Sunday, December 09, 2018

A Veritable Avalanche of Activity.  I haven't blogged since my election wrap-up and it's high time I write about what has been going on since.  The new House majority has chosen Representative Melissa Hortman as the speaker-designee and barring the unforeseen, she will be the next Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives.  Representative Hortman was first elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2004 from the northwest suburban area and served as House Minority Leader during 2017 and 2018 sessions.  Representative Ryan Winkler will serve as House Majority Leader.  Winkler is returning to the Legislature after being out for three years.  First elected in 2006, Winkler resigned from the Legislature in 2015 to accompany his wife to Brussels, Belgium, where she worked for an international hotel group.  In an odd twist of sorts, Winkler is replacing Representative (and Lieutenant Governor-elect) Peggy Flanagan, who replaced him in the special election following his resignation.  Former Speaker Kurt Daudt will serve as Minority Leader.  In a recent development, the third caucus--the New House Republican caucus--consisting of four members (Representatives Munson, Drazkowski, Bahr, and Miller) has been established.  How that plays out in terms of organization and voting remains to be seen.

The new House majority has selected its committee chairs and complete membership rosters will be available soon.  Representative Jim Davnie (DFL-Minneapolis) will be the chair of the Education Funding Committee and Representative Cheryl Youakim (DFL-Hopkins) will be the chair of the House Education Policy Committee.  The House has also established an Early Childhood Committee that will be chaired by Representative Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul) that will have jurisdiction over education and human service budget items that deal with the early childhood population.

Here is a link to the committee schedule and list of committees and their respective chairs:  2019 House Committee Information

Things have also changed in the Senate.  The Republican candidate--Jeff Howe--won the special election to replace Senator Michelle Fishbach who resigned to become full-time Lieutenant Governor under Governor Dayton and go on to become Republican gubernatorial Tim Pawlenty's running mate.  With Pawlenty losing in the primary to eventual Republican candidate Jeff Johnson, Fishbach lost her Senate seat.  With the election of Howe, the Republicans retain their 34-33 edge for Senate control.

There has been some shuffling in the Senate Committee structure.  With Senator Fishbach's departure, Senator Jeremy Miller (R-Winona) has become President of the Senate.  In doing so, he gave up his committee chairmanship of the Jobs and Economic Growth Budget and Policy Committee.  Senator Eric Pratt (R-Prior Lake) will take over the chairmanship of that committee, leaving his position as Chair of the Senate Education Policy Committee.  Instead of naming a new chair to the Education Policy Committee, Senate leadership is combining the Education Policy and Education Funding Committees with the single committee being chaired by Senator Carla Nelson (R-Rochester), the current chair of the Education Funding Committee.  No word on how large that committee will be and who will serve as members.  (Dizzy yet?).

Add to the mix a new Governor, which will likely mean new decisionmakers at the Minnesota Department of Education and one can see how one is going to need a scorecard the first few weeks of the 2019 Legislative Session to keep everyone straight.

Billions and . . . .

The November budget forecast was very strong although we cannot channel our inner Carl Sagan and say "billions and billions."  We'll have to settle for a billion and a half.  At any rate, this is very good news.  Most observers believed the budget forecast would be up due to economic performance, but it's also important to remember that with Governor Dayton's veto of the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill and the tax cut/conformity bill last year, that very little in terms of new revenue has vacated the state coffers in the past year.  It is unclear when the Legislature and Governor will tackle the tax conformity bill.  At one point, it appeared it would be done almost immediately after the 2019 session commenced, but recent rumblings have legislative leadership backing away from that strategy.  At any rate, something will get done on this point during the Legislative Session and that will cut into the projected surplus.

It's always important to remember that budget forecasts are just that:  forecasts.  Economic performance in nationally and in Minnesota has accelerated rapidly due to (insert your favorite reason here) over the past twelve months.  Even with the uptick, I expect the Governor and Legislature to proceed cautiously throughout the coming session.  If the economy softens, revenues will diminish and I think the last thing the new DFL majority wants to do is put themselves in a situation where cuts in the base budget will be necessary.

Here is a link to the Management and Budget page outlining last week's forecast:  November Forecast -- Sublinks to Additional Documents on Page

One Last Piece of Election Analysis.  The results were all plausible (although I didn't see the House majority flipping), but I thought the margins of victory for the statewide DFL candidates exceeded what I thought they would be and I wouldn't have been surprised had the Republicans won the Attorney General or State Auditor's race.  But the DFL swept all of the races and the margins for Governor-elect Walz and United States Senator Tina Smith were greater than what most polling showed.

Recent rankings of the congressional districts with the highest levels of voter turnout showed that Minnesota had three (Districts 2, 3, and 5) that ranked in the top twenty nationally.  All of these districts were won by Democrats and that undoubtedly added to the statewide totals for all DFL statewide candidates.  Add to that the high turnout in which DFL challenger Dean Phillips ousted incumbent Congressman Eric Paulson and DFL challenger Angie Craig ousted incumbent Congressman Jason Lewis and one can see another contribution to the new DFL majority in the Minnesota State House of Representatives.  Just another angle in what turned to be a very interesting election.