Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Session Ends . . . Or Did It?  We're having some fun now!  Anyway, the gavels went down in the House and Senate last Thursday morning at about 3 AM with all of the budget bills and the tax bill passed.  The Legislature also passed a preemption bill that would prevent any local unit of government from setting a minimum wage or other employee benefits in excess of what is prescribed in state law for private sector employees.  This legislation--vetoed by the Governor--was passed in reaction to ordinances in Minneapolis and St. Paul that set minimum wage and family leave laws above the state minimums.  The Legislature sweetened the preemption bill with several provisions that the Governor wanted to see passed--including family leave for state employees--in an attempt to get him to sign the bill, but it was to no avail.

Everything seemed to be going swimmingly until yesterday, when the Governor signed the bills he intended to sign, but then pulled out the line-item veto pen.  The line-item veto is not covered in most civics classes, so here's a short description.  The Governor has the power to zero out appropriations in funding bills.  He cannot simply reduce the amount.  He has to eliminate the entire appropriation.  We'll get to how that has complicated matters in a minute.

Needless to say, the Governor was not totally pleased with the way the session ended.  I think if you talked to a lot of legislators in both the majority and minority parties, they probably had similar sentiments.  But it appeared that in the spirit of compromise, everyone took what they could get, brushed up their talking points, and prepared to take things on the road to explain all the good things and assure their respective bases how things would be different next year.

Blois Olson--editor of Morning Take (to which everyone should subscribe)--posted all of the Governor's signature letters and his veto message on the preemption bill in a special edition of his blog last evening.  Here is a link to the Governor's letter that sums up his approach to the entire bill-signing process, outlining his concerns over a number of provisions that made it into the final budget bills and the tax bill.

Dayton Letter to Legislative Leaders

In it, the Governor zeroes in on a number of provisions in the tax bill that he finds troubling:  the tobacco tax break, the changes to the estate tax, and freezing the statewide commercial/industrial property tax that goes into the state general fund.  His language on these items is very straightforward.  I was hoping (against all hope as it turns out) that the Legislature would not do eliminate the automatic inflator on the tobacco tax and use that money for debt or referendum equalization.  Same goes with the estate tax changes.  If those tax decisions were reversed, there would be money available for equalization, so maybe we aren't done lobbying quite yet.

The Governor also voiced his displeasure with the changes in the tiered licensure system approved as part of the E-12 bill.  It is unclear from the letter what aspects of the licensure changes he objects to, but most of the criticism of the proposal zero in on the lowest tier, which is currently inhabited largely by community experts.  Education Minnesota had a very public posture in the Twitterverse over the weekend voicing objections to some of the changes in the bill, but like the Governor, I am unclear as to what exactly the organization wants to change in terms of specifics.

Given the special session has ended and the Governor wants changes, he came up with a novel approach to forcing another special session by line-item vetoing the appropriation for the legislative branch.  This raised the hackles of legislative leadership immediately and they are pledging to take the Governor to court over what they view as a violation of the separation of powers in the state constitution.

This is going to bring up some interesting angles.  State Auditor Rebecca Otto is currently suing the Legislature for allowing counties to seek auditing services outside her office.  She has lost at her first two court stops, but intends to take her suit to the state Supreme Court.  Now the Legislature will be suing the Governor over his decision to zero out their appropriation and, for lack of a better term, cease their operations effective July 1, 2017.  I have no idea how things will turn out, but it will be interesting to see if both sides research how the Legislature was funded in the early years of the state when there was little, if any, general state taxing authority and the appropriation for the Legislature was extremely small.  So dust off the history books and burnish your arguments on constitutional law and whether constitutions are "living" documents, because we are going to find out.

Musical Tribute to the End of Session.

As the session closed, some were feeling like the late James Brown.

Some were feeling like the late Johnny Maestro of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Most of us were feeling like the late Gerry Rafferty of Stealers Wheel.

And those of us who were hoping for something that didn't make it feel like the late Marcel King and are sad, sweet dreamers.

And right now, it's a ball of confusion.

I will keep you up-to-date as things develop.  Regional meetings start next week.

TRA Left Unaddressed.  There was optimism during the waning days of the legislative session that the TRA issue would be tackled and that school districts would receive money outside the basic formula to deal with an increased employer share suggested by the TRA staff.  Instead, nothing was done on the issue.  No increase in employer share.  No increase in employee share.  No change in cost-of-living adjustments.  No new funding for any of the above.  In other words, an all-pro punt.  Let's hope they didn't shank it.

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