Good morning. Why not ignore that snow for a little longer and enjoy your Wednesday Digest? I promise the snow won’t disappear.
1. Roadmap to “significant progress” or a “cold California?” Gov. Tim Walz unveiled a nearly $50 billion, two-year budget plan on Tuesday that calls for raising the state’s gas tax by 20 cents a gallon — about a 70 percent increase from the current tax — and for more spending on education and health care. Walz, in his first budget plan as governor, also proposed cutting taxes for low-income Minnesotans, farmers and small businesses as part of conforming state taxes with recent federal changes. The $49.471 billion, two-year plan released Tuesday pays for those priorities by using a $1.5 billion budget surplus as well as new taxes. “Minnesotans want to bring down the cost of health care, provide a quality education to their children and grandchildren and ensure that communities across this state are prospering,” Walz told reporters. “The budget that I’m unveiling today will ensure that we are making significant strides toward achieving these priorities.” (MPR News)
2. Top budget priority. Initial budget proposals like the one Gov. Tim Walz laid out Tuesday are more like a wish list than a promise of what’s to come. And at the top of Walz’s wish list is a lot of funding for Minnesota schools. “The first priority this budget tackles is education,” said the new Democratic governor. “Minnesotans know investing in our children is investing in the future. As a former teacher, I’ve seen firsthand the power of education for a child.” Walz’s predecessor, Mark Dayton, put a lot of money in education, pumping an additional $2 billion into education during his time as governor. Walz seems to be picking up that mantle. He proposes increasing the general education basic formula by a total of 5 percent over the next two years. (MPR News)
3. No ban on single-use (legislation) containers. In the Minnesota Legislature, not all omnibus bills are created equal. There are, it appears, good omnibus bills and bad omnibus bills. Leaders of the House and Senate, as well as Gov. Tim Walz, want the public to know the difference. Frequently the target of critics who say they violate — or at least stretch the meaning of — the Minnesota Constitution’s single-subject provision (which says: “No law shall embrace more than one subject, which shall be expressed in its title”), omnibus bills got an especially bad name at the conclusion of the 2018 session. But as the 2019 session approaches the two-month mark, and as Gov. Tim Walz prepares to release his budget plan, legislative leaders and Walz all say they want the public to know that there will be omnibus bills — just not, like, the bad kind of omnibus bills. (MinnPost)
4. Trying to access the paper trail. A Minnesota environmental group filed a federal lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday, seeking to force it to make public the concerns its specialists have expressed about a copper-nickel mine in the northeast of the state. Environmentalists worry PolyMet Mining’s planned $1 billion mine, which would occupy 19,000 acres in the St. Louis River basin, will create a permanent pollution source from the river into Lake Superior. More than 900 acres of wetlands would also be destroyed, the lawsuit from WaterLegacy alleges. WaterLegacy attorney Paula Maccabee has said documents she obtained through an open records request showed regional EPA staffers said last fall they had “substantial questions” about the project, before the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued final water and air permits for the mine in December. Maccabee said the EPA never filed formal comments about the project, even though they had expressed a desire to do so. (Associated Press)
5. Trying to go electric. Minnesota transit officials have a bold new goal for electric vehicles in the state: electrify 20 percent of all cars, SUVs and light-duty trucks in a decade. An effort to tackle climate change and move away from fossil fuels, the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s proposal, released last week, calls for a 3,200 percent increase in the amount of electric vehicles by 2030. The electric vehicle target comes a month after a new state report shows that personal vehicles are among the largest greenhouse gas sources in Minnesota — emitting 23.3 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2016. (MPR News)