2014 Unsession Dynamics
Session Begins Tuesday, February 25
With 2014 being an election year for the Minnesota House of Representatives pressure is on to end the legislative session early so the campaign can begin. While that push will be on in the House, the Minnesota Senate lacks that sense of urgency. This can be seen in the comments by the House and Senate majority leaders. House Speaker Paul Thissen has been quick to comment on legislative proposals, while Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk has adopted more of a "wait and see" position. Outside of election year politics, here are a few of the moving parts that will influence the dynamics of this year's session.
The second year of Minnesota's legislative cycle is typically the shorter of the two years. The 2014 session kicks off in two weeks, February 25. Its projected end date is May 19, with pressure to wrap up sooner. Aggressive legislative deadlines for policy committee activity were released last week adding to an intense time dynamic. The compressed timeline has already pushed legislative leaders to announce that there is not enough time to take up the proposed deposit-refund beverage container recycling program that has concerned retailers. While recycling rate goals are not off the agenda this year, what is commonly called the "bottle bill" is.
Bills that were introduced last year remain in play, and bills that made it to a conference committee of the House and Senate need not be publicly debated again. This is the case with Minnesota's minimum wage bill. When session ended in 2013, a conference committee was working on ironing out the differences between the House's $9.50 an hour plus automatic future increases with the Senate's $7.75 proposal. The shortness of the session may mean the minimum wage stays in conference committee, avoiding possible lengthy public testimony, however Senate Majority Leader Bakk recently indicated an inclination toward holding public hearings.
In December Minnesota Management and Budget projected that the State will have a $1.1 billion budget surplus. That might be good news when it comes to repealing three business-to-business (B2B) taxes, including the storage and warehouse tax scheduled to kick in April 1. Following the surplus announcement, Governor Dayton indicated an interest in using the surplus to eliminate the B2B taxes. After schools are repaid the $246 million they are owned by the State, $825 million may be available either to cut taxes or increase spending. Lawmakers are anxiously waiting for an updated surplus number in February. Assuming a surplus remains, there will be plenty of ideas as to what to do with the funds, creating a dynamic of its own at the Capitol.
Deals and Compromise
This year is a traditional bonding year for Minnesota. As such politicians will debate building, road, and bridge projects that have a significant statewide impact. The State will issue bonds worth at least $850 million based on an agreement among legislative leaders last year. Governor Dayton has indicated he would prefer a bonding bill closer to $1 billion. The difference between the two numbers will be the subject of deals and compromises this year, potentially wrapping B2B taxes, minimum wage, and several other issues together. Senate leadership seems to be in a strong position to negotiate many of these items, which means we likely won't see many high profile issues wrapped up until the end of session.
At the end of last year, Governor Dayton declared the 2014 Minnesota legislative session as the "unsession", encouraging legislators, state government employees, and the public to bring forward reform ideas streamlining or improving state service delivery. Despite the attractive idea of focusing on dumping outdated regulations, some legislators lately have cranked up the transportation funding conversation. Governor Dayton has telegraphed a lack of interest in increasing transportation taxes this year, but the idea is starting to form as an election year hot issue, with DFL legislators calling the current state of funding a near crisis. With the multitude of issues being tossed around and House members prefilling nearly 300 new bills before session even starts, we are unlikely to see a simple "unsession".
Minnesota's 2014 legislative session begins this Tuesday, February 25.