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State government, transportation conferees begin trek toward agreement as time runs short

Via Zoom, Rep. Michael Nelson calls the first meeting of the omnibus state government, elections, transportation and pensions conference committee to order May 9. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)

Entering Monday, there are 67 House-only provisions to the omnibus state government, elections, transportation and pensions bill. The Senate-only provisions total 75.

Yes, conferees have some work to do. And in a short amount of time.

In following tradition, the inaugural meeting of conference committee members was a walkthrough of differing state government and transportation provisions of HF4293, sponsored by Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park) and Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake).

A next meeting date has not been set.

The legislative session must end May 23; however, per the state constitution, bills cannot be passed on the final day of a biennium.

House-only state government and elections provisions include:

  • establishing Juneteenth as a state holiday;
  • replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day;
  • letting the governor declare a peacetime emergency in response to a cyberattack;
  • MN.IT could make grants to political subdivisions for cybersecurity risks and threats;
  • creating a commission to design a new state seal and flag, with current ones retired by May 11, 2023;
  • establishing a Legislative Commission on Aging; and
  • modifying several deadlines related to activities that occur before an election.

Among the Senate only provisions:

  • prohibiting the Office of the Attorney General from using external staff and resources in certain circumstances;
  • eliminating a requirement to evaluate the costs of onsite renewable energy for state-funded building projects;
  • precluding the use of municipal identifications as proof of identification to receive state services or federal program benefits administered by the state;
  • requiring the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission to study the development of a sports and training center in Dakota County; and
  • requiring absentee ballots to have a security marking.

[MORE: Comparison of elections, state government, transportation, pensions policy articles]

As for transportation, House provisions include establishing a Traffic Safety Advisory Council, requiring the Department of Transportation to establish a highways for habitat roadway program; establishing a reintegration driver’s license; and authorizing Metro Transit to issue administrative citations for nonpayment of a transit fare.

Senate-only transportation provisions include allowing licensed driver education programs to provide online driver’s education; requesting the federal government to give its blessing on ending the Northstar commuter rail between Big Lake and Minneapolis; and increasing the surcharge for all-electric vehicles and imposing a new surcharge for all-electric motorcycles and plug-in hybrid motorcycles and vehicles.  

 

What about funding?

The House bill proposes almost $76.56 million in additional General Fund state government-related spending with roughly two-thirds dedicated to cybersecurity issues. The Senate is at $10 million: $6 million for election grants and $4 million for election related activity livestreaming.

Net General Fund transportation spending shows a hefty Senate advantage: $499.3 million vs. $224.8 million in the House plan. Among the large differences, the House calls for an additional $31.18 million for Metro Transit spending whereas the Senate calls for a $10 million cut.

Conference Committee on H.F. 4293 - Omnibus State Government & Transportation Policy & Finance Bill

The Senate bill authorizes $299.6 million in trunk highway bonds in fiscal years 2024 and 2025 for eight projects; the House has $149.1 million in fiscal year 2023, including $80 million for high-priority bridges and $69 million for a facilities capital improvement program.

[MORE: View the state government, transportation, pensions spreadsheets]

In a letter to conferees, Attorney General Keith Ellison urged adoption of a House provision to fully fund the $2.335 million supplemental budget and reject a Senate provision on “performance of legal services.”

The current office biennial appropriation is $26.19 million; $640,000 less than was appropriated 20 years go, or 30% less in inflation-adjusted dollars.

“Retaining an expert workforce is essential for the AGO to fulfill its duty to the state and serve and protect Minnesotans. Our attorneys earn less than public attorneys for local metro counties, and almost a third less than attorneys the U.S. Attorney’s office. Sometimes our attorneys leave the AGO for these other public law offices because they can earn more for their families there and still serve the public. When they do, their knowledge and expertise leaves with them. Funding our operating adjustment allows us to retain our talent,” he wrote.

Interim Transportation Commissioner Nancy Daubenberger likes and dislikes parts of each bodies’ bill.

In a letter, she notes that 17 of the governor’s supplemental policy and budget proposals are in the House bill, and it includes state funds to leverage federal funds through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. However, the governor’s budget request to help offset increasing MnDOT costs is absent.

From the Senate side, Daubenberger applauds its willingness to fund the state match for federal funds, but is against the idea those funds can only be spent by direct appropriation.

“This prohibition severely restricts MnDOT’s ability to quickly access federal funds, which could negatively impact communities across the state,” she wrote. “Furthermore, these provisions were not heard prior to their inclusion in the omnibus bill, thereby minimizing the opportunity for MnDOT and others to provide input into how this change would adversely impact Minnesotans. There are also no corresponding direct appropriations in this bill that would allow us to spend anticipated federal funds, which, under current law, are authorized via statutory appropriations.”

Other concerns with the Senate bill include an increase in electric vehicle fees, a prohibition on MnDOT funding for the ReConnect Rondo project in St. Paul, and a prohibition on any spending of the Northern Lights Express passenger rail project between Duluth and Minneapolis. The House bill would allocate $51 million for the project.


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