2010 Legislative Session Outlook Review
Briefing Outlines Challenging State Legislative Session Ahead
By: SHEPARD M. HARRIS
February 4, 2010
With looming budget shortfalls, legislative and statewide elections and a lame-duck Governor eyeing a Presidential run for the White House, the 2010 Minnesota Legislative Session is sure to be an unprecedented one. Many hard choices will face legislators as they determine the impact on communities around the state and individual Minnesotans.
To get a good sense of what is at stake, Fredrikson & Byron and Politics in Minnesota/St. Paul Legal Ledger Capitol Report recently hosted an insightful panel session featuring Minnesota’s legislative leadership, including:
- House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher,
- Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller,
- House Republican Leader Kurt Zellers, and
- Senate Republican Leader David Senjem.
Moderating the panel was veteran and awarding winning State Capitol journalist Mary Lehammer from TPT-TV (Twin City Public Television).
Panelists commented on a number of issues including the state’s budget deficit, job creation, the state’s General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) program, the Governor’s authority to cut the state budget (known as “Unallotment”), the Vikings stadium, and how election year politics will generally affect decision making on key public policies. Here’s a brief summary:
Staring at a $1.2 billion budget deficit that needs to be resolved by June 30, there was general agreement that you can’t completely tax your way out of a deficit or alternately, completely cut your way of out it. A number of state programs will face funding reductions; the challenge is to make cuts in a way that doesn’t harm Minnesotans’ core values. Some panelists stated their belief that we can grow our economy out of the deficit or squeeze current revenues further while others suggested staggered tax increases over a period of time.
Job Creation and the Economy
All four legislators agreed that passing a bonding bill and a jobs bill will help grow the economy and get us out of this recession. Investing in, and expanding Minnesota’s current and historical strengths – renewable energy, education, bioscience, and research – can be accomplished through tax credits for venture capitalists, relaxing state rules and regulations, and providing assistance to new business “start-ups.” In addition to an early session bonding bill, legislators noted a desire for federal assistance (Minnesota is one of 36 states with a budget deficit) and noted they will have a goal of stabilizing the budget so that Minnesota can be better positioned as we come out of this recession.
Health Care and Reinstating General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC)
The Governor’s unallotment of the GAMC program last year has been met with much criticism as 30+ thousand “poorest of the poor” Minnesotans rely on this state health care assistance. Panelists believe that medical coverage is extremely important and are seeking a deal on helping these Minnesotans very early in the legislative session. Some legislative leaders want a solution that doesn’t grow government but others want to protect counties and major medical institutions as well. Much of the solution, however, depends on the federal health care reform legislation, which may no longer be a luxury that leaders can rely on given the recent electoral change in the U.S. Senate.
Governor’s Authority to “Unallot”
Last year, as the 2009 legislative session was drawing to a close and there was little time left for a budget agreement, the Governor used executive authority to resolve the state’s budget deficit by cutting $2.7 billion. This unilateral decision, condemned by legislators in the majority, opened the door for legislative proposals that clarify the check and balance system of the Governor and the Legislature. Currently, House and Senate leaders are working closely with the Governor on a way to resolve the budget deficit without further restrictions on the power of the Executive.
Is Minnesota ready to build a new stadium for the Vikings? Every legislator agreed that the state cannot pay for a new stadium given the current budget deficit. With jobs and the economy as the primary issue, creativity would be required in order to finance a new stadium. Suggestions included private capital, revenue from the casino-based horse racing track known as the Racino, or a loan guarantee, but there is little agreement over these ideas amongst the legislative leaders and the Governor, and given the budget deficit, this issue is not likely to become a priority this session.
2010 Political Theater
Each of our 201 Minnesota legislators are up for re-election this year. Some are running for Governor or Congress, and some are looking to move up in the leadership ranks. Meanwhile, the Governor is exploring a run of his own for the White House in 2012. But none of this should affect public policy decisions, right? According to the panelists, there will likely be speeches but the legislators will be professional, respectful, and will continue to do their job.
Protecting the Vulnerable
Legislative leaders want to protect the most vulnerable Minnesotans but they don’t necessarily agree on how to do it. Suggestions to determine which areas get funding included: protect the health and human services budget, help those who can’t help themselves, or prioritize the budget through a zero-based budgeting approach. Some legislative leaders shared their view that funding cuts are an additional tax on low-income residents while others expressed their belief that a move toward self-sufficiency is the best way to help the needy.
Other Key Areas Up for Debate
Other key policies mentioned by panelists for discussion this session include:
- election reform,
- regulatory and permitting process reform,
- shared services among school districts,
- streamlining natural resources and water factions,
- charter school reform, and
- the revamping or consolidation of economic development.
Advice on Advocacy
When asked for advice on how advocacy should be done, legislative leaders gave a variety of answers, including a desire for innovative and successful stories. One panelist summed it up by suggesting that advocates give good advice, say what you believe – and act on it – but be realistic.
Fredrikson & Byron helps our clients develop and implement a strong government relations strategy that reaches and works with policy shapers and policymakers. If you are interested in adding this key element to your own organization’s strategic business plan, please contact the Government Relations Practice Group at 612-492-7000.