Capitol Update for March 30, 2007

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John Tuma’s weekly update of the busy times at our capitol:

“A nickel isn’t worth a dime today.”
Yogi Berra, Former Yankee Catcher
The boys of summer are returning north to play in their soon-to-be demolished baseball stadium.  Our family has tickets to watch our beloved Twins take on Yogi’s Bronx Bombers a week from Monday under the Teflon sky of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.  Of course we will soon be watching the opening season games outside enjoying a warm Minnesota spring in the beautiful new stadium named after some corporate sponsor (probably a utility company). 

Therefore, I couldn’t resist quoting the famed Yankee catcher Yogi Berra, who is known for his great misquotes.  Unfortunately, old Yogi could not have been more correct in describing the Minnesota Legislature’s treatment of environmental funding this last week.  Unfortunately, like Yogi’s quote, the money didn’t always add up and the nickel funding we did receive did not come close to meeting the dime environmental protection needs that exist.

The Green Team has been relatively successful so far this legislative session, but this week we have been thrown a few curveballs by the Senate.  The first surprise of the week happened on Saturday when the Senate Finance Committee took up the bill to dedicate a portion of the sales tax to water protection, conservation, parks, and cultural amenities – the Constitutional Dedicated Funding Bill SF6.  Yes, we were called to the Hill on Saturday with a less than 24-hour notice for a legislative hearing while a warm spring sun was shining and somewhere in Mudville the children were playing in the streets.

Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller offered a delete-everything amendment to SF6 changing the breakdown of how the money was to be appropriated for the 3/8ths of a cent constitutional dedication of the sales tax.  The new breakdown is as follows:

  • 33% for the Heritage Enhancement Fund to preserve, enhance or protect the state fish, wildlife, habitat and land resources.  About $100 million a year.
  • 43% for the Great Outdoors in Minnesota Fund to protect and restore the state’s lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, groundwater, parks, trails, natural areas and historic sites.  About $137 million a year.
  • 24% for Cultural Legacy Fund to invest in arts, arts education and art access grants.  About $76 million a year.

The concern from the MEP team is that the Clean Water Legacy portion of the funding is lumped together with several other new items which will make it difficult for the necessary $100 million a year investments to clean up our state’s surface waters.  The other change of importance in the amendment was that the constitutional dedication would only last for 25 years as opposed to the 40 years we have proposed.  The shorter timeframe would make it very difficult for the state to front load the investment by borrowing through bonding.  Most bonds are 20 years long and that means we can only make the supercharged investments for the first five years.  With an estimated 1.2 million people coming to Minnesota in the next two decades, there will be significant pressure on our water resources.  Having a shorter constitutional dedication will severely hamper our ability to make meaningful investments in the next 10 years as was contemplated by the broad stakeholders that proposed the Clean Water Legacy Act.

Even if the dedicated funding proposal passed, the money would not start flowing until the summer of 2009.  Therefore, this year’s funding bills are also critical in meeting Minnesota’s commitment to a Clean Water Legacy.  Unfortunately, the second curveball thrown at us this week was the reduction in the proposed Senate funding for the Clean Water Legacy over this biennium.  Last week the Senate had proposed $70 million for the Clean Water Legacy, well short of the $200 million of demonstrated need.  Unfortunately, by the time the bill reached the full Senate Finance Committee that number was reduced down to $54 million.  The House also released their proposal for the Clean Water Legacy this week.  It is slightly less than the Senate amount.  The only advantage to the House funding is the fact that they proposed ongoing permanent funding for these programs.

The final curveball from the Senate this week was some significant struggles around passage of the Global Warming Mitigation Act we have been promoting.  We were informed by Sen. Yvonne Prettner-Solon (DFL-Duluth), chair of the Energy, Utilities, Technology and Communications Policy Committee that the Global Warming Mitigation Act (SF192 authored by Sen. Ellen Anderson) would not be receiving a vote in her committee.  The most significant power a committee chair holds is setting the agenda for  the committee.  She indicated that any global warming provisions would be in her omnibus bill, but the language we were initially provided this week was a far cry from anything in the Sen. Anderson legislation we support. 

The initial Prettner-Solon proposal is a watered-down stakeholders study.  Such a proposal is essentially meaningless because the Governor has already initiated a significant stakeholder’s process for this summer.  The Clean Energy Minnesota team is very disappointed that the DFL chair of the Senate committee responsible for energy policy would put forward a proposal weaker than that of the Republican Governor.  If the goal of the DFL Senate is to make Governor Pawlenty look like a moderate green Republican to make him more attractive as a vice-presidential candidate, they are doing a good job.  At this rate, that may be the only way they can get the governorship back from Tim Pawlenty.

The results from this week’s political games were disappointing.  Nonetheless, we are holding on to the old baseball saying that it is only April and there are a lot of games still to be played in the season.  I’m reminded that the Minnesota Twins were in pretty bad shape as of last April and they ended up winning the division in the last week of the season.  We have some very bright legislative champions working for us in the Senate and we know that over the long haul we still have a good chance of winning.  Therefore, don’t lose heart; but it is clear we still have plenty of hard work before us.

There were some positive notes from last week.  The Clean Energy Minnesota proposal to improve energy efficiency and conservation overcame some critical hurdles this week.  Energy efficiency is a critical part of the Clean Energy Minnesota strategy to reduce harmful global warming and other pollutions.  The cleanest energy in the world is the energy we do not produce.  In the Senate our chief author, Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis), successfully guided the efficiency bill (SF997) through the Senate Finance Committee and the full Senate, which passed the bill on Friday by an overwhelming 64 to 1 vote.

In the House this week, Rep. Jeremy Kalin (DFL-Lindstrom) also successfully directed the efficiency bill (HF1221) out of the full House Finance Committee.  There was no doubt that we would be successful in the Finance Committee, but we have been pleasantly surprised with the commitment given to us by our House chief author.  It is not common that a first-term legislator is given command of a major piece of legislation.  Rep. Kalin dedicated a great deal of his time to learn a very complicated subject and has shown a very intense spirit to shepherd the bill to a successful conclusion.

Even though we had a rough week, the legislative session is still young.  We will hopefully take a lesson from our favorite hometown baseball team —  play hard for every out and every at bat.

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