Daily Digest: Eight days, eight nights

The good news is there’s one week to go before a mandatory adjournment to the Legislature’s 2017 regular session. That’s also the bad news because it portends several all-nighters ahead to get everything done in time. Brian Bakst here filling in for Mike on today’s Digest.

1. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Three guys go into a room … It’s actually a slightly wider and more diverse circle, but a lot rides on the ability of Gov. Mark Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and House Speaker Kurt Daudt to move off deeply held positions and reach an agreement acceptable to their respective political bases. All are presenting an optimistic front as time ticks down. Rank-and-file legislators have told me a special session that leads to preparations for a possible shutdown wouldn’t go over well back home, so there’s ample incentive to deal. That’s consistent with the view expressed here by Lakeville Republican Rep. Roz Peterson: “When you have a surplus it seems ridiculous to move to a shutdown.” Bonus: a nifty countdown clock. (Pioneer Press)

2. Maybe the fellas should step aside and let the women have a go at striking a session-ending deal. The Capitol’s women sure proved their prowess at the Governor’s Fishing Opener over the weekend, reeling in a bigger bounty than the Dayton-Daudt-Gazelka pontoon. First-term DFL Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minneapolis had the most luck with her line, catching 13 fish in total. As the leaders said before they left for the fishing opener, the state of the state’s political affairs were left behind while they focused on the fish. Mark your 2018 calendars early because next year’s opener is slated for Willmar. (KARE 11)

3. One of the remaining sticking points is how much of the budget surplus should be steered to education. Particularly, whether the state should be spending more money on early childhood programs that prepare youngsters for kindergarten. All sides would up that portion of the budget, but in different ways. There’s a big debate over whether to target limited resources to at-risk children or commit more money to make sure any family can access quality preschool options. (Pioneer Press)

4. I have a theory that if the session ends on time with some expected give and take on spending vs. tax cuts, only the truly immersed members of the public will perk up to what was or wasn’t done. This will go down as the Sunday Sales session. It’s an easy-to-understand issue and one that riled many people on both sides. To refresh, after many decades (or more than a century by some accounts), shoppers will be able to legally purchase alcohol at liquor stores on Sundays beginning on July 2. Loyalists of Surdyk’s probably will have to wait a tad longer after the Minneapolis store’s owner jumped the gun this spring. A proposed settlement between the store and the city would levy a $50,000 fine and force Surdyk’s to keep its doors shut the first three Sundays after the law change. (MPR News)

5. Lastly, the Sunday newspapers and morning political shows were filled with plenty of strong stories about news coming out of a newsy White House. There is lots of speculation about a potential senior staff shakeup, and there are still plenty of questions about President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, for whom a replacement could be selected this week. But there were also some provocative commentary pieces worth a read. This one by conservative talk radio show host Charlie Sykes, who did a stint on public radio during Trump’s first 100 days, caught my eye. Sykes makes the case that Trump’s penchant for actions that sends his critics into a fury is just what his supporters crave, and that being anti-anti-Trump is what matters to some conservatives more than anything. (New York Times)


  • Mike Worcester
  • Glenna Case

    Brian, I just listened to your coverage of the legislative session. I believe it reflected bias in both tone and language. You made it sound it like the Democrats are refusing to participate of ill weil, not major disagreements. While you did mention that there are policy agreements you did not discuss any of them. In fact, the Republicans have stuffed the budget, safety, and taxes bills with goodies for the Republicans and policies that would seriously damage this state. No Democrat living on this planet would support most of these provisions. Here’s a few examples:

    1. $1.15 billion in on-going (& growing) tax breaks for targeted groups. The size and growth of this is very risky given the unstable economy and the need to fund ongoing obligations like education. It’s a recipe for ongoing deficits and cutbacks.

    2. Business property owners get their state property tax levy reduced and then frozen. Homeowners and renters get no benefit from the billion plus tax break bill. Inadequate funding of cities, counties and schools will lead to property tax increases.

    3. $161 million (& growing) in tax relief for the richest 1100 estates each year (their heirs stand to inherit at least $2-7 million dollars, some of which has never paid taxes as investments transfer from one rich generation to the next). This would be enough to add another 1% each year to the school funding formula for students across the state.

    4. 1.5% increase in school (E-12) funding – not even inflation. This is our key responsibility under the MN Constitution.

    5. Dramatically underfunding higher education. U of M granted 20% of their increase request, MNSCU (MN State) campuses got a little more. Both are almost $200 million less than the Governor’s recommendation. The result: cutbacks in programs, tuition and student loan increases, less majors, less opportunities.

    6. A new “Most Favored Donation” funds a private school voucher program. With thousands of charities doing good work, all donations in the past have been treated the same. Under the Republican proposal that is no longer true. Individual and corporate donations to non-public, private school foundations will be eligible for a special 70% tax credit, much more valuable than the charitable deduction. That makes donating to a private school (that chooses its students) more valuable than donations to your church, youth groups, your public school PTA, or the Cancer Society or United Way.

    7. The above “most favored donations” will allow private and religious schools to offer “scholarship vouchers” to students who may need financial help but it has no accountability. It does not require them to accept all applicants, serve special education students or English Language Learners, offer enough money so poor kids can attend, or even report their test results so parents can evaluate performance.

    8. The deepest cuts ($500 million less than current spending levels) go to the most needy – the health and human services budget supports people with disabilities, frail seniors, and helps the poorest of the poor. That means the years long waiting lists will get longer. The direct support staff who assist those with disabilities will continue to leave their $10-12 hour jobs as retail pays more. That will leave employed people dependent on wheelchairs and help stuck in bed, frantic parents giving up jobs to care for kids with disabilities, and will force seniors into nursing homes when a little home care could keep them safe at home at lesser cost.

    9. Deep cuts in all environmental agencies and lots of policy that will mire them in process and prevent effective pollution prevention.

    10. Unwillingness to raise the user fee gas tax even five cents has led to an ongoing diversion of $372 million from the general fund. This takes money ongoing from schools, higher ed, services to seniors and the disabled, and the environment. It will make all future budgets more difficult.

    11. Dramatic cuts in metro transit – now estimated at about 10% of service even with fare increases. Dramatically less bus routes, higher fares, less frequency. This will be devastating to the 20-25% in some NE/SE Minneapolis neighborhoods that are transit dependent – they don’t own one car in the household.

    12. Investments in job training, job creation, affordable housing and addressing inequities by race and disability in a variety of areas are all cut back. Proven programs that transform communities, grow the economy and help people achieve self-sufficiency are all cut to give tax breaks to the wealthiest.

    13. Two years without a bonding bill and the proposal in the House of $600 million is so inadequate it won’t cover critical building repairs. Repairs to roofs and bridges have grown in cost. So has the need for updated laboratories and other campus needs. Interest rates are rising – it’s time to step up.

    14. Despite the lip service, we’re not making forward progress on early childhood education. There’s not any increase in Basic Sliding Fee Child Care (5,000 families on the waiting list – a wait of 2 years in Hennepin County). They eliminate the school based pre-K for four year old pilots and transfer the funds to a school readiness allocation. They also freeze the Pathway 2 program for younger kids. They do increase funding for a pre-k scholarship program but the dollar limit on it makes it unable to meet the needs of low income families.

    15. Putting our clean democracy at peril and increasing the dependency on outside special interest money in elections. Minnesota has transparent and clean elections in part due to the Campaign Finance Board regulations on state candidates and their campaign finances. Republicans refused to confirm the bipartisan nominees so the Board cannot conduct its business. The program by which individual taxpayers can check off $5 of their taxes for partial public finance of campaigns is proposed to end. To earn several thousand dollars of public funding (from taxpayer choices), candidates must agree to strict spending limits, keeping donations from PACS, lobbyists and other special interests to a small portion of the spending limit, raise funds in small amounts from voters, provide regular public reporting of donations and expenditures, and other accountability measures. This will all vanish in a new “voluntary” system with no teeth.