Tricounty News

Week in Review: Feb. 22-26

It was another interesting week in St. Paul. Here is an update on some of the top issues.

Bonding

Monday, Feb. 22, the Senate approved a Capital Investment bill topping $1 billion in spending, but still missing many of the state's needs in public safety and core infrastructure, including security requests for Minnesota's only level 5 maximum security facility at Oak Park Heights, and full funding for Moose Lake sex offender treatment center to accommodate the state's growing sex offender population.

The bonding bill was approved by both bodies; Gov. Pawlenty had announced his intentions to veto the bill. In an usual turn of events, the bill was delivered to the Senate instead of to the Governor's desk.

House and Senate conference committee members are negotiating with the Governor about reprioritizing projects in the bill and trimming it down to a more affordable figure. Hopefully this process will bring a more sensible bill to the Senate floor next week and additional discussions about job creation.

GAMC

Last week, the Governor vetoed the reinstatement of a temporary GAMC program. The DFL majority succeeded in forcing a veto override in the Senate, and the House will attempt the override next week.

GAMC is a state-funded program that pays for certain health-care services for low-income, single, childless adults. It is one of three programs Minnesota uses to distribute public health care benefits. It was created in 1975 as a joint program with counties to help the disabled. Over the years, eligibility grew and the state became responsible for the full cost. The program's 35,000 enrollees aren't required to have a medical diagnosis of disability, but are often chemically dependent and have incomes below 75 percent of the poverty line.

Today, the program grows at about 36 percent each two-year budget cycle and is on track to cost the state $1 billion next year. It was with an eye to reform and cost-effectiveness that Gov. Pawlenty unfunded the program and sought to move people from GAMC to MinnesotaCare. The costs of care in the MinnesotaCare program are significantly less on a per-patient and per-visit basis than in the GAMC program.

Most states have a Medical Assistance equivalent; very few have public health insurance programs of any kind. Even with the merger of these programs, Minnesota's benefits provide an safety net for the poor and sick.

Looking forward

There is growing support to strike down Minnesota's 16-year ban on new nuclear power plants, and a committee will again hear a proposal seeking to bring nuclear energy to the table as one of the options for the future. Minnesota receives most of its electricity from coal-fired power plants, but a recently passed Minnesota law mandates that by 2025 a quarter of the state's electricity must be generated by "renewable sources," in an effort to move away from coal. Many lawmakers feel that nuclear is the answer to those demands.