Capitol Update for February 9, 2007

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This week’s update from the Capitol by John Tuma:

“The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.”  Albert Einstein

Constitutional Amendment to Invest in Our Great Outdoors.  I’m not one to disagree with a math genius like Albert Einstein, and I concur that our income tax code is very complicated.  However, he may have had a different opinion had he ever tried to pass a constitutional amendment to dedicate a portion of the sales tax for the protection of our Great Outdoors.  The changing beneficiaries of the dedication and the constantly fluctuating fractions to be dedicated would even numb the mind of Albert Einstein.  Our hope this week was that greater clarity would develop out of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.  One thing that was clarified is that the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee was not the place where any final decisions were to be made.

The Senate committee had its final hearing on the bill on Wednesday, February 7.  Another clarification was which of the plethora of bills would be the vehicle in the Senate.  SF6 authored by Majority Leader Sen. Lawrence Pogemiller (DFL-Mpls.) was, to nobody’s surprise, the bill selected to be the vehicle.  Due to the fact that most of the major decisions will be made within the finance committee and its divisions, no attempt was made by the environmental community to modify the bill with our critical provisions.  We will continue to push our provisions to enhance the investments through a portion of it being bonded and we will continue to fight for conservation and Clean Water Legacy each receiving at least $100 million.

SF6 that passed out of the committee was essentially identical to the bill passed off the Senate floor last year.  The only modification came from an amendment to create a forest legacy and forest consolidation account within the natural resources part of the bill. The amendment was authored by Sen. Tom Saxhaug (DFL-Grand Rapids) to address the deterioration of Minnesota forests.

As of now, the bill is a constitutional amendment to increase the sales tax by three-eighths of 1 percent to fund natural resources, clean water legacy, and the arts. Senator Pogemiller  indicated in testimony that he likes to see an equal distribution between the three categories.  Obviously, we have a great deal of work ahead of us on this bill, and we are hoping that a more ideal bill will be in the mix at future committees.  SF6 now moves on to the Senate State and Local Government Operations and Oversight Committee to look at the councils overseeing the funds.  The expectation is that the bill’s progress will slow down a little bit after a flurry of activity during the past two weeks.

Renewable Energy.  The compromise developed to give us 25% of our electrical generation from clean renewable energy last week has moved quickly to its final action on the full Senate floor this week.  After two hours of debate and no amendments, the Senate proposal (SF4) passed by a vote of 61 – 4.  This is a major step toward accomplishing 5,000 to 6,000 megawatts of clean renewable energy coursing through the electrical grid in Minnesota by 2020.  The environmental community owes a great deal of praise to the bill’s champion, Senator Ellen Anderson (DFL-St. Paul).  She made a confident and forceful defense of this nation-leading renewable energy standard.

The companion to SF4 in the House of Representatives (HF4) is authored by Rep. Aaron Peterson (DFL – Appleton).  The House members were not part of the negotiations that produced the successful Senate proposal.  Therefore, it is not yet clear what the House leaders will do with the compromise language.  HF4 received testimony in the House Energy Finance and Policy Division chaired by Rep. Bill Hilty (DFL – Finlayson) this week.  Chair Hilty and Rep. Peterson are confident HF4 will receive a positive reception by the committee.  The question is only whether the House will adopt the Senate compromise or will push to strengthen the standard.  The bottom line is we will have an environmental victory on a portion of our energy platform soon with final passage of this strong renewable energy standard.

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