Newspaper article MinnPost.com

Legislative Preview: What to Expect from the 2015 Session

Newspaper article MinnPost.com

Legislative Preview: What to Expect from the 2015 Session

Article excerpt

Minnesota lawmakers gavel in the 2015 legislative session on Tuesday facing a daunting to-do list, including crafting a $40 billion plus budget and fixing the state's aging transportation system. And they must accomplish it all with divided government. Here are some of the top policies, personalities and other dynamics to watch for as the 2015 political season kicks off:

Metro vs. outstate

The most expected theme of the 2015 legislative session was set before the 2014 election results were even finalized. House Republicans had Greater Minnesota voters to thank for their victory - - they picked up 10 of the 11 seats they gained in outstate Minnesota -- and they knew it. Since then, Republicans have split up the environment and agriculture committee into two separate entities, and added two committees: the Greater Minnesota Economic and Workforce Development Policy Committee; and the Mining and Outdoor Recreation Policy Committee. DFL Rep. Jean Wagenius, former chair of the combined agriculture and environment committee, was bounced from the new GOP-led environment committee altogether, a move that miffed Democrats and environmental activists. Democrats already seem to be fashioning a 2016 campaign theme that claims Republicans aren't fighting for the entire state. One factor to watch will be how these tensions continue to play out.

The transportation debate

Both Republicans and Democrats say addressing the state's lagging transportation system is a top priority next session, but how they go about trying to fix problem will be one of the central dramas of the 2015 political season. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Democrats in control of the Senate say there's not enough money available in the budget to address transportation needs across the state, which the governor's own administration puts as high as $6 billion over the next 10 years. But Republicans in control of the House say passing any kind of gas tax increase in the upcoming session is unlikely. Other groups are starting to weigh in, too: the Republican Party is saying no to new revenues, while the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce says improvements can be paid for with new user fees and more money in the state's budget dedicated to transportation. The question of priorities -- namely, outstate roads and bridges verses metro-area transit projects -- will also be part of the debate. The new chair of the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee is significant in that sense: Rep. Tim Kelly currently doesn't serve on any transportation committees, though he is from Red Wing.

DFL Sen. Tom Bakk

If the last two years were any indication, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk is an independent operator. Even when the DFL controlled both chambers of the Legislature, he clashed with House Democrats and Gov. Mark Dayton on everything from bonding to the minimum wage to a new Senate office building. …

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