Tag Archives: Paul Thissen

Session endgame heats up with marriage equality vote Thursday

The Minnesota House of Representatives will vote on H.F. 1054 — the marriage equality bill — on Thursday.  The movement of this bill to the floor is a signal from leadership in the DFL majority that they have the necessary 68 votes to pass the bill, as Speaker of the House Paul Thissen has indicated he would not bring the bill up for vote unless there was sufficient votes to pass it.

In recent weeks, there has been substantial movement among rural DFL legislators towards the bill, including Hinckley’s Tim Faust and Crosby’s Joe Radinovich just within the last few days.  With passage seemingly assured at this point, the interesting thing to watch will be if any suburban Republicans vote yes on the bill as well.  21 House Republicans — including Chaska’s Joe Hoppe and Chanhassen’s Cindy Pugh — represent districts that opposed last November’s marriage amendment.  As of now, none of them have publicly indicated their support for marriage equality.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk says he has sufficient votes in his caucus to pass the bill in that chamber as well, but does not intend to bring the bill to the floor until after the House vote.  Governor Mark Dayton has indicated he will sign the bill if it passes both chambers.

Ten states currently have marriage equality, and Delaware’s legislature is also voting on the issue this week (with passage expected).

Meanwhile, negotiations designed to produce a compromise budget between the House, Senate, and Governor are ongoing.  As noted previously, untangling the three tax plans is likely to biggest source the most difficult challenge faced by the negotiators.  With less than two weeks left in the session, the pace is likely to be rather hectic to get through all the necessary business by then.

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Which tax provisions will survive?

Yesterday, after an inexplicable and embarrassing false start, the Minnesota State Senate passed its version of the omnibus tax bill.  The bill now moves to conference committee where it will be reconciled against the House’s version of the bill as well as Governor Mark Dayton’s budget proposal.  This may prove to be more work than expected, given that all three parties in the negotiations are DFL-controlled.

On a net basis (tax increases less new aids and credits), all three proposals raise between $1.5 and $1.7 billion dollars, but they get there in notably different ways:

1415summary

Let’s dig into the details.  Here are some of the key provisions in each plan:

1415details

Some elements should come together pretty quickly:  increasing LGA, increases to tobacco taxes, and reduction/removal of corporate exemptions for foreign source royalties and operating companies.

Other pieces are going to be more difficult.  House DFLers have committed themselves to paying off the remaining K-12 funding shift this session.  The temporary 4% surcharge on income is designed to get them to that point, raising $1.2 billion on its own.  However, both Dayton and Senate Democrats have listed the surcharge as not acceptable, and neither of them make any moves towards paying off the shift in their proposals.

Meanwhile, the Senate has stayed committed to advancing sales tax reform — proposing an expansion in goods and services subject to taxation while lowering the rate to 6% — while Dayton (in his updated budget) and House DFLers have stayed away from such proposals.

House DFLers have also advanced an increase in alcohol taxes that has run into substantial controversy.  Neither Dayton nor the Senate have embraced such a proposal.

So how do we get to a final bill?  Well, as it turns out, much of the Governor’s proposal ends up serving as a middle ground between the legislative proposals.  Dayton’s income tax rate increase on the wealthy touches a smaller group of taxpayers than the Senate version, which may be acceptable to the House.  But in order to get the House on board, Dayton and the Senate are going to have to make a significant move towards paying back the school shift.  How to do that?  By adopting the Senate’s cigarette tax revenue plan or the House’s plan which includes alcohol tax increases.  The House is likely also going to have to scale back (or eliminate) their property tax reforms.  Taking those steps should be able to ensure that at least half of the remaining shift is paid off.

With less than three weeks remaining in the legislative session, DFLers haven’t given themselves much time to hash through these issues, given the fragile nature of the coalitions they have had to put together to get these bills through the respective chambers.  It will be interesting to watch and see how the negotiations unfold.

How to go the right way on legislator pay

The Minnesota State Senate passed their version of the  State Government omnibus budget bill on Tuesday by a narrow 34-32 margin.  5 DFL members defected from the rest of the majority, primarily over the issue of pay raises in the bill.  Under the provisions of the bill, the Governor would get a raise from $120,000 to $128,000 effective in 2016 (and would be adjusted for inflation every year after that), while legislators would have their salary pegged as 1/3 of the governor’s pay.  That would represent over a $10,000 raise over the current legislative salaries of $31,140.  Commissioners of state departments would also see higher pay as well, going up to 133% of the Governor’s salary.

In addition to their base salaries, legislators also earn a per diem for their legislative activities, and a housing allowance of $1,200 per month is available for those who live more than 50 miles away from the State Capitol.  Per diem for most legislators runs about $10,000 per year.

There are some legitimate reasons to consider a pay increase for state legislators.  (And, in fact, despite the largely party-line vote, there is broad bipartisan agreement that a pay increase may be justified.)  First, they haven’t  received a pay increase since 1999, meaning that, adjusted for inflation, legislators are being paid about 30% less than they were then.  Second, there is concern that low legislative salaries may be a barrier to attracting people to run for office or retaining them while they are there.  This may be a factor in the increasing age of the Legislature, which in the House has increased by five years since 2000.  Third, the demands on our officially part-time Legislators are increasing, as the job continues to edge closer to being a full-time year-round commitment with yearly special sessions and fall/winter committee meetings on top of normal constituent outreach and service.

While those are all valid, increases to legislator salaries shouldn’t come without some reform to make the process more rational. (And let’s not forget the dreadful optics of increasing their own pay while the minimum wage languishes and state compensation rates for nursing home and home health care workers have stagnated for years.)  Here’s three specific reforms we should get in return for opening the door to increasing legislative salaries:

  • End in-session per diem:  Legislators are eligible to take per diem seven days a week while the Legislature is in session (even if there is no official business on that day).  As a result, the per diem requested by most legislators during the session tends to be pretty tightly distributed.  There’s little value added to administering such a process — let’s just increase legislative salaries to reflect an average number of days the legislature is in session per year and leave per diem to only cover days outside of the normal legislative session.
  • Standardize per diem rates for the House and the Senate:  Currently, State Senators get a higher per diem rate than House members.   The purpose of a per diem — to compensate a legislator for expenses incurred — doesn’t change based on the body the Legislator serves in.
  • No pay for legislators or the Governor if a budget is not reached:  If a state budget is not agreed to by the start of the fiscal year, then legislators and the Governor don’t get paid for the time until a budget is reached.  No salary, no per diem for the special session.  And when the budget does finally get passed, they don’t get that money retroactively.

To take a more radical approach, Minnesota could adopt a compensation plan similar to Ohio’s, which ditches the per diem and allowance model altogether and has a set schedule of pay based on a legislator’s role (leadership positions get bumps in pay).  Either way, it’s not too much to expect some reform to come along with any increase in salary for legislators or the Governor.

(It should be noted that the House DFL majorities have come out firmly against pay increases, leaving them out of their version of the State Government bill, which will likely set up some interesting Conference Committee discussions to hash out a final version of the bill.)

Dayton rolls out revised budget plan

Governor Mark Dayton rolled out his revised budget plan today, reflecting adjustments required after the February forecast trimmed the projected 2014-2015 budget deficit from $1.1 billion to $627 million.

Here are the key changes in the proposal compared to Dayton’s original budget:

  • All sales tax reform is removed from the budget:  no business sales tax expansion, no expansion of consumer sales taxes to services, and no reduction in the sales tax rate.
  • The $500 property tax refund has been removed, although Dayton does invest an additional $18 million in increasing the pool for the renter’s property tax refund.
  • The cut in the corporate income tax rate has been removed, but changes to eliminate tax breaks for foreign operating companies and foreign royalty payments remain in the budget, raising about $370 million.
  • The proposed school shift payback in 2016-2017 has been removed from the budget.  Dayton would continue with current law, paying back the remaining shift as surpluses come in.

Dayton’s spending plan remains essentially unchanged from his original proposal.

Legislative reaction fell as expected along party lines.  Democrats, many of whom were wary of Dayton’s business sales tax proposals, were more positive about this budget.

“For too long we have seen our budget deficits resolved by deep cuts to the middle class and one-time fixes,” said House Speaker Paul Thissen. “That approach has only given us more deficits, higher property taxes, and larger classroom sizes. It is high time we reject the status quo and build a budget that positions our state to thrive in the future.” (via kare11.com)

One point of contention among DFLers is likely to be Dayton’s failure to address the school shift.  Expect a DFL legislative budget that includes a partial shift payback.

Republicans, meanwhile, continue to call for the budget deficit to be closed by reducing spending.

“I think it’s time for the people of Minnesota to weigh in on all of the taxes and just ask the question, do you need high taxes to grow the economy? We don’t believe so,” said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R- Eden Prairie. (via MPR)

GOP legislators have yet to introduce a budget proposal of their own, continuing a regrettable trend of legislative minorities choosing to complain from the sidelines instead of producing something that can be matched up side-by-side.

Updates to the Ernie Leidiger story

Some updates on the various issues surrounding State Rep. Ernie Leidiger:

  • House Minority Leader Paul Thissen has called Rep. Leidiger to explain the unpaid taxes, and failing that, for Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers to comment on behalf of the Republican caucus.  Press release available here.
  • I was on the LeftMN Radio Hour this weekend to Leidiger’s problems. Listen to the audio here.
  • Republican Carver County Commissioner candidates have taken up Leidiger’s cause against the League of Women Voters by dropping out of a scheduled candidate forum on October 13.  Candidates participating in the boycott include former State Rep. Tom Workman, Jim Walter, Vince Beaudette, and Frank Long.  An open letter to the league signed by all four candidates is available on the Chaska Herald website.  Telling is the close where the candidates will only deign to appear with organizations they deem as “centrist” or conservative.  Since when do political candidates only get to interact with those who agree with them?  When you have such a regressive mindset, that’s how you get to the problems we currently have in St. Paul and Washington.

[UPDATE]:  The StarTribune’s Rachel Stassen-Berger has a short post on the Leidiger situation this morning, noting that he has not returned any requests for comment since this story broke.

Killing it softly: Republicans and the Vikings stadium

Legislative Republicans, including State Senator Julianne Ortman, rolled out their latest strategy to kill the new proposed Minnesota Vikings stadium today.  What’s that, you say?  A new funding proposal can’t possibly be a strategy to kill the bill?  Not true at all.  The flurry of proposals you’ve seen Republicans lately are actually designed to kill the stadium deal while giving a reasonable out for stadium opponents to say that they supported some kind of package for a new stadium.  Because while many legislators don’t want to vote for a stadium, they also don’t want to get tagged with the blame if (when) the team leaves town.

What’s the primary piece of evidence supporting the hypothesis that today’s proposal is just political cover?  None of the other critical parties in the stadium discussion — the team, Governor Mark Dayton, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, or even the Republican sponsors of the current proposed stadium legislation — were involved in the crafting of the new proposal.  The Vikings, Dayton, and Rybak all find the new proposal unacceptable, while legislative sponsors State Sen. Julie Rosen and State Rep. Morrie Lanning were lukewarm at best.

The press conference where the outlines of this new proposal were sketched out was not confidence-inspiring, either.  At time, the legislators contradicted themselves, and to say the details of what could or could not be counted as “infrastructure” as part of the deal were fuzzy would be an understatement.  Team officials have been working for a decade to get a new stadium, and it’s only now — one day after legislative leaders State Sen. David Senjem and State Rep. Kurt Zellers said the session would be adjourned — that the “silver bullet” legislation comes out of the woodwork?

Zellers, in particular, continues to be a profile in political timidity on the stadium issue. After saying that he would let the legislative process play out and demanding that DFLers deliver one-half of the required votes — 34 votes — in the House, he’s gone back on his word.  The bill moved through House committees as Zellers demanded, and Minority Leader State Rep. Paul Thissen indicated he had the required 34 votes in his caucus for the bill, meaning that Zellers only needed to provide 34 of his party’s 72 members to get the bill passed.  Yet, he won’t move the bill to the floor.

Today’s proposal just continues the string of such dog-and-pony acts perpetuated during the committee process, from the insertion of the racino proposal at one point in the Senate Finance Committee, to attempt to change the funding mechanism to user taxes or mandating a referendum in the city of Minneapolis.

It’s time to put an end to the cover-yer-butt politics pervading the Capitol today.  There’s a stadium bill that has made it through committee.  It has earned a floor vote, and it’s time for our legislators to put their vote where their mouth is. Vote Yes.  Vote No.  But just vote already.


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