Daily Digest: What a week

Good morning, and happy Friday. Here’s the Digest.

1. It’s been a wild week. Time is a precious commodity this time of year at the Legislature. For those keeping track, there are 16 days for lawmakers to finish up. Most checklist items sought by Republicans and Democrats have yet to be marked as complete. Those include: opioid initiatives, school safety measures, elder care initiatives, MNLARS, a tax bill and a public works construction bill. It’s not unusual for a lot to be in flux at this stage. But Dayton and the Republican majorities haven’t exactly worked all that well together in recent years. This week saw a new taste of their deep-rooted differences. House and Senate leaders celebrated the passage of separate plans to realign Minnesota’s tax system and cut taxes for many individuals and businesses, but Dayton didn’t join the party. Instead, he threw a major new spending initiative on the table. Dayton called two news conferences to seek $126 per student in additional aid for schools, tapping into the state’s projected surplus. “If they snip away a few of those tax cuts for millionaires and multi-millionaires they’ll have plenty of money to do this,” he said. (MPR News)

2. Senate passes tax bill. The new federal tax law late last year forced Minnesota legislators to propose corresponding changes here. Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, the chair of the Senate tax committee, said a bill that syncs up Minnesota’s law with the new federal system must pass this session. “If we do nothing, tax returns and filing for citizens of this state becomes very difficult,” he said. “If we conform and we don’t do law changes, Minnesotans would be subject to huge tax increases.” Chamberlain said 99.8 percent of taxpayers, or 2.1 million Minnesotans, would see either no tax increase or a reduction under his bill. The measure cuts the lowest income tax rate by a quarter of a percent. The new rate would be 5.1 percent. Popular deductions for charitable donations, mortgage interest and property taxes would remain. The bill would also establish a new tax cut trigger. The provision would automatically reduce the income and corporate rates by one-tenth of one percent whenever the November economic forecast projects a sufficient state budget surplus. Gov. Mark Dayton said that  would create a fiscal nightmare for the next governor and Legislature. “You can see the path as clear as the iceberg ahead of the Titanic.” (MPR News)

3. Dayton’s call for emergency school funding would be a welcome boost for districts facing budget shortfalls and layoffs. But school officials say it wouldn’t address the long-term funding challenges driving the unusually high number of districts with budget deficits this year. Dayton proposed spending $138 million on a one-time bump in school funding in the coming year. That would amount to an additional $126 for every Minnesota student.  “Is it temporary? Yes, because it’s one-time funding,” said Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts. “But it would certainly provide some relief and help mitigate some of the cuts and layoffs that school districts are looking at.” A survey by the association found 26 metro area districts are facing deficits and possible staff reductions and cuts to programs. Croonquist said that’s higher than any school year since 2011-12. The factors driving the budget shortfalls vary by district, but there are some common themes. State education aid hasn’t kept pace with rising costs and inflation. School districts are having to cover a growing gap between their special education costs and what they receive in state and federal funding. Some districts also are seeing enrollment declines due to changing demographics, or students choosing open enrollment or charter schools, Croonquist said. (MPR News)

4. Don’t eat the fish. State health officials Thursday advised that no one eat fish from Lake Elmo in Washington County because they now contain concentrations of contaminants from an old 3M dump site that are considered too high for safe consumption. They also said that no one should eat largemouth bass from Lake Harriet in Minneapolis, which was contaminated with PFCs from another source, and added new guidance on restrictions for consumption of fish from six other metro area lakes and the Mississippi River. Health officials took the unusual step of saying that the restrictions apply to everyone, not just the high risk groups — primarily pregnant women and children. Recommendations on health limits related to PFCs have changed drastically in recent years based on new scientific studies that show that PFCs carry greater risks for high cholesterol, reduced liver function, thyroid hormone levels and weakened immune response. Studies also show they can increase the risk of some cancers. (Star Tribune)

5. County officials worry about possible pipeline protests. County officials in northern Minnesota are worried about large-scale protests if Enbridge Energy gets approval to replace its Line 3 crude oil pipeline and have asked regulators to find a way to force the company to cover the costs to local governments. Susan Morris, president of the Association of Minnesota Counties, made the request in a letter filed with the state Public Utilities Commission, which is expected to decide next month whether to approve the project and, if it’s approved, what route it should take across Minnesota. The letter, sent late last month, was posted on the PUC’s electronic docket Wednesday. “Potential county expenses related to this project cannot be anticipated or budgeted because they are out of the ordinary for counties,” Morris wrote. “These may include law enforcement costs related to site security and crowd control in the event of protests, solid waste management issues, and costs related to county emergency management.” Construction of the Dakota Access pipeline in neighboring North Dakota drew thousands of self-described “water protector” protesters to the Standing Rock Reservation area in 2016 and 2017, resulting in sometimes violent skirmishes with law enforcement and 761 arrests over a six-month span. (AP)

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