By Rep. Paul Anderson
The Legislature is in the midst of its traditional Easter/Passover break, so this is a good time to look back on what’s happened so far. We’ve been working in St. Paul for the past seven weeks and, after returning from the recess, we’ll have less than five weeks to the end of session.
Several major bills have been passed in the last two weeks, among them the increased minimum wage bill, the anti-bullying bill, a supplemental spending bill, and two major tax bills. There were good provisions in several of these, including sales tax relief for farmers, federal tax conformity in several areas, and an increase in pay for those who work with the disabled. There were also several bills that I didn’t support, including the supplemental budget bill that combined increased spending in all areas of state government into one large, omnibus bill.
The major piece of legislation remaining is the bonding bill. An agreement reached last year limits the size of the bill to around $850 million. However, with this year’s projected budget surplus, there is a move to use some of that surplus to fund more bonding projects with cash.
Gov. Mark Dayton is scheduled to sign the minimum wage bill into law this week. Beginning Aug. 1, Minnesota’s wage will ratchet up in three steps to $9.50 per hour for large employers, making ours one of the highest in the nation. The measure also contains an inflation clause that allows for automatic increases of up to 2.5 percent per year, based on a measure known as the “implicit price deflator.” This feature has drawn opposition from groups such as the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business.
Breaking a trend that has been in place for several months, the most recent financial update on the state’s revenues shows a negative trend. According to Minnesota Management and Budget, general fund revenues for February and March are $67 million less than forecast. Individual income tax collections showed a positive number of $27 million; however, the category known as “other revenue” showed a minus $73 million. Among the categories in that group is the Health Care Access Fund, which came in at a negative $14 million. I had written in last week’s column that this fund is being depleted because of the increased cost of the new healthcare system in Minnesota.
Beginning this week, on April 14, those traveling on Interstate 94 to and from the metro area may encounter delays. Travel will be reduced to a single lane during non-rush hours as workers begin preliminary work on a reconstruction project in the Monticello area. The lane closures will occur seven days a week as crossover lanes are constructed. Work on the two-mile stretch of freeway is expected to be completed this fall.
May your family enjoy a happy and blessed Easter. Church services during Holy Week are on the schedule for many, in addition to the traditional Easter meal with family and friends on Sunday.