Budget Forecast

Jim Schowalter, Commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB), announced a $323 million projected surplus for the remainder of the 2012-13 biennial budget. This is in addition to the $876 million surplus announced in November, providing a total surplus of $1.2 billion.

Current law automatically allocates the projected surplus. The November surplus and $5 million of the February surplus will be directed to the cash flow account and budget reserve. The remaining $318 million will begin to pay back the K-12 education shift.

Schowalter reported that, while the overall picture is currently positive, the forecast shows a projected deficit of $1.1 billion for fiscal years 2014-15.

Vikings Proposal

Governor Dayton, Sen. Rosen, Rep. Lanning, Mayor Rybak, and Zygi Wilf presented the Vikings Stadium bill at a press conference on Wednesday. The stadium will cost $975 million and will be built at the Metrodome site. The State of Minnesota will contribute $398 million, to be financed through electronic pull-tabs. The City of Minneapolis will contribute $150 million from existing sales taxes supporting the Minneapolis Convention Center. The Vikings will contribute $427 million. The proposal awaits approval by the Minneapolis City Council and the Legislature.

Governor Dayton asserted that construction of the stadium is a job creator for construction workers, as well as a permanent job creator for stadium staff. The bill includes a provision that gives the Wilfs the opportunity to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to the State of Minnesota.

Governor's Jobs Package

Three of the bills that are a part of the governor's jobs package were heard this week in the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee. SF1768, authored by Sen. Skoe (DFL- Clearbrook) and labeled the Jobs Now Tax Credit, allows for a tax credit for the hiring of unemployed workers. SF1778, authored by Sen. Sieben (DFL- Newport), is for a $10M appropriation towards the Minnesota investment fund which offers incentives to businesses to expand within the state. SF1751, authored by Sen. Eaton (DFL-Brooklyn Center), is called the FastTRAC program that focuses on job-skills training. All of the bills were laid over for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill.

House and Senate News

Last In, First Out Passes in Senate

The Senate commenced the week by hearing HF1870, sponsored by Sen. Wolf (R-Spring Lake Park). The bill authorizes school districts to base unrequested leave of absence and discharge decisions on teacher evaluations. The Senate amended the bill, which passed 36-26. HF1870 will go back to the House for concurrence with the amended bill. If the House does not concur, the bill will go to a conference committee to resolve the difference before going to the Governor for his signature or veto.

Expansion of Castle Doctrine passes the House

This week, the House re-passed HF1467, sponsored by Rep. Cornish (R-Good Thunder), by a vote of 85-47. The bill would change state law governing the use of force in self-defense where an individual is presumed to have a reasonable belief that an imminent threat of bodily harm or death is about to occur. It now awaits action by the governor, who has threatened to veto the bill. As amended by the Senate, the bill does not grant gun owners the presumption if the person fired on is believed to be a law enforcement officer.

Voter ID Alternative Proposal

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie appeared before the House State Government Finance Committee to demonstrate the use of electronic poll books as an alternative to the proposed constitutional amendment that appears to be heading for the ballot in the fall. The proposal suggests the use of laptop computers containing updated voter registration data and photos provided by Driver and Vehicle Services. Proponents say providing electronic poll books for polling places would allow for the verification of voters' identities without subjecting them to a photo ID requirement. The committee took no action since there are currently no bills moving through the House that would implement electronic poll books.

Meanwhile, the constitutional amendment that will require a voter to present identification at the poll booth was sent to the Rules Committee. The so-called Voter ID Amendment, SF1577, authored by Sen. Newman (R-Hutchinson), passed the Senate Finance Committee on a 9-6 vote.

Gaming Update

The House State Government Finance Committee heard HF2003, authored by Rep. Woodard (R-Belle Plaine), which permits the Racing Commission and the State Lottery to continue operations in the event of a government shutdown. Rep. Woodard affirmed that it was not his intent for this bill to be a vehicle for a racino and that he would not support a racino amendment. If such an amendment were presented on the House floor, he indicated he would ask the bill to be pulled and sent back to the Ways and Means Committee.

Parental Choice for K-12 Education

The Senate Committee on Education heard SF388, authored by Sen. Nienow (R-Cambridge). The bill authorizes "private school choice" by expanding current law that allows tax credits for educational purposes and provides tax credits for donations to education. The bill was laid on the table after lengthy testimony from proponents and opponents of the bill.

Legacy funds proposal for education arts

A bill requiring 40 percent of Legacy Fund money to be spent on education arts was presented in the House Legacy Funding Division. Members of the committee questioned whether the bill interfered with the mission of the Legacy Act. Sponsored by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), HF2433 would dedicate at least 40 percent of the Legacy Act's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund to arts-related programs in public and non-public schools. The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in the House Legacy division bill.