Column: Budget negotiators are in earnest

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 11, 2002

Perhaps with an eye on a May 20 adjournment date, major House and Senate conference committees began meeting in earnest this weekend. House representatives on the transportation conference committee were expected to submit a counterproposal in response to the latest Senate proposal for a 6-cents-a gallon gas tax increase. And after not calling a meeting for almost 50 days, the Senate leaders who hold the gavel on the bonding bill conference committee have finally agreed to meet.

While House and Senate negotiators continue to debate how to address the $440 million budget shortfall, Governor Ventura announced recently that he is prepared

to start chopping away at the state budget with his “unallotment” authority. While that would put an end to the stalemate, it unfortunately would threaten legislation we hoped to protect, such as like education and local governments aid. Expect the logjam to begin clearing up very quickly.

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Rural health

A new law passed this session could open the door to more affordable health care for many rural Minnesotans by allowing HMOs to form health care purchasing coalitions that will be tailored to the needs of rural Minnesota. The plan would be open to any HMO and would allow small businesses — even businesses with only one employee — to join with other small businesses in a health care purchasing pool. Each business would be able to determine the exact level of health care they needed and create a custom plan for themselves, but still take advantage of the lower group rate.

A study by the Center for Rural Policy & Development at MSU-Mankato shows that 33 percent of full-time and 85 percent of part-time workers don’t have access to employer-sponsored health insurance. Progress reports will be made to the Legislature on the project’s impact, cost to consumers and level of participation.

Along the same lines, this past week the House passed a passed a bill that would fund a study to examine the creation of health insurance pools to help reduce health care costs for school district employees. By pooling the risks, it is believed that we might be able to lower insurance costs for many school district employees The legislation creates a committee of five labor and five management representatives in order to study how health insurance pools could be implemented in schools. The committee must have a final report and implementation plan ready by December 2003.

High school voter registration

Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer kicked off “High School Voter Registration Month” this past week, announcing a plan to dramatically increase participation by young voters. She will be traveling to many high schools throughout the state, encouraging eligible teens to register to vote. While Minnesota is generally better than the rest of the nation in voter participation, young people here vote at a much lower rate than the older generations. In fact, in 2000, young Minnesotans voted at a rate of less than 50 percent, while the state overall participation rate was 70 percent. Schools have already received voter registration materials, including the brochure, “Elections 101,” which is geared specifically toward first-time voters. People can obtain copies of the brochure by

calling 1-877-600-VOTE.

Travel expenses

On the heels of a media investigation that showed the state’s out-of-state travel bill had risen to nearly $13 million in

2001, a House committee last week approved a moratorium on all out-of-state travel at taxpayer expense until July 1, 2003. The proposal also requires extra oversight and allows the state’s employee relations commissioner to approve necessary travel.

What do you think?

I welcome your input and ideas.

Please call me at home at 377-9441 or at the legislature, toll-free, at 1-877-377-9441.

My legislative office address is 579 State Office Building, 100 Constitution Ave., St. Paul, MN 55155.

My e-mail address is: And be sure to sign up for my legislative up-date newsletter at

Dan Dorman is the State Representative for District 27A, which includes all of Freeborn County and a portion of Mower County.