Monday, May 14, 2012

A Little Bit o' Clean-up.  Most of the dust has settled in the big white building located at 75 Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Junior, Drive, but there was a bill I did want to do a brief report on.  The Governor vetoed SF 1656, the bill that would have required legislative approval of the social studies standards that are currently being developed before they would take effect.  Like SF 2183, which the Governor also vetoed, SF 1656 sought to curb the rule-making authority of the executive branch, or if not curb, at least limit the range of rule-making.

This issue cuts across the branches of government more than it does the partisan divide, although the element of politics was also in play in this particular debate.  There isn't a governor in existence, at least in my experience, who is willingly going to limit the ability of his agencies to make rules or interpret statutes as they see fit.  The question always gets to be, in the eyes of the legislative branch, are those darn career bureaucrats (my tongue is firmly in my cheek) making decisions that are consistent with the intent of the Legislature.

The other angle that needs to be mentioned is that legislation trumps a rule (provided the legislation is constitutional) and that the Legislature can pass bills that change or eliminate certain rules or sets of rules.  The problem, of course, is that such a move can be controversial and the Legislature can, to some extent, have it both ways by complaining about Executive Branch overreach while having a problem addressed.  In my career, I have seen this happen several times as the Legislature would ship rule-making authority to a state agency only to complain about the product of the rule-making process.  This was very apparent in the development of the desegregation/integration rule in the early-1990s.  The Legislature did not want to tackle the topic and instead sent it to the Minnesota Department of Education (or Children, Families, and Learning--my recollection of the time frame is vague) for resolution.  Of course, because they aren't directly affected by the electoral process, the staff at the agency had a much freer rein in putting together the specific rules relating to the topic and while a number of legislators complained mightily when the rules were completed, there wasn't a lot of impetus to change what the agency had done for a number of reasons (both political and policy-related).

The current tug-of-war between branches of government is certainly heating up, both at the state and federal levels and I believe this debate will continue regardless of who is in control of the different branches of government.  Should be interesting to watch.

At any rate, here is the Governor's veto message on SF 1656:

Friday, May 11, 2012

This is how the world ends.  Not with a bang, but with a rousing chorus of "Skol Vikings! Skol!"  For all the hand-wringing (and not-so-deep analysis provided by yours truly and others), the Vikings' stadium bill passed with relative ease during the last week of the now-adjourned session and it will be signed by the Governor.  Many decry why the process has to work this way when the bill passed with votes (although not many) to spare in both Houses after a considerable number of changes were made to the bill, including having the Vikings pony up another $50 million, to make it more palatable to some members.

Looking back, there was never much doubt, regardless of what some may say, that the job was going to get done on the stadium.  I thought it may have waited until next year, given the Vikings' mid-session decision to extend their lease at the Metrodome by a year, but given the tenor of the election year and the uncertainty on other issues that lies ahead, it was probably wise to push it this session.  And as crazy as it looked from the outside, this is the way it always seems to look when the stadium issue is being tackled.  There's the Peter Principle and Parkinson's Law.  Maybe there needs to be the Iron Law of Stadium Systems that says that no stadium bill can be passed unless it's in the wee hours of the morning after no less than 20 amendments are offered.

I'll be curious to see how this is spun, if it is indeed spun, during the campaign season.  I haven't looked at the final roll call votes and I know that some members who voted for it swallowed hard before pushing the green button.

The biggest surprise to me is that the minority party DFLers pushed it through.  There was a big push from the DFL Governor and labor interests to pass the stadium bill, but even with that, I was surprised that DFL leadership didn't insist on the Republicans putting up a majority of their caucus on the "yea" side of the ledger.  Again, this could spring up during the campaign season as part of a DFL macro "the majority can't lead" charge against the Republicans, but I don't know if that will stick as it relates to the stadium.  Again, the tea leaves on the stadium issue are always hard to read.

Tune into the blog at least weekly during the interim.  It's going to be a very active interim with the campaigns and the various task forces and other legislative policy development efforts that will be going on.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

To Build a Stadium.  The next stop for the stadium bill is the Senate floor, where it will be discussed, debated, amended, and voted upon today (and tonight perhaps even into early tomorrow).  The bill passed the House floor by a vote of 73-58 (with 40 DFLers voting for it) after a number of amendments were attached to it over a long debate on Monday.  The most consequential amendment would require the Vikings to contribute another $105 million to the project.  Without the addition of that amendment, the bill would have likely failed to pass.  The problem now is that the Vikings are not happy with the bill in its current condition.

The Senate will likely be a steeper climb for the bill.  Support and opposition for this bill defies any partisan divide, but it seems to me that the opposition for the stadium in the Senate is a little more spirited than it was in the House.  The Senate will first move its version of the bill (which does not contain the amendment that would increase the Vikings' contribution by $105 million) in the House bill jacket, but then the amending will begin and it is likely that the same amendments that were considered in the House will all be considered once again.  If the bill passes, it will then go to conference committee and all eyes will be on it as the session winds down.

Bonding Bill Passes.  While the House was working on the stadium bill, the Senate passed its bonding bill on a vote of 45-22.  The House had passed its version of the bonding bill prior to the stadium debate on a vote of 99-32.  The bills will now head to conference committee for reconciliation.  The House bill contains $567 million in projects, while the Senate bill contains approximately $496 million in projects.

Another Education Bill Signed.  The Governor signed HF 2647, the bill that would require disclosure of the reasons for a termination settlement that is greater than $10,000.  This bill arose out of the case in the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school district where an employee was recently given a large settlement upon their resignation.  The case caused an uproar, as the reasons for the termination were never disclosed.  

There will be a lot of training required for school districts and district administrative personnel on how the law will be applied and whether there are ways to dismiss someone without full disclosure of the reasons behind it.  Stay tuned for workshops dealing with the issue over the summer.  

Friday, May 04, 2012

End of LIFO is Dead-O.  Or I suppose the headline could read "A-LIF, A-LIFO. A-LIF, A-LIFO, Singing Vetoes and Brickbats, A-LIF, A-LIFO," after that old Irish folk song.  Whatever halfway clever headline one would want to use, the simple fact is that the Governor vetoed HF 1870, the bill that would have eliminated the practice of "last in/first out" when approaching teacher layoffs.  The veto produced some quick criticism of the Governor's actions from Senator Pam Wolf (R-Spring Lake Park) and Representative Branden Petersen (R-Andover), the bill's chief authors.

The veto wasn't unexpected.  The Governor informed the Legislature a week or so back that he intended to veto the bill, but it's certainly within the Legislature's prerogative to send him the bill anyway and get the veto on record.  This is surely going to be an election wedge issue in the 2012 campaign (perhaps THE education wedge issue) and the comments from Senator Wolf and Representative Petersen bear that out.

Here is a link to the Governor's Veto Message on HF 1870:

Here is a link to the StarTribune's blog post on the veto containing quotes from Senator Wolf and Representative Petersen (and others):

In the End, Wasn't This All Expected?  The Legislature is taking the weekend off.  There are a number of congressional district conventions and the work at the Capitol is pretty much finished.  The logjam that some predicted, but most hope could be avoided is certainly upon us and as I reported last week, it's the combination of the tax bill, bonding bill, and stadium bill that has brought things to a screeching halt.

The Governor vetoed the tax bill before the ink on the conferee's signature's had dried (at least it seems that way).  While the bill contained a number of provisions with which the Governor vehemently disagreed and the veto wasn't unexpected, it does cast a bit of a pall on the remaining days (very few) of the session.  I didn't hear the interview on KFAN yesterday, but I understand that Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove) said one problem facing the stadium vote is that there was little room to maneuver a "clean" vote on the stadium and expect it too pass unless it were part of a larger deal.  I can only surmise that Zellers means if the tax bill were still in play, a number of Republican votes for the stadium deal could be garnered as part of a trade.  That may still be possible, as the vetoed tax bill could be reconstituted with tax breaks that the Governor finds more palatable (the sales tax exemption on new capital equipment purchases has been mentioned as one he could support although it doesn't seem like it in the veto message).

Where the Governor loses in the failure to come to a wider deal is that he wanted a bonding bill in the neighborhood of $750 million and it looks like the Legislature will pass a bonding bill on Monday with just under $500 million in projects.

As for the stadium bill, I won't be taking any bets one way or the other.  It is a vote that a number of legislators have dreaded since the session began and it is a vote many will be questioned about on the campaign trail (regardless of how they vote).

Here is a link to the Governor's Veto Message on the Tax Bill:

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Legislative Hiatus.  It's only a one day break, but the Legislature took Wednesday off in an attempt to come to accord on the three major stumbling blocks to a speedy end to the 2012 legislative session.  As I reported on Monday, the Legislature and the Governor are at loggerheads over the stadium, the bonding bill, and the tax bill and if all three of those items do not come to resolution, there will likely be an end to the session without any of them passing.  The Republicans threw a "roof-ready" (but dome-less until a future stadium funding package) stadium into the mix yesterday, but that proposal seems to be going nowhere in a hurry.  There has also been talk of putting $200 million in the bonding bill for the stadium, but that doesn't seem to be picking up steam either.  Even at this late date, it's still too early to tell.  Now how is that for an oxymoron?

One complication is that the Legislature is running out of legislative days.  For those not familiar with the term, a legislative day is a day that either body of the Legislature meets in session.  There are 120 legislative days allowed over a biennium.  Possible session dates are limited to days during the regular session, which has a constitutional end date of the first Monday after the third Saturday in May.  Currently, the Legislature has used 114 of its 120-day allotment, leaving six days (five after tomorrow) to be used prior to the constitutionally-mandated end date of May 21.  Because the Legislature must meet at least once every three days (not counting Sundays) while in regular session without a joint agreement between the House and Senate to suspend that requirement, the days would likely be used up by the end of next week.  That still gives the Legislature and Governor plenty of time to come to an agreement, but an agreement may have more to do with the proposed substance of the bills in question as opposed to the time necessary to get them passed.

Right now, it appears that passing a bonding bill of any type may be difficult, even with help from the DFL.  Bonding bills require 60% of each body as opposed to a simple majority (41 votes in the Senate and 81 votes in the House) and there is a lot of resistance from fiscal conservatives (in both parties) about putting more into bonding.  The tax bill also contains a $43 million reduction in the budget reserve to pay for several items, including business property tax relief and the payment to the federal government to accommodate the $30 million "donation" UCare gave to the state of Minnesota.

All this adds up the continuing odd melange that is the 2012 legislative session.

Governor Signs Omnibus Education Bill.  It took a second shot, but the Governor signed HF 2949, the latest omnibus education funding and policy bill passed by the Legislature.  He signed it yesterday, May 1.  The bill passed by overwhelming votes in both the House and Senate.  It was largely comprised of technical and smaller policy measures, many of which will clarify policies passed over the past few sessions.