This week at the Capitol the focus was on the release of the state’s newest budget forecast. Minnesota Management and Budget releases budget updates on a monthly basis, but each November and February, the agency releases a much more detailed picture of the financial outlook for the state.
Yesterday’s release shows the state’s budget picture continues to improve. According to this budget estimate, for our current biennium of Fiscal Years 2012-2013, the state now has a surplus of $295 million. In addition, the projected deficit for Fiscal Years 2014-2015 dropped from $1.1 billion to $627 million.
Governor Dayton will release a revised budget proposal sometime in the week of March 11, which will reflect his budget adjustments based off the new forecast. Hearings will continue on the governor’s proposal as well as legislative specific budget bills as the session moves forward.
The Senate Tax Reform Committee began a series of hearings spotlighting Governor Dayton’s tax plan. This week, it took a closer look at the governor’s proposal to increase the cigarette tax by $.94 per pack, an increase from $.48 cents per pack to $1.42 per pack. The governor’s $370 million tax increase would go to the General Fund to support overall spending. This use differs from alternative proposals, including a bill authored by Sen. Carla Nelson that would use new cigarette tax revenue to lower the statewide property tax burden on Minnesota employers. There was joint meeting of the Senate and House Higher Education Committees to nominate candidates to a joint convention of the Legislature for the Board of Regents at the University of Minnesota. The joint committee nominated candidates to four spots on the 12-member board. Nominated by the committee were Peggy Lucas (5th Congressional District), Abdul Omari (Student-At Large), Dean Johnson (At-large), and Linda Cohen (At-Large). Both Johnson and Cohen are incumbents on the board while Lucas and Omari will enter their first terms should they be elected by the joint convention.
The Judiciary Committee this week began hearing bills specifically aimed at the DNR and law enforcement data breaches, and how to better give Minnesotans access to information about government employees who access their private data. This week, Elections Committee introduced its major proposals in an omnibus package authored by Chair Katie Sieben (DFL-Cottage Grove). The proposals would make significant changes to how we vote including a two-week voting period and authorizing citizens to vote by absentee without an excuse. On Wednesday, the committee heard numerous bills to fund transportation-related capital investment projects. Most of the discussion was about the Southwest Corridor Light Rail Line project, which is seeking $118 million. The Southwest LRT line would connect Minneapolis with Eden Prairie, with numerous stops at suburban cities in between. There was significant discussion about Metro Transit’s operating budget, the history of budget shortfalls, and Governor Dayton’s proposal to raise the sales tax for transit.