Clock is ticking in last week of session
Published 10:59 pm Monday, May 15, 2017
There is much at stake for Albert Lea and the surrounding area during the last full week of this year’s legislative session.
Not passing a state budget could result in a special session or government shutdown, which would result in temporary layoffs and delaying local work. Local legislators hope compromise can be reached so budget work can be completed.
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District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, said Republicans and Democrats will have to compromise and he is hopeful legislators will pass important legislation by midnight Monday.
He expressed optimism that Senate majority leader, District 9 Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, wants to pass a budget.
“I’m hopeful with a week left we can get it done,” Sparks said.
As of Monday afternoon, Gov. Mark Dayton had vetoed agriculture, environment and natural resources, education, state government finance and Health and Human Service budget bills. Tax, transportation, jobs and energy, higher education and public safety bills were planned to come to Dayton’s desk Monday afternoon.
“We’ve worked hard to meet these early deadlines that we’ve had,” said District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea. She said legislators have wanted Dayton to be involved in conference committee work and compromise with both chambers of the Legislature, noting she is disappointed negotiations are not moving as quickly as they should be. She said it is important that the last-minute chaos that affected the end of last year’s legislative session be avoided, adding she wants compromise.
Bennett described herself as cautiously optimistic that the budget will pass this year.
“I think we can; we still have time,” she said.
Bennett took issue with Dayton’s apprehension over policy changes in the budget bills, stating that more than 500 of the more than 600 policy changes included in the budget bills come from Dayton’s commissioners.
The childhood component of the education bill vetoed last week by Dayton continues current voluntary pre-K funding for schools that offered the program before, such as the Albert Lea school district, but provides funding to the districts in terms of school readiness dollars. The proposal would have provided targeted dollars for scholarships for children as young as 3 years old.
Sparks said Dayton vetoed the bill because he was not satisfied with the amount of money that would be invested under the proposal.
A 2 percent funding formula increase is needed for local school districts, Sparks said, who disagreed with the House approach to the voluntary pre-k program, noting the important role it has played in Austin and Albert Lea school districts.
Bennett took issue with a column Sparks wrote in Saturday’s Tribune that stated the voluntary pre-K program would be effectively ended under the proposal.
“That bill does fund those fully,” she said.
A bonding bill has not been presented to Dayton. Bonding bills from Dayton and the Senate include a $7.4 million Riverland Community College request to relocate truck driving and collision programs from Austin to Albert Lea and to integrate the programs into shared spaces with auto service and diesel programs. The House bonding proposal does not.
Sparks said he supports the $900 million Senate bonding bill and claimed the House bonding proposal is not sufficient.
Bennett said the bill still needs to enter conference committee for negotiations, noting she is still advocating strongly for the project and is “cautiously optimistic” the project will be included in a bonding bill.
Bennett said earlier this month that a bonding request to extend sanitary sewer service to the Stables area north of Albert Lea is included in the Public Facilities Authority portion of the House bonding proposal.
In a House transportation funding package that was expected to pass the Senate Monday afternoon, $372 million would be invested in new dollars for roads and bridges by using transportation-related sales tax revenues. The transportation would put $20 million in fiscal years 2018-19 in the Small Cities Assistance Program for cities under 5,000 people. The proposal would invest $25 million to fund more than 97 bridges on the priority list of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and $150 million would be invested in trunk highway funding, along with $70 million for counties and $22 million for cities.
Sparks described the House proposal as “hard to swallow.”