Tricounty News

Week in Review: Feb. 15-19

Governor's budget plan

This week, Governor Pawlenty offered a supplemental budget package to cover the state's $1.2 billion that must be balanced by the end of session in the spring. It contained no increases to taxpayers and protects K-12 classrooms, veterans and public safety funding. The balanced budget is achieved by making cuts to welfare programs ($347 million), local government aid ($250 million), state agencies ($181 million), higher education ($47 million), and a $387 million extension of enhanced federal Medicaid funding.

As mentioned last week, the Governor's Job Creation Bill contains tax cuts on small businesses, an angel investment tax credit, a research and development tax credit, a capital gains exclusion for qualified investments, and other incentives for companies to invest in Minnesota small businesses.

The release of Gov. Pawlenty's supplemental budget recommendation overcomes the state's projected $1.2 billion deficit while providing cuts to spur job growth. You can look at the governor's proposal online at .

Bonding Bill

A joint House-Senate conference committee will be working out minor differences, and sometime next week a legislative borrowing plan topping $1 billion will likely be on its way to the governor's desk. I agree that the bill contains many worthwhile projects, but the burden to Minnesota taxpayers is just too great at $1 billion. There has been a variety of discussions relating to the actual amount of jobs that the bonding bill will create; however, the numbers range from 10,000 to 30,000.

Here is a quick summary of the three original versions of the capital investment plans:

• Governor's bill: $685 million; includes $193 million for higher education, $89 million for Moose Lake sex offender facility, $0 for arts and civic projects.

• Senate bill: $999 million; includes $322 million for higher education, $1 million for planning the sex offender facility; $103.5 million for arts and civic projects.

• House bill: $1.1 billion; includes $322 million for higher education, $89 million for Moose Lake sex offender facility, $105.4 million for arts and civic projects.

Setting priorities

Did you know that according to current Minnesota law that expense for new construction or alteration of a public building may include one percent of the total cost of the building on art for the building? To put this in perspective, the bonding amount the Senate allocated for the St. Cloud Civic Center Expansion was $15.1 million. The taxpayer would be paying for $151,000 for art to be displayed in the building. Art is a wonderful thing, but we are in tough economic times. People are more concerned about paying their mortgage and finding jobs. Senate Republicans offered an amendment to limit the amount allowed to be spent on art to $100,000 or 1 percent, whichever is less. Unfortunately, this attempt at fiscal responsibility and setting priorities failed.

Primary election date

The Senate passed a bill this week to move up the date of Minnesota's political primary by a month to ensure that military and overseas voters have adequate time to receive and return absentee ballots for the general election. The change would also bring the state into conformity with federal law. According to the Federal Voting Assistance Program, 91 percent of the nation's domestic absentee voters' ballots were counted in 2008. For overseas voters, the figure was only 63 percent. Overseas Minnesotans do slightly better, but still a quarter of ballots were discounted or unreturned.

The proposed legislation would move the primary from the first Tuesday after the second Monday in September to the second Tuesday in August in even-numbered years. For 2010, the primary would be held Aug. 10, rather than Sept. 14, as it is currently scheduled. The measure also expands the time available for absentee voting from 30 to 45 days, and changes the timing provided for special elections for federal office to allow for a 45-day absentee voting period.

General Assistance Medical Care

Continuing the discussion from last week, the Senate and House passed the revised DFL plan to restore partial funding to General Assistance Medical Care for an additional 16 months. governor Pawlenty vetoed the bill, and blasted the plan as having no reform and not working as part of budget solution. GAMC is a state-funded program that pays for health-care services for low-income, single, childless adults. At the end of the 2009 session, the Governor vetoed funding for the program, effective April 1, 2010. GAMC recipients will be automatically transitioned into Minne-sotaCare. There is discussion that the DFL-controlled Legislature will likely try to override the veto.

Haiti tax break

We have all seen the images and heard the stories of those impacted by the tragic earthquake in Haiti, and many of you gave personal or business donations to Haiti earthquake relief. Similar to what occurred during Hurricane Katrina, those who donated money will be able to deduct the amount from their personal income or corporate franchise taxes under a measure endorsed by the Senate this week. The bill would apply to donations made specifically for Haiti relief efforts between Jan. 11 and March 1, and would match up state and federal tax law. The House has yet to vote on its version of the bill.