Archive for May, 2009

MN House Meltdown III – the Unconstitutional Tax Increase Bill

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

Here’s a Minnesota House meltdown that didn’t receive much coverage, if any at all from the mainstream media.

Democrats in the Minnesota Legislature are so eager to pass tax increases they are willing to cut corners and ignore the constitution to push them through. Consider the path of House File 885, one of several major tax increases that Legislative Democrats passed and fell to the floor with a thump once they landed in Governor Tim Pawlenty’s office.

HF 885 started out as the “Tax Omnibus Technical Bill”. It contained benign, technical tax policy that was largely non-controversial. On May 7th, the House passed it off the floor on a bipartisan vote of  120-11. The Senate Received the bill and promptly loaded it up with one of the highest income tax rates in the nation, the highest alcohol tax in the nation and egregious tobacco tax increases. The Senate also added a surcharge on credit card issuers (aka banks) that charge interest on credit cards. This version of the bill passed the Senate 43-23, also on May 7th. A conference committee was hastily named to work out the differences between the House version and the Senate version of the bill, and of course the bill came back to the House on May 8th looking more like the Senate version, loaded up with the plethora of tax increases.

HF 885 was debated at length on the House floor on May 8th, and on a vote of 86-45 was re-passed, or so Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher ruled. Immediately upon the Speakers pronouncement that the bill had been re-passed, Rep. Mark Buesgens (R – Jordan) raised a point of order, stating that the Speaker’s ruling was incorrect and that the bill had actually failed. The basis for Rep. Buesgens’ point of order is a little known provision in the Minnesota Constitution. Article IV section 26 says “Passage of a general banking law requires the vote of two-thirds of the members of each house of the legislature.” This means the vote on HF 885 fell four short of the required 90 votes needed for passage.

Speaker Kelliher and the DFL leadership did not see this one coming. First the Speaker said she does not have the authority to rule on the constitutionality of a bill. Rep. Buesgens explained that he is not challenging the constitutionality of the bill, he was raising the point that she had ruled in error when she declared the bill to be re-passed. At that point, a flustered Speaker and and equally flustered DFL House Majority Leader Tony Sertich began stalling for time so they could consult with partisan and nonpartisan staff.

After a period of awkward silence, Sertich moved to set the time of adjournment for the next day, something usually done at the end of the day’s business just prior to the actual motion to adjourn. Several minutes elapsed between the Speaker counting the “ayes” and the “nays” on this standing vote. After several minutes of more awkward silence while DFL leadership continued to consult with staff Sertich moved to “continue the calendar” meaning he wanted to move on to the next item of business.

In the end, the Speaker refused to rule on Rep. Buesgens’ point of order and declared the bill to be re-passed. The Senate re-passed the bill on May 8th, 44-20. Fortunately for the integrity of the Constitution, and for the sake of the taxpayers of Minnesota, Governor Pawlenty vetoed HF 885 in its entirety on May 9th.

The entire meltdown can be seen on the Minnesota House of Representatives video archives. Go to this page on the Minnesota House website and scroll down to Friday May 8 2009 House Floor Session part 3 and click on “Watch this program”. After the video starts slide the bar to 04:51:05 to enjoy the show. The entire length of the meltdown lasts about 21 minutes.

This is the bill that House Democrats brought up for a veto override on May 17th, but on a vote of 85-49, came five votes short of the 90 votes required to override the Governor (two Democrats, Reps. Pelowski and Poppe, joined all 47 Republicans voting against the override).

In the interest of full disclosure, I am an employee of the Minnesota House of Representatives for the Republican Caucus. Tihs blog is not paid for nor sponsored in any way by any legislative caucus, candidate, candidate’s committee or political party. Opinions expressed herein are solely those of the administrator of this website and not necessarily those of any legislative caucus, candidate, candidate’s committee or political party.

Another Letter from CPT Ben Wiener

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

The “Letters from a Soldier” page has new content. Go to the link to read about Ben’s perspective on Memorial Day.

Not Enough Space to Tell us of All the Tax Increases

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

 

Rep. Tim Faust (DFL - No Man's Land)
Rep. Tim Faust (DFL – No Man’s Land)

The commentary in the Kanabec County Times by Rep. Tim Faust (DFL – No Man’s Land) was his attempt to justify is vote for the enormous tax increase passed by the Minnesota House of Representatives a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately, his commentary is barely a blip on the truth detection meter. Faust mentioned the “4th tier”, a new tax bracket with a higher rate that successful income earners and job providers would have to pay. He also mentioned a “slight increase” in tobacco and alcohol taxes that were in the bill. The truth detection meter registers this comment as  “horse hockey”, unless you consider a doubling of the gross receipts tax on alcohol, a doubling of the tax on a barrel of 3.2 beer and a 75 percent increase of a barrel of strong beer a “slight increase”.

As for the other tax increases in the bill he didn’t mention I can only surmise that there wasn’t enough column space to mention them all. Rep. Faust didn’t tell us that itemized deductions such as the mortgage deduction,the property tax deduction and deductions for charitable giving would go away if this bill becomes law. This bill also takes away the $25 tax credit for low income earners that was put into place just last year when the gas tax increase that Rep. Faust supported was passed.

Remember the sportsmen that worked so hard to get the Legacy Amendment for the outdoors passed? Rep. Faust didn’t. He voted to penalize them by taking away the sales tax exemption on the sale of used boats, snowmobiles and ATVs.

Even your teen or pre-teen is not immune to Rep. Faust’s tax increases, as iTune and other digital downloads would be taxed under the bill that he supported.

One of the most troubling provisions in the tax bill four our area is the repeal of the Job Opportunity and Building Zones (JOBZ) program. JOBZ has been an important job creation tool in Pine City, North Branch, Wyoming and many other communities in Greater Minnesota. To be clear, the bill doesn’t just call for an end to the program from this point forward. It calls for the state going back on its word to employers who are already in the program by repealing their income tax incentives for job creation.

Due to lack of space, Rep. Faust failed to give us the “rest of the story”. Or maybe it’s just due to him not wanting his constituents to know. Either way, the Truth Detector says, “Horse Hockey”.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am an employee of the Minnesota House of Representatives in the Republican Caucus. This blog is not paid for or sponsored in any way by any legislative caucus, political party, candidate or candidate’s committee. Opinions expressed herein are those of the administrator of this website and not necessarily that of any legislative caucus, political party, candidate or candidate’s committee.

Of Cocoa Bean Mulch, Indigenous Earthkeepers and Composting Grants

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

Little more than a week from now, politicians in St. Paul will be pointing their fingers of blame at others in their explanations as to why a special session is needed to complete the state’s budget. But keep this in mind. Legislative leaders have known since February how big the deficit is, and they have known how difficult it would be to make the tough decisions. This, however, did not prevent the Democrat leadership from wasting time debating ridiculous proposals, frivolously spending money and sending bills to Governor Tim Pawlenty that they know he will veto.

This past week the Minnesota House spent a half hour debating a bill that would require retailers who sell cocoa bean mulch to put up a sign, in 36-point type, warning consumers that their dog might die if they eat it. Apparently someone’s dog died and now we need legislation that forces retailers to put up signs (as if they don’t have enough signage requirements already). The bill eked out of the House with enough votes to make it to the Governor’s desk, where it died under his veto pen.

The Jobs and Economic Development Bill, if one could call it that, had a $250,000 provision for an “Indigenous Earthkeepers” program to American Indian youth for environmental educaiton and training. This bill also had a $34 million loan forgiveness to the City of St. Paul for some hockey rink that the state has already forgiven $17 million on. Thankfully, the Governor vetoed this bill.

Another item that the Democrats thought was a high priority showed up in the Omnibus Environment and Energy Bill is $500,000 for composting grants.

Probably the biggest waste of time are the tax increase bills the Democrats are passing, knowing these bills will die a quick death once they meet up with Governor Pawlenty’s veto pen. Rather than making tough spending choices and reforming government, the Democrats are choosing to play a losing game of “chicken” with the Governor.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am an employee of the Minnesota House of Representatives in the Republican Caucus. This blog is not paid for or sponsored in any way by any legislative caucus, political party, candidate or candidate’s committee. Opinions expressed herein are those of the administrator of this website and not necessarily that of any legislative caucus, political party, candidate or candidate’s committee.

Letters from a Soldier Added

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

The East Central Truth Detector is proud to publish letters from CPT Ben Wiener, a Pine County resident on his fourth deployment overseas. Click on the Letters from a Soldier link to go to the page. Ben’s letters are can also be found at East Central Minnesota 411.

Faust Rails on Governor’s Health Plan, then Votes to Move it Forward

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009
Rep. Tim Faust (DFL - No Man's Land)

Rep. Tim Faust (DFL - No Man's Land)

In his commentary in the Pine City Pioneer, State Representative Tim Faust (DFL – No Man’s Land) railed on Governor Pawlenty’s health plan and budget. Rep. Faust wrote about how nursing homes and hospitals would be cut if the Governor’s plan were to be enacted.  

Amazingly enough, on the very day the paper came out with his commentary in it, Rep. Faust actually voted to move the Governor’s plan one step closer to passage.

Here’s how it went down. Committee passage of a two-page bill related to county human services was reported to the House Floor. In a purely cynical political move, Rep. Tom Huntley (DFL – Duluth) offered the Governor’s Health and Human Services plan (several hundred pages long) as a “minority report”, in other words as an alternative to the committee action on the two-page bill. A Democrat supports the Governor’s plan, you ask? Pay attention here – remember, I said “political” and “cynical”. Rep. Huntley’s plan was to get an overwhelming bipartisan vote against the Governor’s bill. However, sometimes, when something sounds like a good idea at the time, it may backfire. And that’s exactly what happened.

Rep. Seifert raised a point of order that the minority report offered by Huntley was not germane to the underlying bill.  Obviously, a bill hundreds of pages long offered as an alternative to a two-page bill  “greatly expands the scope of the bill” as is often argued on germaneness points of order. Apparently, Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher agreed, since she deferred ruling on the point of order and let the full House rule on the Seifert point of order.

In a victory for the Republicans Rep. Seifert’s point of order prevailed overwhelmingly on a bipartisan 75-56 vote. (This in itself is noteworthy because the minority rarely prevails on procedural motions.) Nearly two dozen Democrats joined Republicans in repudiating cynical politics and upholding the House rules. But not the local Democrats from East Central Minnesota. Joining Rep. Faust in participating in cynical partisan politics were Rep. Bill Hilty, (Finlayson), Rep. Gail Kulik Jackson (Milaca) and Rep. Jeremy Kalin (North Branch).  

In short, a vote against the Seifert point of order was actually a vote to move the Governor’s Health and Human Services bill one step closer to passage. Rep. Faust apparently didn’t remember what he had just written about the Governor’s plan before he voted. Or maybe he just thinks his constituents aren’t paying attention.

 In the interest of full disclosure, I am an employee of the Minnesota House of Representatives in the Republican Caucus. This blog is not paid for or sponsored in any way by any legislative caucus, political party, candidate or candidate’s committee. Opinions expressed herein are those of the administrator of this website and not necessarily that of any legislative caucus, political party, candidate or candidate’s committee.

MN House Meltdown II – The Faust Nuclear Option

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

In Minnesota, new nuclear power plants are prohibited. In fact, for quite some time, there has been a little sentence in Minnesota Statutes that prevent the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the entity responsible for permitting new power plants, from issuing a “certificate of need” for a new nuclear power plant.

But things are changing. During the 2007-2008 Legislative session, Republican legislators tried to no avail to take the prohibition out of the statute so that the PUC could at least consider new nuclear plants. This year, however, the Minnesota Senate voted on a bipartisan basis to lift the nuclear moratorium. (Local DFL Senators Olseen and Fobbe voted to allow new nuclear plants; Sen Lourey voted no.)

Why this change of heart from some on the left? Well, it turns out that Nuclear power plants do not emit carbon dioxide, the hated colorless, odorless gas that occurs naturally, but is supposedly heating our planet. This fact puts environmental extremists in an awkward position. And, admittedly, it also puts conservatives in favor of new nuclear plants in a bit of a strange position, since one of the selling points for more nuclear comes from a page out of the environmentalists playbook.

It was the Minnesota House’s turn to take up the energy policy bill on April 30th. Since the amendment to lift the moratorium now had a chance to pass, the majority leadership decided to let a Democrat carry the amendment. So they chose Rep. Tim Faust (DFL – No Man’s Land). Prior to the debate on the energy bill, the rumor around the capitol was that there were between 65 and 70 votes in the House in favor of lifting the nuclear ban.

The Faust amendment took up much of the  debate on the energy bill, as many House members spoke to the issue, although Rep. Faust himself didn’t speak very long at all. In the end, the expected 65-70 votes for the Faust amendment turned into 60. The amendment failed 60-72. Local Reps. Faust and Eastlund voted yes. Rep. Bill Hilty (author of the underlying energy policy bill) voted no, as did Rep. Jeremy Kalin (DFL – North Branch) and Rep. Gail Kulik Jackson (DFL – Milaca). My understanding is that Rep. Jackson stated her support of nuclear power during her campaign. However, during her floor speech, she noted that she needed to “educate” her constituents about why we shouldn’t build more nuclear plants. 

It also shows poor planning on the part of the DFL House leadership by not having the votes lined up to pass one of its own members’ amendments (unless they intende to throw him under the bus). It also a lack of leadership on the part of Rep. Faust by under-performing the expected number of votes on his amendment.

Hopefully, the Senate position will prevail in the conference committee, and the PUC can at least consider another option to meet our future energy needs with a clean efficient and cost-effective option.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am an employee of the Minnesota House of Representatives in the Republican Caucus. This blog is not paid for or sponsored by any legislative caucus, political party, candidate or candidate’s committee. Opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of any legislative caucus, political party, candidate or candidate’s committee.

MN House Meltdown I

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

Early in the Legislative session this year, the DFL majority in the Minnesota House of Representatives put “time parameters” in the House Rules in an effort to shorten debate on bills. Up until a week ago Tuesday, Democrats had not enforced this rule. On their first try during debate on a transportation policy bill, it did not end well for the Democrats.

With two Republican amendments at the desk waiting to be offered to the bill, DFL Majority Leader Sertich moved to end debate and go to final passage of the bill. Republican Leader Seifert angrily protested, asking the majority leadership, if they are going to to gag the two Republican members who had amendments waiting, who’s next? Which members of the majority might be unable to stand up and speak for their districts the next time the rule is enforced?

In defending his actions, Rep. Sertich talked about how the Legislature should be focused on balancing the budget, and not on “tinted windows”. Uh, Rep. Sertich, the underlying bill was a transportation policy bill. No money. Not related to the deficit in the first place. And besides, it takes two to debate. The Democrats are just as responsible for taking the debate past the alloted time parameter for the bill as the Republicans.

In response, Republican members launched into a series of procedural motions amd parliamentary questions, which delayed the vote on the transportation bill. The atmosphere was chaotic, to say the least. This exasperated Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher to the point where she stopped discussion altogether, and an awkward silence filled the House chamber while her staff negotiated an endgame with Rep. Seifert and his staff.

In the end, the Republicans withdrew their points of order, and the members with amendments waiting were allowed to offer them. It took only a few minutes for the amendments to be offred and voted upon. Lesson learned (hopefully) by the Democrat majority: It’s much easier, and more efficient to allow debate than try to stifle free speech.

Shawn Towle over at Check & Balances (free subscription required) called the Republican effort a “futile exercise”. Fighting for the rights of the minority to debate and offer amendments is not a “futile exercise”. Especially when the minority got what it wanted.

A two-minute video snippet is available over at True North, but this is only a snapshot of the entire episode. The full version can be seen at the official House video archives. Go to this link, and scroll down to the video archive for Tuesday, April 28, 2009. The exchange starts at 3:16:12 into the video.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am an employee of the Minnesota House of Representatives in the Republican Caucus. This blog is not paid for or sponsored by any legislative caucus, political party, candidate or candidate’s committee. Opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of any legislative caucus, political party, candidate or candidate’s committee.

Rep. Tim Faust (DFL – No Man’s Land) – What’s He Done for Jobs?

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

 

 Rep. Tim Faust (DFL - No Man's Land)

Rep. Tim Faust (DFL - No Man's Land)

In his quest to get elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives, Tim Faust the candidate leveled many criticisms at his predecessor and opponent, Judy Soderstrom. One of the things he said publicly and repeatedly is that Rep. Soderstrom had not done enough to bring jobs to the area. He stated many times that it should be a state representative’s job to recruit businesses and bring jobs to the area.

Now that Rep. Faust has been in office nearly 2 1/2 years, I think it’s fair to ask what his track record on local jobs is. Can he point to one single new job that he has personally been responsible for? What businesses has he recruited to locate in our area? Although I haven’t looked at any specific stats, I think it’s also fair to point out that the job situation in House District 8B is much more dire than when Rep. Faust took office.

After watching a tape of the April 3, 2009 House Tax Committee hearing, it appears that Rep. Faust is doing the opposite of his stated intent as a candidate. In presenting a bill to the committee, he must have thought it was a good idea to run down his district in order to improve the chances of his bill getting included in the omnibus tax bill.

His bill would allow the economic development region in East Central Minnesota to grant tax increment financing (TIF) to tourism facilities.

In presenting the merits of his bill, Rep Faust talked about how his district is among the worst in the state for unemployment. He then explained that his bill is needed because his district is not really metro, and not benefiting from economic development going on in the suburbs. “We’re kind of in no man’s land,” he stated.

Just as an aside, Pine City city administrator Don Howard was on hand to testify in favor of Faust’s bill. In stark contrast to Faust’s depiction of the district, Howard talked about the natural resources and the fact that people flock to the region in the summer time.

Since this is the East Central Truth Detector, I will say here that Faust’s bill, if it becomes law, will be a good tool for cities in our area to use to attract businesses. Rep. Faust’s bill was included in the House Omnibus Tax Bill. Unfortunately, the Omnibus Tax Bill has $1.9 billion worth of tax increases, and includes elimination of the JOBZ tax incentives.  The Tax conference committee is meeting to negotiate the differences with the Senate’s $2.2 billion worth of tax increases. The final product is certain to meet its end with Governor Pawlenty’s veto pen.

My point here is that a state representative shouldn’t, and doesn’t need to, run down the area he represents in an effort to get a bill passed. Especially when, as a candidate, he promised to promote the area and recruit employers.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am an employee of the Minnesota House of Representatives in the Republican Caucus. This website is not paid for or sponsored in any way by any legislative caucus, political party, candidate or candidate’s committee. Opinions expressed herein are those of the administrator of this website and not necessarily that of any legislative caucus, political party, candidate or candidate’s committee.