[This information is based on studying previous legislative evaluation and on conversation with legislators.]
WHAT YOU WON’T SEE:
Photo ID Requirements for Voting—Duh!
Public Pension Reform, or Right-to-Work Legislation—The window that existed to create movement on those issues over the last two years while the GOP controlled both branches of the MN legislature has been locked shut for the next two years. They were afraid of a Wisconsin-style battle. Yet Wisconsin voters just re-elected Republican state legislative majorities, while Minnesota’s timidity did not protect the majority status for Republican legislators.
Any Restrictions on How EBT Welfare-Benefit Cards Are Issued or Used.
Education Vouchers or Tuition Tax Credits for those Who Want to Choose Alternatives to the Government Schools.
Populist Judicial Election Reforms (removing incumbency designation from the ballot, relaxing Canon Five campaign speech restrictions, ending the mandatory retirement/appointment circumvention of competitive judicial elections, etc.)—There was never a consensus among GOP officials that these moves were ever worth pursuing. Those who viewed themselves as insiders in the legal GOP establishment liked their chances thriving in the current system once they could get an ally back in the governorship, and populist judicial reforms made big corporate donors nervous.
Repeal of Moratorium on Nuclear Plant Construction—Repeal measures passed both legislative bodies in 2011, but no conference committee met to resolve differences once the Fukushima accident happened in Japan. It was thought not to be worth the risk to try to show that the Red Wing or Monticello plants did not have to be as deficient as the Fukushima plant was.
Repeal of Sweeping Pandemic/Emergency Health Powers Granted to the Commissioner of Health—Legislation granting these powers passed the House and Senate by large margins and was signed into law in 2009.
Repeal or Relaxation of Statewide Prohibition on Smoking in Bars or Restaurants—Passed and signed into law in 2007.
Repeal or Relaxation of “Renewable” Energy Mandates—Enacted in 2007 and 2008.
Repeal of Fee-Generating “Primary Offense” Status for Failure to Wear Seatbelts—Passed and signed into law in 2009.
Restrictions on Government Resources Used for Lobbying State Government.
Restrictions on Public School Employees Using Government Resources or Funds for Political Advocacy—A bill passed the House this year, but the Senate never scheduled a vote on it.
Any Type of Tort Reform—Minnesota’s six-year standard for statute of limitations on civil suits is the longest in the country, creating extra risks and costs for those considering operating businesses in this this state. A bill to rectify that situation was one of four tort-reform bills passed by the legislature this year but vetoed by the governor.
Relaxation of Spending Limits on State Constitutional Office Campaigns for any Campaigns Wishing to Be Eligible for Public Campaign Funds—The limits are very low and have not been adjusted over the years for inflation. These limits give incumbents with name recognition a huge election advantage that is almost impossible to overcome, unless the campaigns are self-financed or able to tap into a Soros-style mobilization effort (such as the Secretary of State Project that was instrumental to Mark Ritchie’s first election victory).
Expansion of Personal Health Account Options—Passed this year by the House and Senate, but vetoed by the governor.
Repeal of the Worst Bureaucratic Programs Created over the Past Decade (Communities for a Lifetime, MN Entrepreneur Virtual Resource Network, MN Collaborative Governance Council, MN Geospatial Information Office and Geospatial Advisory Council, and all of the various Legacy-Fund bureaucracies)—To be fair, these were probably not going away regardless of which party was in control, because bad bureaucracies get retitled or reorganized but rarely get euthanized.
WHAT YOU WILL SEE:
Higher Taxes on the Top Earners in the State—The dominant theme in Dayton’s 2010 election campaign, and re-emphasized by the governor this week upon learning that the DFL would control both branches of the legislature.
Rapid Creation of Government-Run Health Exchanges and other Programs Geared for Full Participation in Obamacare (unless MN tries to get a waiver to go even further toward a single-payer health system).
Reinvigorated Local Government Aid Subsidies, and State Funds Used to Buy Down Local Property Taxes.
Foreclosure Mediation Mandates and Greater Government Subsidies in the Housing Market—Passed repeatedly when the DFL last controlled the legislature, but vetoed by Gov. Pawlenty.
Easier Government Confiscation of “Blighted” Properties—A priority of power-hungry local officials who have longed to scale back Eminent Domain reforms that were passed in the last decade.
More Rail Transit Lines—Favored by many of the big corporations in the state as well as by the New Urbanist planners, and many prominent critics will no longer be in the legislature.
More Power for Met Council and Other Unelected Bureaucrats—Big-government lovers find it very useful to let unelected bureaucracies serve as the “bad cops” who issue the unpopular regulations, and deny requests for assistance when scarce funds don’t allow all requests for assistance to be met. The legislators then get to play the role of “good cops” to deliver favors for the constituency that elected them.
More State Funding of Local/Regional Recreational and Entertainment Facilities—The private sector is being systematically crowded out by local pols eager to get credit for bringing more recreational/entertainment options to their constituents, as long as the local citizens don’t have to pay the full cost of them.
Universal High-Speed Broadband Internet Access—This is already a goal in state law, but expect more expenditures and programs designed to fulfill this goal. It could become an expensive new entitlement program promoted by those promising to “erase the technology gap”.
Legacy Funds Used Almost Exclusively for Pet Projects That Lack Broad Popular Support—Business as usual will continue.
Early-Retirement Incentive for Some Public Employees, and Bailouts When Public Pension Funds Go Insolvent.
Affirmative-Action Programs and Other Hiring Preferences for Veterans—Creating loyalty to big government in another segment of the population.
More Loans, Loan Guarantees and Loan Forgiveness (through the Department of Employment and Economic Development) to politically-connected small businesses—More efforts to build loyalty to big government.
“DREAM Act” to Offer State College Tuition Levels to Non-Citizens.
Authorization for Local Communities to Become “Sanctuary Cities” that Decline to Help Enforce Immigration Laws.
“Sustainable” or “Green” Building Requirements for Public or Government-Subsidized Buildings.
Public Subsidies for Biotechnology and Human Embryonic Research.
Passage of “Anti-Bullying” Legislation—It would be modeled after plans developed by the National Education Association and the Governor’s Task Force on Bullying, and attempt to stifle any communication deemed “insensitive” by the diversity/victimhood lobbies. Anti-bullying legislation passed by a wide margin in 2009, but was vetoed by Gov. Pawlenty. In today’s political climate, few are willing to risk being identified as defending bullying, unless, of course, the bullies are power-hungry bureaucrats.
Official State Recognition of Same-Sex Marriage—Don’t believe any claims that the newly elected leadership is not committed to making this a priority. They owe much of their electoral success this year to the big corporate interests and the young grassroots activists that motivated enough voters to defeat the constitutional marriage amendment. They will reward that effort with action before the next election.
WHAT YOU MAY SEE:
Further Relaxation of Voting Requirements—Yes, that is possible. The temptation will certainly be there to allow unrestricted early voting or voting by some type of mail, and a bill to automatically do voter registration of all driver’s-license or government-permit applicants (leaving it up to non-residents or non-citizens to police themselves and refrain from voting) passed the House and Senate in 2009 but was vetoed by Gov. Pawlenty. These proposals could surface next year and be made more palatable by also creating electronic pollbook records (which would only be as reliable as the voter-registration database, and which hasn’t been too reliable recently).
Helmet Laws—For our own good, the government nannies will say.
Total Ban on Cell-Phone Use While Driving—Ditto.
Liberalized Procedures for Expunging Criminal Records—This legislation passed in 2010 but was vetoed by Gov. Pawlenty. There will be a renewed effort to do this by those who view having a criminal record as an unnecessary stigma and barrier to rehiring once someone has completed their punishment, rather than a natural consequence of a wrongful action and valuable information for prospective employers.
Expansion of Tax Collection on Internet Sales to Encompass Sales Made to Minnesotans by Companies Not Located in the State—There was an attempt to hide this in one of the big Vikings stadium bills this year. It is eagerly sought by officials worried about declining sources of sales-tax revenues, and by many Minnesota-based retail stores.
Increase in the State’s Mandatory Minimum Wage, without any Tip-Credit Exemption for Server-Oriented Businesses—An increase was signed into law during Gov. Pawlenty’s first term, but a second one was vetoed in his second term. We are already legally bound by the federal minimum wage which is now higher than the Minnesota minimum, so there may not be sense of urgency to change things. However, many union contracts index wage levels to increases in the state’s minimum wage, so we may very well see another effort to raise it.
Push to Authorize Judicial Retention Elections—The establishment is not currently facing a significant threat to controlling judicial elections. However, a push toward an appointment/retention system will offer further future protection for recent judicial appointees, so it may be worth the effort to change the constitution to achieve that result.
Push to Unionize Child-Care Establishments—There is no doubt that some officials would still pursue this, although they did encounter significant grassroots and judicial opposition to this over the past two years.
Liberalized Marijuana Laws—Those recently elected did not make this a centerpiece of the latest campaign. However, some may see it as a way to further build appeal among younger and libertarian-leaning voters, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see something pass, especially something along the lines of the medical-marijuana legislation that was vetoed in 2009.
Expansion of Off-Reservation Gambling Venues Run by Tribes—There are some liberals who oppose gambling as a regressive form of taxation. However, those tempted to find more revenues to keep up with insatiable demands for spending may embrace it as a politically popular source for obtaining more revenue, although they will not risk alienating the Indian tribal leaders by doing it without their involvement.
Restrictions on Charter Schools and Home Schools—Again, this wasn’t stressed in the campaigns, but some may try to find a way to satisfy public-school officials and parents who complain about public resources and activity opportunities being “diverted” to those not in traditional government schools.
Resumption of the Political Contribution Refund Program—This unethical program to use public funds to fund political opinions, a subsidized “jobs program” for political operatives, was suspended due to budgetary shortfalls near the end of the Pawlenty Administration, but not permanently repealed. Many liberals that want publicly-financed campaigns initially embraced this program because it gave “tax refunds” to people for making campaign contributions, even if they never paid income taxes in the first place. However, in practice, the Republican Party finance model became more dependent on the program, and the DFL did just fine this year without it, so the new leaders may not risk restarting it, especially if they have to cut something else to get the funds to do it.
WHAT I HOPE TO SEE:
Conservatives committed to matching the liberals’ support for the full spectrum of political organizations, ranging from candidates, to parties, to conservative groups that endorse and donate to candidates, to other organizations (such as LEA) that focus on evaluation and education of constitutional conservative principles.
WHAT I HOPE TO NOT SEE:
Michael Brodkorb, who got the Senate mired in scandal, was primarily focused on getting a Vikings stadium deal done, and who cynically went along with putting the marriage amendment on the ballot for calculated political reasons (but then publicly opposed it) being given a second chance to lead any conservative causes in the state.
Anyone who supported big subsidies for the Vikings or who supported the “Pot of Gold” section of the bonding bill (which abdicated legislative decision-making authority on bonding projects to the governor and his unelected bureaucracy) being considered as acceptable leaders for the minority caucuses for the coming legislative session.
Mr. Augustine is President of the Legislative Evaluation Assembly of Minnesota. Its 2012 Report on the Legislature can be found at www.lea-mn.org.