- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 3, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - The Minnesota Legislature is ready to resume some old work in a familiar space.

Lawmakers will return to the newly refurbished Capitol on Tuesday, facing another test of whether a Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and all-Republican Legislature can agree to a new, two-year budget without bringing state government to a standstill. That’s what happened in 2011, the last time Dayton faced full GOP control.

But between a health care crisis that has dominated months of Minnesota politics and years of debate over tax relief and transportation funding, much of the 2017 session may focus on wrapping up unfinished work.

Here’s a look at what lawmakers have on tap until they adjourn in late May:

HEALTH CARE



Skyrocketing premiums on the individual market are the top priority heading into the 2017 after a months-long push for a special session fizzled out.

Republican leaders of the House and Senate have promised to get financial help to people who don’t get federal subsidies in the first week of session, while also addressing access concerns in the market. But recent history suggests the Legislature won’t be so quick to counteract the premium hikes of up to 67 percent that took effect with the New Year.

Despite similar urgency, last year’s push to expand unemployment insurance for steelworkers took three weeks to pass.

TRANSPORTATION

The long slog to fund road and bridge repairs continues in 2017.

More than two years in the works, there’s no guarantee a third year of effort will pay off given the differences between Dayton and Republican majorities. House Speaker Kurt Daudt and incoming Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka have signaled they’ll lean heavily on a $1.4 billion budget surplus to fund a transportation package, while Dayton’s favored approach involves a gas-tax hike.

One reason for optimism? Funding for a light-rail train to southwestern Minneapolis suburbs - a divisive issue that has kept compromise at bay - may no longer be part of the equation, as Dayton and backers have lined up an alternate source of funding for that.

TAX BILL

Here’s another leftover from 2016.

Lawmakers passed a $260 million package that included a new tax credit for college graduates with loan debt, tax cuts for working families and a property tax exemption for the planned Major League Soccer stadium in St. Paul. But Dayton vetoed the package due to a costly wording error, and plans to revive it in special session never materialized.

Some of those measures may make an appearance in 2017, but the GOP could capitalize on its expanded power with a beefed-up tax bill.

CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS

There’s no assurance that a list of $1 billion in public construction projects, another holdover, gets a greenlight in 2017.

Democrats are pushing to pass a bonding bill early in 2017 so much-needed infrastructure improvements across the state don’t pile up. Dayton said he plans to introduce a retooled bill in the session’s first week, but he wouldn’t give details on its size or scope.

But Daudt and other GOP leaders say those big construction projects should wait until 2018, when budget pressures have subsided.

EARLY EDUCATION

Dayton said he’s not done expanding preschool programs.

The Democratic governor has made early education a top priority in his six years in office, shepherding an all-day kindergarten program through the Legislature in 2013 and finally securing a limited preschool offering in 2016.

He told The Associated Press last week that he’ll propose a “modest expansion” in 2017 for that program, which provides state funding to needy school districts that lack preschool options.

REAL ID

Time is ticking for Minnesota to upgrade its driver’s licenses to satisfy looming federal requirements to board domestic flights.

Federal officials said they’ll start requiring Real ID-compliant licenses at domestic flight gates in 2018. A solution escaped Minnesota lawmakers in 2016.

MNSURE

It’s separate from the larger health care debate, but pressure on the state’s health insurance exchange will be at an all-time high with GOP control and an uncertain fate at the federal level.

Republicans have long derided MNsure as ineffective and unnecessary, repeatedly trying to abolish the exchange in favor of the federal Healthcare.gov. President-elect Donald Trump’s promise to make MNsure obsolete by repealing the Affordable Care Act could make that moot, and even the exchange’s staunchest defenders acknowledge a murky future.

“Will that improve the quality?” Dayton asked of a pivot to the federal level. “I’m open to the question.”

MINIMUM WAGE AND MORE

Republican control of the Legislature could give the business community a huge win: stopping local governments from enacting separate minimum wages and other regulations.

Business groups are pushing for the blockade in the name of statewide consistency, as Minneapolis looks to join other major metropolitan areas with a hefty minimum wage hike, while both Minneapolis and St. Paul are on track to implement new sick leave policies.

Another possible target: The automatic increases to the state’s minimum wage that start in 2018. The inflation-tied hikes were part of the 2014 law that eventually increased the floor wage to $9.50, but Daudt and other Republicans liken it to putting government on autopilot.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide