DFLers remain divided on some of Session 2013’s most visible issues
by Paul Demko
Published: April 3,2013
Time posted: 4:23 pm
Democrats can do whatever they want. That’s been the overarching theme of the 2013 legislative session — and a bromide that Republicans never tire of repeating. With DFLers controlling all levers of power at the Capitol for the first time in more than two decades, they don’t need any Republican votes to pass most legislation.
But partisan dominance has not spelled freedom from political tensions within the DFL caucuses themselves. On a host of contentious issues beyond the budget, DFLers will have to settle internal differences during the second half of the legislative session. While guns and gay marriage have drawn most of the attention, here’s a rundown of some other potential policy sticking points:
Child care/PCA unionization: Perhaps no legislation has faced a more convoluted path forward than a proposal to allow day care providers and personal care assistants to seek union representation. The labor proposals started out as two separate bills, but were consolidated at the behest of the two unions that are looking to represent workers, AFSCME Council 5 and SEIU Healthcare Minnesota.
That decision ensured that the debate would be dominated by the child care proposal. It initially surfaced last year when Gov. Mark Dayton sought via executive order to call an election for licensed day care workers to determine whether they wanted union representation. That election was later halted after a judge determined that Dayton had overstepped his authority.
The child care provision is anathema to Republicans. But that would be irrelevant if DFLers were fully on board. “There’s a lot of DFLers with heartburn over it,” is how one close observer of the issue put it.
That was clear in the Senate when the bill was twice advanced through committees without recommendation. Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, chair of the Health, Human Services and Housing Committee, raised concerns that the child care proposal could ultimately lead to fewer kids receiving subsidized care.
Blowback has been less evident in the House. But Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, joined Republicans in voting against the bill when it was up in the Health and Human Services Finance Committee last month.
“I know I’m not the only one with reservations about what’s going on,” Norton told Capitol Report subsequently. “I had hoped it was something in the past, but clearly it’s not.”
The Senate bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, remains guardedly optimistic that the proposal will ultimately become law. “I’d say 60 percent chance we’re going to pass it,” Pappas said. “I don’t want to be overly optimistic, but it’s better than 50-50.”
By comparison, the proposal to allow personal care attendants to unionize hasn’t drawn nearly as much controversy. One thing to watch if the bill makes it to the House floor: Will there be an amendment seeking to separate the two labor provisions?
Mayo Clinic’s ‘destination medical center’: Recent developments suggest that it will be an uphill battle to secure more than $550 million in state funding for Mayo’s ambitious $6 billion project. For starters, the price tag is daunting. A fiscal note by the Minnesota Department of Management and Budget estimated the ultimate state cost, including interest, at just over $1 billion. The bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last month with no recommendation after the state’s potential share of the project became clear.
In addition, the skepticism of Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, chair of the House Taxes Committee, appears to be a significant impediment to passage. During a committee hearing Tuesday, she offered an amendment separating the tax provisions and the bonding provisions of the bill. The latter were dispatched to the Capital Investment Committee for consideration. That essentially means that Mayo’s proposal will be treated like any other bonding proposal that’s been introduced.
“I’m not intending to kill it,” Lenczewski insisted. “But I’m trying to say: You can go compete in the bonding pool with Hibbing and every other city that wants something in the bonding bill.”
Lenczewski also questioned whether the local financial commitment for the project was sufficient in light of the extraordinary sum that Mayo and its allies are seeking. “I’ve told Mayo that I intend to start by having the local community chip in a lot more than they are,” Lenczewski said.
The Mayo proposal also faces opposition from organized labor, specifically SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, UNITE HERE Minnesota and the Minnesota Nurses Association. They want additional information about what types of jobs would be created if the project moves forward and what kind of commitment Mayo would be willing to make in terms of providing medical care to low-income patients.
“This plan was written in secrecy and failed to involve key stakeholders or affected communities in and around Rochester and the state of Minnesota,” reads a flyer being circulated by the three unions at the Capitol this week. “It is very clear that as things stand, there are too many unanswered questions about DMC to justify support for the project.”
Minimum wage increase: There will almost certainly be an increase in the current state minimum wage of $6.15 an hour. But where the wage floor is ultimately set remains up for grabs in light of the gulf between the House and Senate proposals. The House version, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-St. Louis Park, chair of the House Select Committee on Living Wage Jobs, raises the minimum wage to $9.95 an hour by 2015 and pegs it to inflation going forward.
By contrast, Sen. Chris Eaton’s bill sets the minimum wage at $7.75 an hour and doesn’t include automatic adjustments for inflation moving forward. The Brooklyn Park DFLer has indicated that she didn’t think she would have been able to get a steeper increase through the committee process in the Senate.
That sets up the prospect of a difficult conference committee on the competing proposals. The Minnesota AFL-CIO has indicated that a significant increase in the minimum wage (preferably $10.55 an hour) is a top priority for the 2013 legislative session, while business interests (most notably the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce) have urged legislators to take a more conservative approach.
Bonding bill: Since before the start of session, DFL leadership in the House and Senate have been far apart in their targets for a bonding bill in 2013. Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget anticipates $750 million in expenditures and he’s expected to detail his priorities in the coming week. Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, chair of the Capital Investment Committee, has indicated that she’d like to push for $100 million more than the governor’s proposal.
By contrast, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk has been notably less enthusiastic about a large bonding bill in 2013. He’s suggested that a package in the neighborhood of $225 million should suffice for this year. But the Senate budget targets released prior to last week’s break included debt service on a bonding bill comparable in size to the ones suggested by the governor and House leadership, and many observers think Bakk’s reticence is likely a negotiating stance that will be used for influence when budget talks turn serious.
This is the one area where some Republican votes will be necessary to get anything done. In the House, at least eight Republicans would need to support a bonding bill, while in the Senate passage would require at least two GOP votes. Some Republicans who traditionally have supported bonding bills, such as Rep. Greg Davids. R-Preston, have indicated that they think capital investment projects can wait until next year. That could make luring GOP votes difficult.
Property tax relief: This is another area where there is a significant chasm between the House and Senate positions. The Senate has targeted $460 million in property tax relief. But that doesn’t include an additional $150 million in property tax buydowns tucked inside the K-12 finance proposal. The House, by contrast, is looking at roughly $250 million for property tax relief. (See Charley Shaw’s story on the House property tax omnibus bill.)
Bonding, property tax relief and payback of the K-12 schools shift are all likely to be the subject of intense negotiation in the looming budget talks between the two chambers. Legislative leaders have indicated that they intend to pass budget bills off the floor by the end of April.