Capitol Update for March 21, 2008

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This week’s update from lobbyist John Tuma:

“I’m tired of sewing you up.”
Eddie Froelich

Those were the words of the trainer for the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team while stitching up hockey great John Mariucci in the 1940s. Mariucci’s retort was, “Imagine how I feel.” In just his first 13 games with the Hawks, Mariucci received almost 50 stitches between his forehead and chin. Mariucci is an icon in Minnesota hockey lore. Hailing from the raucous Iron Range during the rough-and-tumble years prior to World War II, he earned his reputation as a fierce battler on the ice.

After his years of playing, Mariucci became a legendary head coach of the Minnesota Golden Gophers along with coaching the silver medal team in the 1956 Olympics. That team included future Minnesota Governor Wendell Anderson. So respected was Mariucci that the home of Minnesota Golden Gopher hockey was named after him, “Mariucci Arena.” *

No one in our nation disputes Minnesota’s title as the “State of Hockey.” As part of our heritage, Minnesotans learn from a young age the nuances of this fast-paced game, whether you play it or not. You understand the exhilarating anticipation of a swift graceful breakaway and the brute necessity of a grinding check in the corner.

One of the roles that Mariucci was best remembered for was that of the “enforcer.” When a swifter and more conditioned team starts to wear down your fellow skaters, it is the role of the enforcer to get into a good fight. It slows the other team down and allows your skaters a chance to catch their breath.

To the delight of the tired lobbyists, legislators and staff, some of the legislative leaders decided to have a little fight of their own this week at the Capitol. The rest of us looked on like tired skaters with their sticks tucked in over their shin pads, hunched over catching their breath as we watched the gloves and sticks fly for a little showdown. Waiting for the row to calm down gave us a chance to catch our breath and get our legs back from running the halls of the Capitol.

This year’s legislative session has been moving like a fast-paced hockey game. The first five weeks of session moved at an unusually hectic pace. Fortunately for the tired players, this last week was shortened by an Easter break starting on Wednesday. Further, the pace noticeably slowed down after the House and Senate leaders were not able to come to agreement over one major focus this legislative session, the Capitol Investments Bill.

The original plan was to have the major Capitol Investment Bill completed prior to the Easter break. Early on, the work on the Capitol Investment Bill looked like it was going to move to completion quickly. The Governor, Senate and House all agreed early on to an overall target number of roughly $965 million in general obligation borrowing. Unfortunately, things started to unravel with the release of the February budget forecast on the last day of February.

This forecast showed a nearly billion-dollar deficit, which was three times greater than anticipated from earlier forecasts. With the new forecast, the amount of the bonding bill had to be reduced if the state was to stay within the 3% voluntary target used to help preserve our top bond rating. After the dismal February forecast, the funding level for the Capitol Investment Bill needed to be lowered to somewhere in the range of $825 million to reach the 3% target.

After elevating the hopes of members and communities with a $965 million bonding bill, it became very difficult for the leaders to find a coalition to remove nearly $140 million of investments, particularly when it takes a super majority of 60% of the legislature to pass a bonding bill.

After failing to find common ground with the House, the Senate Capitol Investments Committee chair, Sen. Keith Langseth (DFL-Glyndon), attempted to strike a middle ground by suggesting passage of a $925 million bonding bill out of the Senate on Monday, but was quickly rebuffed by fellow senators. There is clearly tension in the negotiations, but it was surprising how relieved most of the legislative players were as the pace started to slow down.

The environment has done quite well in both bonding proposals passed by the House and Senate. The Senate Capitol Investments chair did somewhat tip his hand on where he would like to cut by presenting his $925 million bonding proposal. In the environment area, he reduced our already small amount of funding for the next generation biofuels easements from $3 million to $1.5 million. Additionally concerning, he also completely removed the Senate’s $9 million from the Forest Legacy program which had no funding in the House proposal. He did improve funding for parks and trails. This was probably an attempt to engender some support for the smaller bonding bill, but it did not work because the bill was never brought up for a vote after a long DFL caucus.

Despite the overall pace slowing at the Legislature, there has been some significant and fast-paced activity on the global warming front during this last week. In the House, both the Green Solutions Act (planning for a regional cap and trade program on global warming pollution) and the Minnesota Clean Cars Act met the committee deadlines.

On the Senate side, these bills were a little bit more problematic for the MEP lobbying team. Sen. Ellen Anderson’s (DFL-St. Paul) Green Solutions bill looks more like a study than a solution after it took a battering in the Senate Business, Industry and Jobs Committee chaired by Sen. Jim Metzen (DFL – South St. Paul). In the committee, Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL – Cook) offered amendments to remove the legislative principles to guide the development of a future cap and trade program and also weaken the bill’s study language. Both actions were setbacks to the environmental community, who wanted a strong set of principles to guide the development of a cap and trade program which required any permits to be auctioned off as opposed to being given away to polluters. The bill did meet deadlines in the Senate and now presides in a much friendlier environment, that being Sen. Anderson’s own committee.

Sen. John Marty’s (DFL – Roseville) Minnesota Clean Cars Act was checked hard against the boards in his first committee this last week. But luckily the puck sprung free, resulting in an exhilarating breakaway goal in its second committee on Tuesday. Last Monday the Clean Cars bill was in the committee of friendly chair Sen. Ann Rest (DFL – New Hope), the State and Local Government Operations and Oversight Committee, which has jurisdiction over the development of new rules. Because the bill calls for the adoption of the California auto emissions rules, the bill needed to go through this committee and we were not expecting difficult opposition. Unfortunately, Sen. Don Betzold (DFL – Fridley), who is normally friendly to environmental initiatives, objected to the rulemaking process of the bill. He voted against the bill, causing it to fail on a tied 6-6 vote.

After the tie vote, but before the committee adjourned, Sen. Betzold was lobbied hard by House author Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL – Brooklyn Park). Her district is near that of Sen. Betzold. Before the committee adjourned, Sen. Betzold moved to reconsider the vote, to the shocked surprise of the auto industry lobbyists. The bill quickly passed out of that committee on to the Senate Transportation Committee.

It was in the Senate Transportation Committee that we experienced possibly the most excitement with the Clean Car Bill. For the first time in the Senate, the bill actually passed a committee with a recommendation to pass. The prior committee votes were all votes to pass it on without recommendation. We expected a tight vote in Transportation, but the bill scored a big win with an 11-6 vote. It received strong support from the Transportation Committee chair, Sen. Steve Murphy (DFL – Red Wing), and we also picked up an unexpected vote that swung our way during the committee debate from Sen. Rod Skoe (DFL – Clearbrook).

The game is certainly not over for the Clean Cars bill, because it now sits in the difficult Senate Business, Industry and Jobs Committee, but given the strong vote in the Transportation Committee there clearly is momentum. As in hockey, momentum is a big part of the game in the legislative arena. We are finally doing away with most of the frivolous concerns created by the auto industry around the use of ethanol fuel and legislators are recognizing that it will be a significant benefit to Minnesota’s future air quality.

Even though the fast pace did tire us out and literally make our legs weary, the Green Team has benefited from that pace so far. We have seen major wins with the passage of the Great Outdoors and Heritage Amendment and the stunning override of the Governor’s veto of the Transportation Bill. We are moving into the last period of this legislative session, and we still have all of our issues in play and momentum in our favor. Things can change quickly in the game of hockey and a legislative session. The billion-dollar budget crunch and strong opposition to the global warming bills are still facing us, but if we continue to play hard like Mariucci, maybe we can notch a win for the great outdoors in 2008 . . . even if we take a few stitches for the team before we are done.

* Information obtained from the Vintage Minnesota Hockey web site.

2 Responses to “Capitol Update for March 21, 2008”

  1. Scott

    I think this is the second time I’ve seen ‘DFL-Blaine’ for Rep. Hortman on this blog. The correct cities are DFL-Coon Rapids and Brooklyn Park. She does not share a district with Sen. Betzold, she shares a district with Sen. Foley.


  2. Erin

    Thanks for pointing out our mistake. We’ve fixed the text. Because Rep. Hortman’s business is in Blaine, we incorrectly listed her legislative district and home as Blaine.


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