Here is an overview of recent developments at the Capitol at the approximate midway point of the 2015 session:
BUDGET WORK STARTING TO PICK UP
The House has unveiled topline figures regarding its proposal for the state's next two-year budget and a separate 10-year plan to fund transportation.
The House budget would spend $39.9 billion, provide $2 billion in tax relief and place $100 million in reserves. The overall total is less than Gov. Mark Dayton's $43 billion and we are awaiting news from the Senate on what it will propose.
There are likely to be areas of spending where you can find similarities among the three. There also are likely to be sections of the budget where great disparities are found.
One key point of budget negotiations is likely to center on funding for roads and bridges. The House's plan would provide $7 billion for transportation over the next decade, with a heavy focus on roads and bridges.
The governor proposes raising the gas tax by 6.5 percent at the wholesale level, which translates to somewhere in the neighborhood of 16 cents per gallon at today's prices.
The House plan is different in that it mainly aims to put existing/ongoing revenue toward roads and bridges. For example, the House plan places sales tax revenue already paid on everything from spark plugs to motor oil, tail-light bulbs and more into a new mechanism called the Transportation Stability Fund. Estimates show this would generate nearly $250 million per year for work on roads and bridges – and even more in the future.
In addition to the dedicated funds provided by the Transportation Stability Fund, the Road and Bridge Act of 2015 uses $1.3 billion in Trunk Highway bonds, $1.2 billion from realigning Minnesota Department of Transportation resources, $1.05 billion in General Obligation bonds, and $228 million in General Funds.
MET COUNCIL BILLS
Work by the Met Council Subcommittee on Accountability and Transparency which I chair continues. Broadly stated, the goal of the Subcommittee is to make the Council more accountable to metro municipalities and citizens.
One bill we recently passed, H.F. 1297, staggers terms of the members and brings locally elected officials unto the board. Three members would be locally elected officials, one would be a county commissioner and three others would be appointed by the governor. The Met Council members are currently citizens appointed by the governor, so adding locally elected officials would provide more accountability. That bill will be going to the floor for House passage.
A bill I chief-authored, H.F. 899, is likely to become part of the Omnibus Transportation Bill. It pertains to both transportation and the Met Council and limits the Council's ability to invest capital from the 1/4-cent transit sales tax in light-rail projects if operating costs are not covered. This proposal would save tax dollars ands require more fiscal responsibility in the transit expansion plans of the Council. This bill saves the state $67 million per biennium in light rail subsidies allowing those dollars to be used for roads and bridges.
Other Met Council bills I have authored have received hearings. One, H.F. 195, prohibits the Council from issuing bonds apart from legislative bonding process. Having the authority to issue bonds (in the hundreds of millions) would give the council undue autonomy and put their transit expansion plans on auto-pilot.
Stay in touch as these and other issues develop in St. Paul. Your continued correspondence is greatly appreciated.