Fall election looms over legislative session

Mike KnaakColumn, Opinion, Print Editions, Print Sartell - St. Stephen, Print St. Joseph0 Comments

The Minnesota Legislature reconvenes on Feb. 20 for a three-month election-year session.

With a wide-open governor’s race and control of the state House of Representatives on the line, the November election will drive the debate.

Kicking off the action, Gov. Mark Dayton proposed a $1.5-billion bonding bill for more than 218 public-works projects across the state.

Later this month, legislators will be presented with an updated budget and revenue. The last forecast, released in November, showed a deficit of $188 million for fiscal years 2018-19. Republicans and Democrats pointed out that recent changes to federal tax law (Minnesota bases how much state income tax you pay on your federal tax return) and the recently renewed funding of the Childhood Health Insurance Program will change the estimate expected to be announced as the legislators return to St. Paul.

When the forecast was released in November, DFLers blamed the Republicans for cutting taxes too much and Republicans blamed the Democrats for spending too much. What a surprise.

Republicans are raising a fuss about the troubled rollout of Minnesota’s new $93-million computer system for vehicle titles and registrations, known as MNLARS. It will take $43 million to fix the program ahead of a summer launch.

Rep. Jeff Howe who represents the St. Joseph area, called the situation an “enormous mess.”

“The state workers heading up implementation of MNLARS are seemingly being asked to accomplish something that’s outside of their skill set. We would be better off putting this task in the hands of people who have previous experience managing massive IT projects such as this, allowing Minnesota IT to put its focus back on running maintenance and security,” Howe wrote in a message to constituents.

The additional money should fix problems with vehicle registrations, a backlog of unprocessed titles and issues with vanity plates.

The governor’s public-works plan invests in higher education, fixes state buildings, funds affordable housing and repairs clean-water infrastructure.

The proposal includes $541 million for University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State campuses. In this area, there’s a total of $3.6 million set aside for St. Cloud State University and St. Cloud Community & Technical College.

Expansion and upgrades at the St. Cloud armory would cost $4.45 million and repairs at the St. Cloud prison would cost $16 million.

And there’s one more layer to the Capitol chess game – control of the state Senate. The Republicans hold a 34- to 32-seat advantage right now. A Ramsey County District Court judge will decide if Michelle Fischbach can be lieutenant governor and president of the Senate at the same time. And if a DFLer wins a Feb. 12 special election to replace Dan Schoen, a Democrat who resigned after sexual harassment claims, then the Senate would be split 34-33. If the DFL wins the lieutenant governor case in court, the split would be 33-33 pending an election to replace Fischbach.

As you’re watching the legislative action in St. Paul this spring, keep an eye on the state House and governor races to really understand what’s going on.

Author: Mike Knaak

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