Capitol Letter March 30. 2011--PDF

Capitol Letter

March 30, 2011

XXXVII Issue 6

 

This issue does not contain a section on Domestic Violence, as mistakenly stated in the email notification.

Contents

ELECTION LAW

STATE GOVERNMENT FINANCE

EDUCATION

EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION

ENVIRONMENT

FIREARMS

HOUSING

IMMIGRATION

METROPOLITAN ISSUES


ELECTION LAW

LWVUS Position: Voting is a fundamental citizen right that must be guaranteed.

LWVMN Position: Support improvements in election laws regulating election procedures, voting and school district elections.


Sherri Knuth, LWV Minnesota Public Policy Coordinator, 651-224-5445

Voter ID Bills

The Senate Local Government and Elections Committee heard two voter ID bills on March 14 and 16 and passed them out of committee on a voice vote. SF479, authored by Sen. John Sterling Howe (R-Red Wing), will now go to the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. SF509, authored by Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), will now go to the Transportation Committee.  

Provisional Balloting:  Both SF479 and SF509 require a government-issued photo ID of registered voters at the polls and set up a system of provisional balloting.

If Minnesota were to set up a system of provisional balloting, it would have to print provisional ballots and envelopes, train election judges in the use of provisional ballots, and staff county and municipal elections offices to handle provisional ballots after an election.  

Voters who do not have an acceptable photo ID or forget their photo IDs on Election Day would have to cast a provisional ballot. The voter would then have to appear personally at the county auditor or municipal clerk’s office within a week after the election. Although the pending bills differ as to what the voter must do at the elections office, both provide that the provisional ballot will not be counted unless the voter personally appears at the election office and completes an additional step.

Provisional ballots would burden voters by requiring a second trip to make their vote count. Voters in rural areas who are far from their election office and the elderly or disabled who have difficulty getting around would be particularly affected.

Several election officials and judges testified in the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee that provisional balloting would increase costs to local governments and add complexity to the election system, thus increasing the possibly of human errors. Edina City Clerk Debra Mangen, Olmsted County Auditor Mark Krupski, General Counsel for the Minnesota Association of Townships Kent Solum, and citizens who have served as election judges expressed these concerns.  

Amendments to SF509:  The committee adopted a delete-all amendment submitted by Sen. Limmer to reduce the fiscal impact of the bill. Thus, the bill no longer requires networked, electronic rosters in each precinct; rather, electronic rosters are voluntary. As of the date of this writing, a revised fiscal note has not been issued.

The committee also accepted an amendment offered by Sen. Tony Lourey (DFL-Kerrick) that would allow vouching as a means of Election Day registration for residents of certain residential facilities. But the committee did not change the part of the bill that requires the residents to have a photo ID bearing their current address for the purpose of voting.

The committee approved an amendment which preserves existing law and allows a voter under guardianship to vote unless a judge specifically indicates otherwise.

Other Elections Bills

HF718, authored by Rep. Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-Minneapolis) and described in the March 16th Capitol Letter™, was heard in the Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee and laid over for possible inclusion in an elections omnibus bill. The bill would require that felons be informed when their sentence is discharged and their civil rights are restored.

HF561, authored by Rep. Michael Beard (R-Shakopee), modifies the thresholds for publicly-funded recounts. The effect would be to make publicly-funded recounts less frequent. For instance, a publicly-funded recount for the governor’s seat would occur only when the difference between the votes cast is less than the smaller of 3,000 votes or one-quarter of one percent of the total number of votes counted, rather than one-half of one percent, as the law currently provides. The bill, which has bi-partisan authors, passed the Government Operations and Elections Committee but stalled when scheduled for a vote on the House floor. It does not have a Senate companion.

STATE GOVERNMENT FINANCE

LWVMN Position:  Support a balanced and diversified revenue system that is equitable, progressive, and reliable.  Support of long-term financial management projections and a budget reserve. (1995)

LWVMN Position on Government Spending: LWVMN believes that the highest priority areas for state spending are the following: (1) K-12 (regular) education; (2) Health Care: (3) Environmental protection....

Criteria for Limiting Spending… (1) State subsidies for sports teams, convention centers and similar projects should be among the first items to be curtailed….


Debby McNeil, lobbyist, 952-925-9095

Mid-Session Rush

    
The last two weeks have seen intense activity at the Capitol on the Republicans’ proposed general fund budget for the 2012-13 biennium.  Legislative committees put in long hours to meet the majority’s March 25 deadline for sending appropriations bills to the House Ways and Means Committee or the Senate Finance Committee.  The Republican plan is contained in many omnibus bills, each for a different area, e.g., education, health and human services, taxes, environment.  All told, the Republicans say their $34.3 billion budget would eliminate a 2012-13 projected $5 billion deficit with spending cuts and no new taxes. The bills feature spending reductions in virtually every area funded by the state.

Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) proposed a $37.3 billion budget including roughly $3 billion in tax increases, mostly on the well-off.  The March 16 Capitol Letter™ compares these competing proposals.

The House and Senate will vote on the budget bills the week of March 28. In the end, Gov. Dayton is expected to veto all of them. Then Republicans will have to meet with the DFL and the governor and address their fundamental disagreement: should tax increases be part of a balanced approach to eliminating the state’s $5 billion deficit.  As Rep. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka), chair of the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee, remarked, at some point revenue must be discussed. If his caucus does not agree, there will surely be a special session after the mandatory adjournment on May 23.
            
Local Government Aid
    
One contentious area of state spending is local government aid (LGA).  This group of assistance programs is meant to supplement the revenue of local communities to fund basic services when they have a small tax base, so they can provide local services. (1)  Last legislative session this kind of aid was reduced both by cuts and unallottment.  This put financial pressure on cities, especially because the state made some of these reductions on short notice after city budgets were set.  While many metro suburbs with ample tax bases and few social problems receive little or no aid, it is a significant part of many small communities’ budgets, and it’s also important to Minneapolis and St. Paul.
      
For 2012-13 the omnibus tax bills would reduce local aid programs:
o    In the House bill, by 2015:  Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth would no longer receive any aid; metro area suburban aid would be reduced 50%; and other cities would be frozen basically at current levels.  HF42 is authored by Rep. Greg Davids (R-Preston).
o    The Senate bill would freeze aid for 2011 and 2012, and calculate 2013 aid based on the 2012 level.  SF27 is authored by Sen. Julianne Ortman (R- Chanhassen).

The different approaches in these bills will need to be resolved by a conference committee.

How about Gov. Dayton? His budget fully funds local government aid to reduce financial pressure on local governments that could lead them to raise property taxes. The property tax is considered the most regressive tax of all because it is based on the value of property, not on one’s income or ability to pay taxes.  

In contrast to Gov. Dayton’s full-funding approach, HF42 cuts local aids and credits by a total of $685 million and SF27 cuts them by $631 million.  Republicans dispute the DFL’s claim that these state aid cuts will likely lead to local property tax increases.  

LWVMN’s position on financing state government includes these points:
o    If necessary, state funding may be used to assure that local community services are available on an equitable basis.
o    Once enacted, promised distributions of state-collected revenues to local governments should be a reliable source of revenue to local governmental units.

(1)    Don Heinzman, “Living with the loss of local government aids,” MinnPost, June 10, 2010.  http://www.minnpost.com/community_voices/2010/06/10/18799/living_with_the_loss_of_local_government_aids

EDUCATION

LWVMN Position:  All Minnesota children should have equal access to a good public education.  State funding for education should be at a level that makes programs of comparable substance and quality available to all.  A student’s access to a good education should not depend on the wealth of his or her school district.

MN Constitution: Article XIII Section 1. UNIFORM SYSTEM OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS. The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.


Lonni Skrentner, lobbyist,  952-994-7804
Shari Dion, lobbyist,  651-494-2835

The Governor, the House and the Senate have their detailed education proposals in public view.  Both the House and the Senate moved Finance Omnibus bills through respective committees this past week. Each bill should be on its respective floor the week of March 28, and conference committees may be appointed by April 1.

Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposal targets spending of $61 million, a 1% increase from the 2012-13 base.  It provides a mechanism to pay back the 70/30 funding shift passed last session within the decade. The House bill, HF934 sponsored by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), targets spending of $25 million, a 1% decrease from the 2012-13 base.  It also calls for repaying the shift in 2014.  The Senate bill, SF1030 sponsored by Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista), also targets spending of $25 million, but with no provision for repayment of the shift.  

All three bills maintain the 70/30 funding shift for the near future as a way to reduce the state budget deficit, meaning school districts will get only 70% of their state funding within the fiscal year. All three cut the budget of the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) anywhere from 5% (Governor) to 34% (House).

Both the House and Senate bills make significant changes in the use of funds, with an emphasis on redirecting integration, compensatory, and special education funds.(1) For the most part the Senate version simply makes cuts, while the House makes some pretty significant changes in integration and compensatory revenues. In the House bill, integration funds are to be replaced by “innovation funds,” at a high cost to the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts.  These districts would also be hard hit by the change in allocation of compensatory funding.  The new method would beef up charter schools and small districts at the expense of larger schools.  A cap on state special education funding would mean difficulty for school districts which cannot cut back on special education services because of federal law.  

Both bills increase the basic revenue formula, to $5124 in 2011, to $5174 in 2012, and $5224 in 2013 and beyond. The dollars for these increases come from changes and caps applied to other types of funds such as those mentioned above. The goal is to reduce differences in the amount of per pupil dollars that school districts have to work with. In addition, the effectiveness of some programs has been questioned, and there is a desire to encourage and support new approaches to closing Minnesota’s achievement gaps.

"This may make some of the adults feel uncomfortable who feel more comfortable with the status quo, but that's all right," said Rep. Garofalo, who chairs the House Education Finance Committee. "We're confident this is going to help kids, and that's the direction we're moving in."(2)

Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius shared her discomfort with several proposals, such as the cuts to the MDE, the integration and compensatory revenue changes, and the resulting impact on local property taxes. She reminded lawmakers that it is the state’s responsibility to fund a uniform system of public education, not the responsibility of local property taxpayers.

“Unfairly targeting inner city schools is unacceptable,” said Cassellius, adding that the bill “lacks cohesion” and contains conflicts among its proposals and that the 34% cut to the MDE’s base appropriation would “decimate our agency.”(3)

Minnesota School Board Association’s Kirk Schneidawind said, “There are some important policy provisions within the omnibus bills relating to mandate relief and teacher quality, but the net effect of both omnibus bills is that the redistribution of [special education and integration] aids and the capping of compensatory K-12 aid [in the Senate bill] negatively impacts those districts that are confronted with educating our neediest students.”(4)

Both the House and Senate Education Finance Omnibus bills contain significant changes to contract negotiations and teacher tenure.  There is disagreement over whether these provisions are policy or finance; all have fiscal ramifications. Various interest groups have weighed in both pro and con on many of the measures.

The ACLU joins LWV Minnesota in being concerned about a provision in the House bill which provides payments (the equivalent of vouchers?) to parents for private school education. Proponents of the measure argue it is constitutional because it funnels the payments through the parents, not directly to private schools, which the Minnesota Constitution expressly forbids. Rev. Grant Stephenson, President of ISAIAH, spoke in opposition to the bill saying, “[It is not leadership to say]… ‘here are some coupons. Good luck to you!’” Based on LWV Minnesota’s position that all Minnesota children should have equal access to a good public education, we oppose public subsidies for private schools.

Both bills contain language requiring the Commissioner of Education to return to the legislature for authority to revise standards and other matters.  There are questions regarding this, as it would seem to take power away from the executive branch.

 For detail on the proposals, please see the excellent comparative chart prepared by Parents United.

Commissioner Cassellius has appointed a Working Group on School Funding. The group includes Mary Cecconi - Executive Director of Parents United for Public Schools; Mary Cathryn Ricker – President of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers; Tom Melcher from MDE; and Superintendents Les Fujitake of Bloomington and Ric Dressen of Edina. Ex-officio members include both Republicans and DFL members of the Minnesota House and Senate. (5) These volunteer lobbyists think that the members of this group will make valuable contributions to planning for the future of educational funding.

Commentary: Tag, You’re It!

This legislative session started with Rep. Garofalo saying the focus would be “Kids first. No excuses. No exceptions.” Now that these relatively distinct visions of education funding and reform proposals have been offered, LWVMN hopes all "sides" will get down to the business of working together to come up with a plan that clearly puts ALL kids first - no exceptions, no excuses.

According to Parents United and radio personality Thom Hartmann, democracy is participative.  As Mr. Hartmann says, “Tag, you’re it!” Consider the following message from Parents United, and take action!

Ask your legislators! The Omnibus bills are grounded in the theory that schools have enough money and all we need to do is shift dollars around and target them better. Funding schools at less than half of inflation for 20 years, a heavy reliance on local levies, a refusal to raise state taxes over the last eight year[s] combined with an economic collapse, has something to do with where we are. We may not be able to add new dollars to our school funding, but do you believe the solution is taking needed dollars from some children to give to others? It costs a lot to educate our children and the greater struggles our children deal with, the more they need us. James Baldwin said it best: These are all our children and we will profit by or pay for whatever they become.”(6)

(1) Integration funds are funds for programs to facilitate integration of the schools. Compensatory funds are funds intended to cover additional costs associated with educating students from low income backgrounds. Special ed funds are funds that cover some of the additional costs of providing required services to students with a disability.
(2) http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2011/03/21/education-budget-plan/
(3)http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hinfo/sessiondaily.asp?storyid=2564
(4)http://www.mnmsba.org/Public/MSBA_Docs/Capitol%20Compass%203-25-2011.pdf
(5)http://www.minnpost.com/learningcurve/2011/03/23/26837/formidable_group_tapped_to_tackle_minnesotas_education_funding_issues
(6) http://www.parentsunited.org/110325update.html#readmore1

EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION

LWVUS Position:  LWVUS supports policies and programs at all levels... that promote the well being, encourage the full development and ensure the safety of all children.  These include... early childhood education.

LWVMN Position:  Equal Opportunity Support of increased state responsibility in creating equal public educational opportunities for all Minnesota children....


Kathie Cerra, lobbyist, 952- 929-7337

Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) has re-authorized a statewide panel formed three years ago to work on early childhood education issues, the Statewide Early Learning Council.  He has appointed Rep. Nora Slawik (DFL-Maplewood ), the DFL early childhood  education lead on the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee, to the Council. The goal of the Early Learning Council is to achieve, by 2020, school readiness for all Minnesota children entering kindergarten, with a major emphasis on closing the racial achievement gap.(1)

As for Early Childhood funding this session, Ready 4 K has collected and compared early childhood proposals within proposed budgets from the governor, and within the House and Senate omnibus education finance bills. Summarized highlights of this comparison follow:

•    The governor’s budget provides funding for all day kindergarten and the Achievement Gap Innovation Fund, neither of which are funded in the House or Senate omnibus bills.
•    The House would fund Early Childhood Scholarships, a form of vouchers.
•    The Quality Rating Improvement System  (QRIS) is funded by the governor’s budget. The House funds QRIS for eligible early childhood programs, ages 3-5 only; the Senate bill does not fund this.
•    The House and Senate bills would fund Early Childhood Literacy Programs (Reading Corps).
•    In FY 2013 the Senate bill would fund Literacy Incentive Aid, to promote reading by 3rd grade, and the Reading Instruction Stipend Program.

Within the Health and Human Services area, House and Senate omnibus bills eliminate state funding for:

•    Child Care Resource and Referral Grants
•    Child Care Service Development Grants
•    Migrant Child Care
•    Child Care Facility Grants

The Senate bill eliminates the Family Home Visiting Program.

 For further details concerning these comparisons and other bills affecting early childhood education, see www.ready4k.org. There is a great deal of information if you select “Public Policy.”  To find a list of bills affecting our children and links to the bills, visit the website for “Ready4k Bill Tracker 3/25/11.

(1)Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio News, March 17, 2011, http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2011/03/17/dayton-revives-minn-early-learning-council/


ENVIRONMENT  

LWVUS Position: Natural resources should be managed as interrelated parts of life-supporting ecosystems. Resources should be conserved and protected to assure their future availability.  Pollution of these resources should be controlled in order to preserve the physical, chemical and biological integrity of the ecosystem and to protect public health.


Gwen Myers, Lobbyist, 952-545-8696

The Omnibus Environmental Finance Bill

An amendment to log our state parks for the purpose of saving them is emblematic of the seriously bad policy contained in the House Environment Finance Omnibus bill, HF1010. Offered by Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings), the provision would require the DNR to commercially log black walnuts and other valuable trees in Frontenac and Whitewater state parks. Beyond the destruction of these two state parks is the precedent of opening our parks to commercial logging. According to Courtland Nelson, DNR parks director, the idea behind our state parks “is to return them to pre-settlement conditions.”(1)

The Senate environment omnibus finance bill is SF1029, authored by Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria).

Among the policy issues contained in one or both of these finance bills which weaken protections of our waters and natural resources are the following:

•    A water rulemaking moratorium which would prohibit shoreline and other regulations from being implemented for two years.
•    Elimination of the Lake Pepin phosphorous standard for eight months of the year, violating the Clean Water Act and insuring that Lake Pepin’s degradation will continue.
•    Reduction of permit standards for large feedlots, with consequences for both ground and surface water.  
•    Elimination of mandatory environmental assessment worksheets for ethanol plants, which assumes that the topography, geology and water availability of all sites are the same.
•    Weakening or eliminating the sulfate standards designed to protect wild rice until a two year or longer study is completed by the MPCA. Supported by the mining industry, this threatens an important Minnesota crop and the religious beliefs of Native Americans.
•    Repeal of protections for the Mississippi River corridor critical area designation, opening it to development.
•    Removal of “sound natural resource conservation and management principles” as a goal in managing our school trust lands, opening them for commercial logging. School trust lands make up about 40% of our state forest land.

Many of these provisions were discussed in the March 16 Capitol Letter™.  

Gov. Dayton has balked at including these policy provisions in finance bills. In a letter dated Monday, March 28 to the Senate majority leader, Sen. Amy Koch (R-Buffalo), and Speaker Rep. Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove), the governor lays out his approach to the budget negotiations. Included in that letter, he requests that the Legislature "remove all extraneous policy items.” He has included a provision that he will not sign budget bills that contain policy language that he doesn't agree with: "I will not sign revenue or expenditure bills that include policies, to which I have not agreed, which I oppose and which should be passed and presented to me as separate legislation."

It appears from this statement that policy issues may be removed from the omnibus environmental finance bills. Whatever the outcome, these policies will not go away; they will rise again.

HF1010 and SF 1029 are finance bills, which means they are laying out budgets for all the agencies that protect our environment. In a statement on Monday, March 28, Minnesota Environmental Partnership Executive Director Steve Morse said, “The House and Senate budget bills are an embarrassing attempt to unravel Minnesota’s Great Outdoors legacy to solve a short-term budget gap… .We’re willing to do our share to help solve the state’s budget crisis, but we’re not willing to have funds for our lakes, river and streams; wildlife habitat and natural areas disproportionally raided to modestly impact the state’s budget problem.”(2)

At 1% of the General Fund, funding for the environment is now at a 30-year low; the finance omnibus bills take environmental funding to less than that nominal share.  In addition, according to Mr. Morse, neither the House nor the Senate bill maintains “our constitution’s ‘traditional sources of funding’ and [both are] inconsistent with the wishes of the 1.6 million who voted to raise their taxes in tough economic times to protect and restore our Great Outdoors.”(3)

Stay tuned.

(1)    Doug Smith, “Logging in state parks” Bill would require it in 2,” Star Tribune, March 26, 2011, http://www.startribune.com/politics/local/11890399.html
(2)    MEP Statement, March 28, 2011, http://www.mepartnership.org/mep_pressroom.asp?new_id=4203
(3)    http://www.mepartnership.org/mep_pressroom.asp?new_id=4203
Allene Moesler, LWV Northfield, assisted with this article.

 

FIREARMS

LWVUS Position: Protect the health and safety of citizens through limiting the accessibility and regulating the ownership of handguns and semi-automatic assault weapons, and support the allocation of resources to better regulate and monitor gun dealers.

LWVMN Position: Action to support restrictions on the sale, possession and use of firearms by private parties in the state of Minnesota.


Mary Lewis Grow, lobbyist, 507-645-5378

Sen. Michael Jungbauer (R-East Bethel) introduced a bill, SF995, to expand the state’s preemptive authority by further restricting local governments’ regulation of anything to do with firearms.  The proposed law would prohibit the regulation of the discharge of a firearm "in self-defense," and any aspect of local zoning ordinances that are more "onerous" than laws regulating the "most favored" sellers of other goods.  

A bill worth supporting is HF1245, introduced by Rep. Carol McFarlane (R-White Bear Lake). It adds illegal possession of a firearm by a minor to the list of crimes defined as gang activity for the purpose of orders to enjoin the activity. This would be a good tool for city attorneys.

HF161, introduced by Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa), would eliminate local background checks. It has slowed to a crawl and has not advanced since it passed out of the Public Safety and Crime Prevention and Finance Committee.  The same objective, however, could be achieved if bill proposing a constitutional amendment regarding the “Right to Bear Arms” is passed.

The proposed amendment, set out in HF430, introduced by Rep. Carol McElfatrick (R-Deer River), states, “The individual right of the people to keep and bear arms is fundamental and shall not be infringed.” If passed by voters, the amendment would have implications more sweeping than the current Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment.  The court’s recent rulings allow for some regulation, while the amendment appears to permit no regulation.  

LWV Minnesota will be issuing an action alert regarding HF430 if it advances at the legislature. There is no Senate companion.

HOUSING

LWVMN Position: All people have a right to housing. The public and private sectors should work together to ensure that everyone has access to adequate, decent, affordable housing.


Jeanne LeFevre, lobbyist, 651-483-9154

Proposed Cuts to Housing in Jobs & Economic Development Budget Bill

Last week the House Jobs & Economic Development Committee passed its budget bill, HF1049, and referred the measure to the Ways & Means Committee.   Sponsored by Rep. Bob Gunther (R-Fairmont), the bill reduces funding for most of the Housing Finance Agency’s programs, with the exception of the Bridges Program of Rental Assistance for the Mentally Ill and the Family Homelessness Prevention Program.  

In contrast, the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee, in SF887, funds Minnesota Housing programs at levels generally more consistent with the governor’s recommendations.  The exception to this is the Senate’s funding of the Housing Trust Fund at $2 million less than the governor’s recommendation for the biennium. SF887 is sponsored by Sen. Geoff Michel (R-Edina). Assuming that the appropriations in these bills do not change before final passage, the Senate bill provides more protection for homeless and precariously-housed families and individuals and deserves our support at conference committee time.

One funding source tapped by both the House and Senate to pay for their Jobs bills is the subject of a great deal of discussion and perhaps has the potential to derail these appropriations.  The House plans to transfer $60 million from one of the Iron Range Resource Recovery Board (IRRRB) accounts to help fund the Jobs budget bill.  The Senate bill transfers $45 million from the fund.  IRRRB funds are derived from production taxes paid by mining companies in lieu of local property taxes, and members of the DFL have challenged the legality of transferring these funds to the state general fund.

Renters’ Credit Slashed in House Tax Bill

The renter’s property tax refund program (also known as the “renter’s credit”) is a state-paid refund that goes to renters whose rent is high relative to their incomes.  The theoretical basis for the refund is the notion that a portion of rent actually goes indirectly to pay property taxes, and that low-income tenants should get a portion of that tax refunded in the same way that low-income homeowners do.  The portion of rent assumed to constitute “implicit property taxes” is 19% under statute; however last year’s budget bill provided that the percentage would be reduced from 19% to 15% for one year only.  

The House tax bill, HF481 sponsored by Rep. Linda Runbeck (R-Circle Pines), would further reduce the percentage of rent deemed to represent property taxes to 12% and would make this reduction permanent.  This reduction would result in an average cut of $300 to the renters’ credit. Testimony heard in both the Senate and House indicated that the low-income people who receive a renters’ credit use the money for basic necessities and typically spend it in their own communities in Minnesota.

IMMIGRATION

LWVMN Position:  Support incorporating immigrants into our communities by providing access to education, by endorsing the development of secure identification documents, and by respecting the right of law enforcement personnel to perform their duties without the burden of interpreting federal immigration policies.  Oppose residents with legal immigrant status running for local office.


Judy Stuthman, lobbyist, LWV Minnesota Co-president, 651-644-8588

A National Perspective

A funny thing happened after the bill became law. A year ago, the Arizona legislature passed SB 1070, a tough immigration bill that resulted in the immediate cancellation of contracts for national and international conventions and meetings, causing the state to lose millions of dollars. (1) As immigration policy is a federal program, the law also resulted in the federal government filing a lawsuit against the state.

These are all costly results that recently led the current Arizona legislature to reject another package of anti-immigrant bills which included limiting birthright citizenship and having teachers and medical professionals check immigration status. The Arizona business community worked with the state senators to defeat these bills, sending a letter to the Senate President stating “…we must acknowledge that when Arizona goes it alone on this issue, unintended consequences inevitably occur.  Last year, boycotts were called against our state’s business community, adversely impacting our already-struggling economy and costing us jobs. Arizona-based businesses saw contracts cancelled or were turned away from bidding. Sales outside of the state declined.…” (2)

The Immigration Policy Center and Center for American Progress released a report that examined two very different futures for Arizona’s economy. In the first, all current unauthorized immigrants leave the state, taking their labor, their spending power and their tax dollars with them, thus eliminating 581,000 jobs and reducing state tax revenues by $4.2 billion. In the second, legalizing the state’s unauthorized immigrants creates 261,000 jobs and increases tax revenues by $1.7 billion. (3)  

Benjamin Johnson, Executive Director of the American Immigration Council, says that inaction on immigration reform has led our current unauthorized population to establish deep roots into our federal and state economies. More than 60% of this population has been here for 10 years or longer.

How the United States deals with the undocumented population needs to be a part of comprehensive immigration reform. Under President Ronald Reagan, in 1986, amnesty was granted to the undocumented who arrived before 1982.  Today, immigrant advocates talk about “earned legalization” where considerations are given to several points, such as avoiding rewarding bad behavior, being cost effective, and having a high level of compliance without admitting ineligible immigrants or encouraging future illegal migration. Amnesty is not a part of expected reform.  

But LWV Minnesota is part of a larger community that believes that legalization is a pragmatic and efficient alternative to enforcement. It costs a lot of money to identify, detain and remove individuals.  A well-designed legalization program would allow the undocumented to identify themselves voluntarily, at a much lower cost to government, and would give individuals a clean slate.

As described in previous Capitol Letters™, anti-immigrant bills have been introduced in Minnesota’s 2011 Legislative Session.  As other states join Arizona in backing away from such laws, LWV Minnesota hopes our current legislators use common sense to avoid the unintended consequences of such laws.

 (1) Midwest Coalition for Human Rights, May 7, 2010. http://www.midwesthumanrights.org/ilcm-calls-comprehensive-immigration-reform-light-copycat-antiimmigration-bill
(2) Wendy Sefsaf, “Is Arizona’s Rejection of Anti-Immigrant Measures a Bellwether for Other States?”  Immigration Impact Blog, March 21, 2011. http://immigrationimpact.com/  
(3) Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda and Marshall Fritz, A Rising Tide or a Shrinking Pie: The Economic Impact of Legalization Versus Deportation in Arizona, March 2011. http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/files/docs/rising_tide_final.pdf
(4) American Immigration Council, The Unauthorized Population Today, March 22, 2011. http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/just-facts/unauthorized-population-today

METROPOLITAN ISSUES

CMAL Position on the Met Council: Support the Metropolitan Council as the decision-making body for metropolitan needs…. Support provisions for coordinated metropolitan services focused through the Metropolitan Council. Support retention of an appointed Metropolitan Council with greater use of its existing powers. (1969, 1976, 1993)

CMAL Position on Transportation: Support the Metropolitan Council as the single metropolitan agency planning and coordinating a diverse transportation system….

CMAL Position on Land Use and Environmental Quality:  CMAL recognizes… the need for a strong public voice in land-use decisions.  CMAL supports metropolitan-level planning, programs and policies [in order to]:  (1) preserve and enhance the natural environment; (2) use public investment to the best advantage; and (3) provide area residents with diversity in choice of facilities and amenities


Lois Quam, lobbyist, 612-861-2601

Transit takes a major hit in both the House Omnibus Transportation Finance Bill, HF1140 sponsored by Rep. Michael Beard (R-Shakopee), and the Senate Omnibus Transportation Appropriations Bill, SF898 sponsored by Sen. Joe Gimse (R-Willmar).  The House bill would eliminate all general fund dollars for transit (currently $129.78 million) while the Senate bill would cut $32 million over two years. As was reported in the March 16, 2011 Capitol Letter, Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget would reduce funding for metropolitan area transit by up to $10.8 million.

According to a release by Transit for Livable Communities(1), the Met Council sent a letter to Rep. Beard, chair of the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee, outlining what the House cuts would mean in practical terms.  For example, if the budget cuts were solved with a “fares-only” approach, it could mean an increase in fares of $4.00 per ride. This would bring regular route fares to between $5.75 and $7.00 per ride and would mean a 50-60% loss in rides provided.  A system-wide approach would result in disruptive cuts in service and loss of jobs as well as fare increases.

Both bills will see committee action the week of March 28.  You may check the progress of the bills on-line on the Minnesota State Legislature site.

(1) http://tlcminnesota.typepad.com//blog/2011/03/legislative-update-5.html     


Copyright 2013 League of Women Voters Minnesota (LWV Minnesota)