The Legislature continues to buzz with activity. As legislative deadlines approach, the chairpersons of policy committees continue packing their hearing agendas with bills. This week there was a positive budget forecast released, a proposal for silica sand mining was heard in the Senate and the Governor's tax proposal began hearings in the House. Next week, the Health Insurance Exchange is scheduled for floor votes in the House and the Senate.

Budget Forecast

The February budget forecast was released Thursday with positive news for the state's budget. The revenue projections showed that the FY2014-15 budget deficit will be $627 million, down 40 percent from $1.1 billion deficit last November. With the increase in state general fund revenues for FY2012-13, the projected surplus is now $295 million. State law requires that the forecast balance for the current biennium be used to reduce the $1.1 billion of outstanding school aid shift. After the buyback, $801 million in school shifts will remain.

Governor Dayton said that he was surprised by the economic data and indicated that he has not yet made plans for how to handle the improvement but he will release a revised budget proposal the week of March 11. He mentioned that items under consideration are an upfront exemption from sales taxes on capital investment by businesses and an increase in the renter's tax credit.

Governor's Tax Proposal

The House Tax Committee heard five hours of public testimony on the Governor's tax proposal on Wednesday night. Over 100 citizens spoke both in favor and against the bill representing a wide variety of stakeholders. The committee, until now, has yet to publicly discuss the provisions in the bill as they are allowing time to hear how constituents feel. A second hearing on Friday afternoon will allow another 100 people time for testimony.

Health Insurance Exchange

The House Ways and Means Committee held hearings this week for HF5, sponsored by Rep. Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights). HF5 establishes the state-based health insurance exchange, which is an online tool that will be used by individuals and small businesses to purchase health plans. The Committee passed the bill, which was placed on the Fiscal Calendar for the Day for Monday. SF1, the companion to HF5, passed through all of its committees last week and is awaiting action on the Senate floor. SF1 is sponsored by Sen. Lourey (DFL-Kerrick).

Post-passage, the next steps for the state Health Insurance Exchange are SF662 and HF779, sponsored by Sen. Lourey and Rep. Atkins. These bills provide for conformity to the federal Affordable Care Act and establish Minnesota Health Plan Market Rules.

Silica Sand Mining

On Tuesday the Senate Environment and Energy Committee heard SF786, sponsored by Sen. Schmit (DFL-Red Wing). The bill creates a Southeastern Minnesota Silica Sand Mining Board and requires a generic environmental impact statement (GEIS) to respond to cumulative water impacts, ambient air, and increased truck traffic. The bill also sets a statewide moratorium on mining. The bill passed on an 8-4 vote and will be heard on Wednesday in the Senate State and Local Government Committee.