With the start of the 2013 legislative session just a couple weeks away, below is a sneak preview of what to expect. This is merely a quick overview; more details will follow in future updates.
STATE BUDGET: Passing the state's 2013-14 budget is the #1 priority this session. The good news is that higher-than-expected revenues are coming in and spending is down. The bad news is that the state economist is still predicting we will need to address a $1.1 billion deficit. This is about 3 percent of the state budget, a far cry from the $6 billion deficit we faced two years ago at this time.
SCHOOL FUNDING: Overhauling Minnesota's school funding system is a key priority in 2013. http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2012/11/28/education/task-force-recommends-revamping-state-education-funding/. I am pleased to see school funding get more attention. In my opinion, our school finance formula is too complex, not transparent, not accountable enough to taxpayers, punishes schools that spend wisely, treats districts like ours with low property wealth unfairly, and is over-reliant on referendum revenue and property taxes. Other than that, I like it.
TAX REFORM: No, this is not just a disguise for tax increases. Minnesota's tax system, like our school funding formula, has grown into an overly-complicated regime over the years, and it is in desperate need of significant simplification and transparency. I have long supported a more straightforward flat tax. Additional details about the tax reform discussion—and the options being discussed—will be provided in future updates.
HEALTH INSURANCE ONLINE MARKETPLACE: I am the chief author of legislation in the House that will create an online, competitive marketplace for individuals, small businesses, and entrepreneurs to purchase health insurance. For more info, go to: http://mn.gov/health-reform/topics/exchange/
E-PULLTABS: Will electronic pulltabs provide the expected revenue needed to pay for the Vikings stadium? So far, the answer to that question is no. Watch for a wide-ranging hearing on this topic, covering current and projected revenues, recent approval of additional vendors and games, and possible introduction of e-pulltabs at the airport and other non-bar locations.
GUN DEBATE: The tragic Newtown school massacre has reignited the gun control debate in state capitols across the country, and Minnesota is no different. Expect proposals that would limit certain guns, and to allow teachers to carry guns in schools.
MARRIAGE LEGISLATION: Was the rejection of the marriage amendment in November an indication that Minnesotans support allowing gay couples to be married? Or was it simply a sign that a majority of voters didn't think it was appropriate to amend the Constitution to limit marriage to one man and one woman? This topic will be hotly debated this session.
JOBS & PUBLIC WORKS LEGISLATION: Helping businesses, especially small businesses and entrepreneurs, to create jobs, is a top priority this session. A public works proposal, for things like road and bridge projects, is also being contemplated.
NHL LOCKOUT HEARING: Speaking of jobs, there is a hearing scheduled to hear from those impacted by the NHL lockout. While NHL players and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman are expected to testify, the real aim is to give a voice to those being hurt by the lockout through no fault of their own—the vendors, restaurant servers and owners, parking lot attendants, security personnel, and others. City officials have estimated that the negative impact on St. Paul has reached $9 million.
AARP SENIOR SCAM PREVENTION: Scams that target senior citizens will again be a hot topic at the Capitol, as we debate ways to try to stem the rapidly growing number of ripoffs that have costs Minnesotans millions in the last year alone.
INPUT: I would appreciate your comments and questions about these or other legislative topics, either by weighing in below, calling me at the Capitol at 651-296-4192, or emailing me at Rep.Joe.Atkins@house.mn.
For daily updates and surveys, go to www.facebook.com/State.Rep.Joe.Atkins.
THANK YOU: I appreciate the chance to serve Eagan in the Minnesota House. I was absolutely amazed at the level of support I received in the election—it was one of the largest winning margins in any legislative race in Minnesota—and I want to thank everyone who voted, whether you supported me or not. Best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2013!