By Rep. Linda Runbeck
All should be calm at the Legislature this year. There is no budget deficit, no economic downturn, no turnover in leadership, no Vikings Stadium, and no big elections on the horizon.
The 89th Session of the Legislature could be a yawn. Then again, it has all the earmarks of big-stakes brouhaha. The House is back under Republican control; the Senate is under DFL control, Gov. Mark Dayton is intent on leaving a legacy, and everyone’s warming up for the play-offs, the 2016 elections.
To kick things off, Dayton announced his budget which calls for $42 billion in spending, up $3 billion from this biennium, a 7.7-percent increase. That's a steep climb from the $34 billion budget established when Republicans held the Legislature in 2011-12.
The governor’s budget also calls for $9 billion over the next ten years in new taxes and fee increases aimed mostly at roads, bridges and transit. This includes a new 6.5-percent gas tax, a half-cent sales tax increase in the seven-county metro and an increase in license tab fees.
So, if you thought the 12-percent increase in state spending in the last budget was more than enough, think again. Such massive increases in spending and taxation are not sustainable and jeopardize our future stability, especially when you take into account our state’s aging workforce.
TRANSPORTATION VS. TRANSIT
The hotly debated piece in this year’s budget will be transportation. In the minds of most Republicans, spending on roads and bridges must take precedence over spending on transit, such as LRT. Yet, it’s likely the Democrats will use their negotiating strength to prohibit new dollars for roads without a corresponding expenditure for transit. A bill I have authored is aimed at returning to the Legislature the ability to green-light or red-light new LRT proposed lines. In other words, the Legislature would get to have up-or-down votes on expansion of LRT, which it currently does not have (believe it or not)!
MET COUNCIL ACCOUNTABILITY ADVANCES
I am pleased to announce I recently was named chair of a new Subcommittee on Metropolitan Council Accountability and Transparency. This subcommittee is organized to take a hard look at Met Council's Thrive 2040 Plan and how it plans to social engineer the communities we live in to fit its vision.
One bill that has momentum, S.F. 71, will reform the Council's governance and make it more accountable to the local governments it dominates.
The legislation would require the governor’s appointees to the Met Council (there are 17) to be ratified by a majority of city councils in that Met Council district. There is also a provision to remove a member of the Council with resolutions from a majority of city councils.
DNR'S WATER SETTLEMENT
The lawsuit brought against the DNR by homeowners on White Bear Lake regarding lower lake levels is having repercussions across our local cities. This has city officials concerned that left unchecked, the costly water sourcing, treatment and augmentation proposals could be prohibitive for citizens and businesses.
Local legislators will be involved helping our cities bring forth more common sense, practical and affordable solutions. A consensus is we must let good science dictate the solutions, not passion and emotions. As one city official said, “White Bear Lake has a history of periodic low water levels going back decades.”
CHILD PROTECTION/MARRIAGE ROUNDTABLE
Good work is being done in the House to advance child protection in our state. One way to improve children’s safety is to place a stronger societal value on the institution of marriage. Solid evidence warns that a society where marriage and the two-parent family is declining brings with it impoverished lifestyles, declining education levels, criminalized youth, little upward mobility, unskilled and unmarriageable young men.
A roundtable meeting on that subject will take place Feb. 25 at the State Office Building in St. Paul. Ron Haskins from the National Marriage Project will be a featured speaker in what should be an engaging discussion. Email me at email@example.com if you are interested in attending.