by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter
Orono businessman Scott Honour ignited the 2014 governor’s race with a round of media appearances this week. Honour is the first Republican to announce his candidacy for governor.
But the Republican’s well-coordinated entry into the ring drew little comment from Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, who has made clear for many months that he intends to seek another four-year term as governor.
“I’m not going to be my own opponent,” Dayton said, speaking moments after working his way through a crowd of elementary students, high-fiving all the way.
The Republican Party doesn’t have a candidate, he said. Once that happens, then he’s sure there will be a spirited race.
“And the people of Minnesota will decide whether they want to keep me around or not,” he said.
Other Republicans mentioned as possible gubernatorial candidates include former House Speaker Kurt Zellers, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, Sen. Dave Thompson, Senate Minority Leader David Hann — Hann has sought the party endorsement before — and Sen. Julie Rosen of Fairmont. Rosen carried the Vikings’ stadium bill last session.
House members vote to bring cups, not pencils, to test
Bring out the cup, Rep. Duane Quam, R-Bryon said.
“I have nothing to fear,” he said.
In an example of the twists a long floor debate can take, the House this week voted to drug test itself.
The late night vote came during debate on the Health and Human Services (HHS) finance bill. Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, offered an amendment requiring that, to be eligible for the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), a person must undergo drug and alcohol screening.
HHS Policy Committee Chairwoman Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, described Drazkowski’s amendment as a wrongful stereotyping of individuals and families on welfare programs. Further, she argued that based on a ruling in one U.S. District Court, the amendment could be unconstitutional. Liebling offered an amendment detailing that, for legislators to be eligible for their pay, they must undergo drug and alcohol screening.
Both Drazkowski and Liebling’s amendments were adopted.
The drug testing debate broke out again during Senate floor debate on its HHS bill on Thursday, April 26.
“I know it’s kind of an annual ritual,” Senate Deputy Majority Leader Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, said of a proposed Republican amendment requiring drug testing to enter MFIP.
Hayden, like Liebling, warned the amendment perpetuates stereotypes. And it adds to the humiliation of applying for assistance, he said.
Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, saying he had heard talk of drinking in the State Capitol, offered an amendment extending the screening to lawmakers. Hall’s amendment failed on a 20-44 vote. The MFIP amendment was withdrawn.
Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, expressed concern an insidious link could be established by legislation requiring drug testing in order to enroll in a government program. Enrollment should not be construed as probable cause, he reasoned.
The HHS bills are big — the House’s finance bill carries a two-year $13 billion price tag.
During the long debate, Rep. Will Morgan, DFL-Burnsville, became the focus of attention as his hospital rate amendment was debated for three hours. Like the Senate HHS finance bill, the House’s contained a cost-of-living increase for nursing home providers — the House bill provides a 3 percent hike.
Not that House HHS Finance Committee Chairman Thomas Huntley, DFL-Duluth, is satisfied.
“I personally don’t think the raise we’re giving nursing home workers is sufficient to stop the rapid turnover (of workers),” he said. Turnover is so high that level of care suffers, Huntley explained.
“I think the raise ought to be close to 10 percent,” he said.
Huntley had to contend with a $150 million budget cut target in crafting his bill.
“It has a surprisingly low target,” Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, HHS Finance Committee Republican lead, said. “People in the hall are surprised,” he said of the health care lobbyists.
“It’s not a real increase,” Abeler said of the proposed nursing home provider increase. Other changes in the bill nullify it, he explained.
Abeler’s own credentials as money manager were hailed by Huntley. He credited Abeler, former HHS Finance Committee Chairman, as having a “phenomenal brain” for finance.
House, Senate pass education bills
The Democrat-led House and Senate passed their education finance bills this week, two somewhat dissimilar pieces of legislation.
While both bills contain all-day kindergarten funding and $50 million for early learning scholarships, the House designates $104 per pupil to the funding formula — a 4 percent increase — while the Senate designates $52 per pupil, a 1 percent increase.
The House bill contains equity revenue funding to bring low referendum districts to $300 per pupil in referendum dollars and provides equalization dollars for school board and voter-approved levies at rates matching inflation.
The House bill also contains equalization funding.
The Senate slates additional funding for special education, a $20 million general education levy to increase yearly and $150 million in property tax relief.
All told, the Senate bill sets aside $356 million in new education funding, the House $550 million.
The House looks to buy down the remaining school funding shift, while the Senate looks to the debt being paid back in upcoming budget cycles.
“It has a ‘Minnesota Miracle’ feel to it,” Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, said of the House education finance bill.
Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, said while providing $150 million in property tax relief is good, the spending adds nothing in terms of excellence to classrooms.
Tim Budig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org