in the years ahead.”

Dayton took the rare step of withholding new money from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system until a dispute between faculty and the administration is settled.

The money would have gone to allow MnSCU continue a tuition freeze. The governor proposes to give the University of Minnesota $93 million more to continue its freeze.

The MnSCU controversy centers on an initiative, Charting the Future, established by Chancellor Steven Rosenstone. Seven faculty organizations have passed “no confidence” votes against Rosenstone for the initiative, which is designed to streamline the system.

MnSCU leaders on both sides of the dispute said Tuesday that they are working toward an agreement.

Youth-related programs and health and human services spending account for 75 percent of Dayton’s new proposals.

Featured in his education funding plan is providing free pre-kindergarten programs to 4-year-olds.

Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said the programs will be voluntary for school districts, and local officials could decide what schools would offer the programs.

Dayton also would put more money into general public school needs and he wants $100 million available for child-care tax credits that can be used for working families.

The Dayton budget plan also would spend:

— $30 million to improve broadband Internet service, mostly in rural Minnesota.

— $33 million gained from a railroad assessment would help improve rail safety, mostly on tracks that carry North Dakota oil. He also plans to ask legislators to approve borrowing $43 million for rail safety (mostly to improve rail crossing in the Prairie Island Indian Community, Willmar and Moorhead).

— $10 million to buy two used airplanes for state use, replacing two aging ones that need more maintenance than they are worth. He said the state will reduce the number of airplanes and helicopters it owns.

— $2.5 million to improve oversight and training for county public health workers dealing with child abuse. Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said more money may be needed after a series of recommendations is released in March.

Also folded into the budget is money for more Agriculture Department food inspectors: 11 wholesale food inspectors, 10 retail inspectors and five meat inspectors.

Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said parks and trails would receive $7.2 million more, going to things such as new facilities at state parks.

The budget plan Dayton released Tuesday is for state programs funded by general tax revenues. However, when transportation, federally funded state programs and other initiatives are considered, the all-accounts budget can nearly double the state taxpayer-funded portion.

—-

Some examples of two-year budgets over the years:

— 1964-1965, $770 million

— 1974-1975, $3.5 billion

— 1984-1985, $9.8 billion

— 1994-1995, $16.7 billion

— 2004-2005, $28.1 billion

— 2006-2007, $31.5 billion

— 2008-2009, $33.9 billion

— 2010-2011, $30 billion

— 2012-2013, $35.3 billion

— 2014-2015, $39.6 billion

— 2016-2017, $42 billion

—-

How the governor’s proposed budget funded by general tax revenues would be spent:

— Public school education: 42 percent

— Health and human services: 28 percent

— Property tax aids and credits: 8 percent

— Higher education: 7 percent

— Judiciary, public safety: 5 percent

— Other: 10 percent

Notes: Property tax aids and credits include programs such as aid to local governments. Most transportation funding comes from other sources not included in the state’s main budget.

Political Chatter: House Dems say they helped greater Minnesota

Minnesota House Democrats think they are getting a bum rap by Republicans who say that greater Minnesota has been ignored in recent years.

A move to treat greater Minnesota right was the GOP focus for much of last fall’s House campaign and has intensified since then. Even suburban Republicans have joined the battle.

Most of the House Republican priorities involve the area outside of the Twin Cities. The No. 1 bill, for instance, would give tax breaks and aid to businesses, featuring such provisions as helping companies buy land for homes in rural communities with housing shortages. Nursing home aid also is on the list.

Democrats are skeptical that Republicans, who only control the House as Democratic-Farmer-Laborites still run the Senate and governor’s office, actually will do much to help greater Minnesota.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, has been joined by Assistant Minority Leader Paul Marquart, D-Dilworth, and others in saying they did lots to help greater Minnesota when Democrats were in charge the last two years.

Now, DFL operative and House employee Zach Rodvold has compiled a list of items he says prove his party served greater Minnesota well, including:

— Investing $660 million in schools, including reducing the difference in state aid between high and low wealth districts.

— Taking actions that resulted in property tax cuts after a decade in which rural taxes rose eight times as much in rural areas than in the Twin Cities.

— Spending $20 million to improve high-speed Internet, known as broadband, in rural areas.

— Increasing money spent on care of the state’s elderly, with a higher percentage of them living in rural Minnesota.

— Cutting taxes for more than 90,000 farmers.

— Investing in the Corridors of Commerce program that improves highways around the state’s regional centers.

Budget plan coming

Tuesday is one of the key days in this year’s legislative session: That is when Gov. Mark Dayton releases his budget proposal for the next two years.

The Democrat will unveil the plan in front of journalists, who will be outnumbered by lobbyists who want to know how hard they will need to work to get funding for their clients.

Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate will base their budget plans on what Dayton presents, although they may look far different. But don’t expect the legislative plans to fully appear until after a new economic and state revenue report released near the end of February because things could change by then and lawmakers want to use the latest information.

Dayton himself will update his budget plan after the budget report, which basically will show how much money lawmakers and Dayton have to spend.

In all likelihood, Dayton’s plan will call for collecting and spending more than $41 billion of state tax money in the next two years.

While Dayton says he will not seek a general tax increase, he will ask for a new wholesale fuel sales tax to boost transportation spending. He plans to release his transportation spending plan Monday.

Space a political drama

Controlling state Capitol turf always has been an interesting spectator sport.

The Senate, House and administration protect Capitol space they control, which set up an inside-politics drama when Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, wanted offices for 23 senators kept in the Capitol after it is renovated and a new Senate office building is finished.

Leaders of both parties in the House and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton did not like the idea of keeping the Senate Capitol offices because the new building includes offices for all 67 senators. Negotiations among legislative leaders and Dayton went past a deadline; missing the deadline could have cost the state thousands of dollars a month in construction delays because contractors would need to wait until they knew how the space would be divided before going ahead with work.

The night before the Capitol Preservation Commission met to approve space allocation, Bakk relented and reduced the number of senator offices to four, and promised no senator would have an office in both the Capitol and the new building.

“I’ve always known that you need some type of tension to get things done at the Capitol,” quipped Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove.

Klobuchar: lots of improvements

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar wrote a column resembling a state of the state or state of the union address.

“With the economy improving, we are no longer governing from crisis; we are governing from opportunity,” the Minnesota Democrat wrote. “Especially as we head into a new year with a new Congress, Washington must put governing over gridlock and get things done that will move our economy and country forward.”

She pointed out that Minnesota’s unemployment rate is down, exports are up and many industries are surging.

“Starting this month, I will be taking on a new leadership position as chair of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee,” she said. “This position will give me a chance to reach out to members across the aisle, as well as community leaders, businesses and policy experts, to identify areas of common ground and work together for the benefit of all Americans.”

Her first priority, she said, is to “start with rebuilding and revitalizing our infrastructure.” She also called for government leaders to help make sure students and workers have needed skills for newly created jobs.

Dayton wants diversity

Gov. Mark Dayton has established a council to improve state government’s recruiting and retaining employees of a diverse background.

The governor will lead the Diversity and Inclusion Council.

“A government that serves the people of Minnesota, should reflect the rich diversity of Minnesota,” Dayton said. “We must ensure that all Minnesotans have equitable opportunities to work for their state government, to do business with the state, and to participate fully in the development of policy within our democracy.”

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.

Some Republicans question Tomassoni’s new job

By John Myers

Some Republicans in the Minnesota Senate said Monday they may pursue ethics charges against state Sen. Dave Tomassoni if he keeps a new appointment as head of an Iron Range lobbying group in addition to his Senate job.

Senate Republicans said they may file an ethics complaint against Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, if he keeps both his position as state senator and as head of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools.

“It should go without saying that a sitting Minnesota Senator cannot take a job as a lobbyist and expect to keep his seat in the Senate,’’ Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said in a statement. “If this was a trial balloon, Sen. Tomassoni needs to call it back.”

Tomassoni last week was named as the new RAMS executive director. The group was formed in the 1970s mostly to look after the interests of Iron Range local governments — school boards, city councils and townships — at the state Capitol.

Tomassoni defended the RAMS position, saying it’s no different than other lawmakers holding jobs outside the Legislature. He said his salary for the RAMS job would be $45,000 and that the group’s board will hire a second person to conduct lobbying.

That’s a change from past practice, where the RAMS director did both administrative and lobbying duties.

“My job (with RAMS) is going to be administrative, not lobbying … I’m not going to be a lobbyist,’’ Tomassoni said. “It’s no different than having teachers on the education committee or a lawyer chairing the judiciary committee or a farmer chairing the agriculture committee.”

Tomassoni has said he will take a leave from the RAMS job during legislative sessions, much the way the many teachers in the Legislature take leave from their school jobs.

Not all Republicans at the Capitol were critical, however. Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, and Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, issued a statement Monday defending Tomassoni.

“Serving in the legislature is a part-time job. Legislators have the right to hold employment outside the legislature that does not involve lobbying and is not a conflict of interest,’’ the statement noted. “In all our interactions with Senator Tomassoni, he has upheld the highest standards of ethics and integrity. We disagree with those who have been critical of the Senator’s new employment.”

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, also defended his fellow Ranger, saying Tomassoni has correctly hired an attorney to ask the state Campaign Finance Board to determine if any conflict exists.

“The Campaign Finance Board is the institution intended to resolve and advise on potential conflicts of interest concerning public officials. When they return their advisory opinion Sen. Tomassoni will have clear direction,’’ Bakk said in a statement.

Tomassoni, 62, first was elected to the Minnesota House in 1992 and served four terms. In 2000 he was elected to the state Senate, where he has served since. He is chairman of the Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Budget Division of the Senate Finance Committee.

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.”

First legislative day combines ceremony with policy

Opening day

Pomp and policy mixed Tuesday as Minnesota legislators returned to work in their 2015 session.

Winifred Swedzinski, 6, was in the House chamber for the pomp as her father, Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, was sworn in for his third term. She and her three sisters quietly played around their father’s desk during the noon hour session.

Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Lake Shore, brought guests for the ceremony, but he also was thinking about taxes.

“We were told two years ago (when Democrats controlled the Legislature and governor’s office) that property taxes would be fixed once and for all,” he said, adding that has not happened and improving the tax climate is top on his priority list.

First-time lawmakers like Dave Baker, R-Willmar, were glad Tuesday finally arrived.

Baker said his time since the November election has been full of meetings about a variety of issues due to come up during the legislative session tha tthe state Constitution says must be done by May 18.

“I didn’t realize all the moving parts there are here,” Baker said.

Most eyes Tuesday were on Kurt Daudt, a representative with four years in the House who became its speaker, a position often said to be the second most powerful political job in state government.

Daudt, R-Crown, said his inexperience may be a plus because he does not bring all the political baggage long-time lawmakers carry. He is the youngest speaker since the 1930s and one of the least experienced.

The soon-to-be-speaker sat at a back-row desk while colleagues lauded him before the House voted on speaker.

“He sounds like a good guy,” Daudt joked during one of the speeches nominating him.

Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, said Daudt can help all of Minnesota grow: farms, urban areas, mines, suburbs. And, Kresha added, Daudt can conduct the House’s business with decorum.

Democrats put up outgoing speaker Paul Thissen of Minneapolis to continue in that role, but Daudt won 72-62, a strict party-line vote.

Rep. Paul Marquart, D-Dilworth, nominated Thissen, saying he has “a very strong record of leading this body.”

In a brief speech after taking the speaker’s oath, Daudt said that growing up on a family farm taught him to study problems before coming up with solutions. “We have an opportunity to do that now.”

He said that he rules nothing out as the legislative session begins.

“We should all expect and embrace new ideas,” Daudt said.

After the House session, Daudt said that House Republicans on Thursday will roll out bills dealing with jobs and the economy, nursing homes, an education achievement gap suffered by minorities and poor Minnesotans, transportation and reforming the MNsure state health sales system.

“I hope we can have great debates and decide on something together.”

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said Democratic senators on Thursday will introduce a package of six bills reflecting their priorities for the session.

He declined to disclose what’s in the bills, but he said, “I think they’re priorities that most Minnesotans will agree with.” They’ll include some new ideas,

Some parts of rural Minnesota have not benefited from the recovering national economy, he said, “So I think there is going to be some additional emphasis” on providing economic aid to those areas.

Bakk said he will seek quick action on a disaster relief package for parts of the state damaged by severe flooding last summer.

The state used up its $3 million disaster-aid account last month, and Gov. Mark Dayton has said he would ask lawmakers to promptly pass an emergency bill. Administration officials estimated at least $8.7 million is needed to cover a gap between the cost of recovery and the disaster aid already supplied by the state and federal governments.

Bakk also said “there’s interest” in taking quick action on a bill to make Minnesota tax law conform with new tax breaks in the federal tax code. If the state law isn’t updated by Jan. 20, many Minnesota taxpayers will face higher federal income tax bills and have to file more complicated tax returns.

Bakk and Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said that they would like to consider not meeting next year, largely because the Capitol building will be mostly closed due to a $270 million renovation. The plan has been for the House to meet in its chamber, which would be the only part of the Capitol still open, and the Senate meet in a large committee room in a new office building now being constructed.

Daudt and Thissen said they would consider the Senate leaders’ idea, but that would mean that a public works funding bill would need to pass this year. Such bonding bills usually are debated in even-numbered years.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, wasted little time going after Democrats on opening day.

“Over the last two years we saw the harm caused by Gov. Dayton and DFL majorities,” Ingebrigtsen said. “This year we now have a Republican majority in the Minnesota House. This will undoubtedly give a stronger voice to Greater Minnesota. With this new Republican majority we now we have an opportunity to reform our tax laws to provide some relief to hardworking taxpayers.”

For House Democrats, after two years in the majority things are different.

“I am eager to learn how to best serve my district while serving in the minority,” Rep. Jason Metsa, D-Virginia, said. “There are issues big and small facing our district and Minnesota. From ensuring a resolution to the relocation of Highway 53 to helping homeowners better address septic systems — these issues may not be glamorous, but they need to get done and they need bipartisan support to do it.”

For Willmar’s Baker, jobs and the economy are keys.

“The new Republican majority is ready to get to work helping to grow jobs, improve Minnesota’s economy, and tackling the challenges facing Minnesota families,” Baker said.

Like other Republicans, Kresha said that he looks forward to his party being in control.

“It is nice to take some of the things I hear from home and put them into bills,” he said.

Jobs and child protection legislation are among those he is emphasizing. He said child protection action has bipartisan support after a northwestern Minnesota abuse case.

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said he is optimistic about being able to work with the Democratic governor in his House Agriculture Finance Committee.

Dayton representatives, including Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson, already have talked to him about the budget.

Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston, said that with GOP House control, state government will be balanced again.

The farmer said rural lawmakers, whose November election wins gave Republicans the majority, need to show how important agriculture is to urban Minnesota.

Bill Salisbury of the St. Paul Pioneer Press contributed to this story. The Pioneer Press and Forum News Service are media partners.

Daudt in charge

Rep. Dean Urdahl takes oath

Rep. Paul Marquart’s first speech of year

Winifred Swedzinski and dad