Daily Digest: 3M settlement prompts lawmaker questions

Good morning and welcome to Tuesday. Here’s the Digest.

1. Lawmakers have lots of questions about the state’s settlement with 3M.  At a House Ways and Means Committee hearing Monday at the Capitol, lawmakers questioned whether two state agencies have the authority to spend a $850 million lawsuit settlement between 3M and the state and asked whether legislative action is needed. “There’s an awful lot depending on this money being spent,” said Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, the committee chairman. “I just wonder if maybe we don’t need to look at doing something this session to create this fund and help facilitate it and make sure that there isn’t any doubt about the ability to get this money to the people that it needs to get to.”  Some committee members asked whether legislative approval is needed for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources to allocate the funds. “This is not about PFCs. It’s not about cleaning up pollution,” said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington. “This is about who decides and who makes decisions with public money.” DFL Attorney General Lori Swanson did not attend Monday’s hearing. Officials from the MPCA and the DNR told the committee they believe their agencies do have the authority to spend remediation funds. (MPR News)

2. Lawmaker takes aim at state IT agency. One of the state agencies under fire for its work on the troubled vehicle licensing and registration system would be abolished under legislation introduced Monday in the Minnesota Senate. Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, is proposing to eliminate Minnesota IT Services (MNIT) in its current form and create a new information technology division within the Department of Administration. The department’s commissioner, rather than the governor, would appoint a chief information officer to head the division. Rosen said the bill was inspired by the problem-plagued launch of the Minnesota Licensing and Registration system (MNLARS). “That’s the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Rosen said. “We are spending way too much money, no accountability. You ask questions, they can’t answer them.” Rosen said she wants to redefine the purpose of MNIT and make it competitive. Her bill would require the division to participate in competitive bidding with outside vendors on IT projects. (MPR News)

3. Metro Mobility may use ride-sharing services. The Metropolitan Council may consider adding ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft to augment its current mix of choices for some 40,000 Twin Citians who are unable to use traditional buses or light rail. Other transit providers across the country, including Boston, Kansas City and the St. Petersburg, Fla. area, are experimenting with programs involving ride-sharing firms, too. The idea is to provide efficient and cost-effective service as baby boomers age and demand surges. Transit agencies “need to think outside of the bus,” said Robbie Makinen, president and CEO of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, which rolled out a ride-sharing pilot program last year. But not everyone is a fan of using Uber and Lyft to supplement Metro Mobility. Met Council member Edward Reynoso said he has “grave concerns” about the way ride-sharing firms check drivers’ backgrounds and he questions whether they have sufficient insurance. (Star Tribune)

4. Students of color more likely to face discipline.The state Department of Human Rights released a study March 2 that found students of color received 66 percent of all suspensions and expulsions despite making up 31 percent of the state’s public school enrollment. Only 14 percent of Minnesota students have a disability, but they accounted for 41 percent of those types of discipline incidents. The disparity falls the hardest on black and Native American students. Native students are 10 times as likely to be suspended or expelled as whites, and black students are eight times as likely. During the 2016-17 school year, black students, who make up about 10 percent of the state’s school enrollment, were involved in nearly 18,000 of the 46,311 disciplinary incidents, or 39 percent, state data show. (Pioneer Press)

5. Xcel may return tax windfall to customers. The new federal tax law cut the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. Most companies would return income tax savings to their shareholders. But since utilities are often monopolies, their income is regulated. Minneapolis-based Xcel expects to require $133 million less in revenue for its Minnesota electric operations in 2018, according to a filing Friday with the Public Utilities Commission. The company’s gas utility operations would require $8 million less in revenue. Those estimates account for the general corporate tax cut, as well as from utility-specific federal tax changes in the new law. “We intend to ensure our customers receive the full value of the tax reform benefits,” Xcel said in the PUC filing. (Star Tribune)

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