The opening day ceremony for the 2013 legislative session last Tuesday quickly gave way to a flood of significant news and legislative proposals, plus reports of an ancient Egyptian creature floating around the Capitol.
MONEY. Monthly revenue collections for the state were $114.0 million higher than predicted for December, continuing a trend that started several months ago. This additional revenue, combined with continued cost-saving efforts, bodes well as we start to prepare the state’s next two-year budget.
STATE BUDGET: TIME TO PUT UP OR SHUT UP. Passing a balanced two-year budget is the legislature’s top priority for 2013. When the last state budget was prepared in 2011, House and Senate Democrats – who were in the minority at the time – were critical of using accounting gimmicks and shifts to balance the budget. I was one of the harshest critics of using nearly $4 billion in school funding shifts, other shifts, accounting gimmicks and borrowing to plug a $5 billion deficit, and I voted no on the budget. With Democrats now in control of both the House and Senate, and as a Chair of a committee with significant input into the state budget, it is now time to put up or shut up. I expect to pass a completely balanced budget without shifts, accounting tricks, or borrowing.
SCHOOL FUNDING. With more revenue coming in than expected, we have made good progress toward paying back a big chunk of the $2.5 billion that was borrowed from K-12 schools two years ago to balance the state budget. I have authored legislation to complete that payback.
JOBS & ECONOMIC GROWTH. Multiple reports of steady job growth and increases in economic activity, consumer spending and confidence, plus a budding turnaround in the long-suffering housing market, all seem to be signaling emergence from the recession that has haunted Minnesota the past few years. This comports with national reports that Minnesota and the Midwest continue to lead the nation with lower unemployment and higher job growth than anywhere in the country. My goal: Don’t mess it up. Let’s keep working with businesses on ways we can streamline our regulatory processes, provide an educated workforce, and keep costs down.
ELECTRONIC PULLTABS. Revenue from e-pulltabs is supposed to fund the Vikings stadium that was approved last year, plus bring in a lot more money for charities. So far, the actual revenue coming in is not meeting expectations. On January 16, I am holding a meeting to find out why. We’ll hear from the heads of the Gambling Control Board, Minnesota Department of Revenue, and Allied Charities. There have also been proposals to sell pulltabs in non-traditional locations, like grocery stores, and we’ll discuss the wisdom of that.
WHAT’S A HIX? I asked a 5th grader touring the Capitol what a HIX is, and he told me it is an Egyptian creature like a Sphinx. Perhaps it is. But at the State Capitol, HIX is short for Health Insurance Exchange. You will likely hear a whole lot more about the State’s proposed health insurance exchange in the coming weeks and months. Here is a link and some high points:
(WCCO: Bipartisan work underway in Minnesota Health Care - Atkins, Lourey, Abeler, Davidshttp://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2013/01/09/bi-partisan-work-underway-in-minn-health-care/)
- The Minnesota Health Insurance Exchange will be an online, competitive marketplace where individuals, small businesses and entrepreneurs can purchase health insurance.
- Expected savings to Minnesotans are over $1 billion annually, with the average family saving $490/year.
- Over 1.3 million Minnesotans are expected to use the health insurance marketplace.
- Approximately 300,000 currently-uninsured Minnesotans are expected to be able to get insurance as a result.
- Minnesota businesses will save at least $150 million per year on health care costs.
- If we don't set up our own Minnesota-made marketplace, federal law calls for the federal government to set one up for us - at a much higher cost.
- The marketplace will cost $56 million annually to operate, and will be paid for by a 2.5% withholding on premiums paid to health insurers. This is far less than a federally-run marketplace.
Input and comments are appreciated, either by posting below, calling me at 651-296-4192 or emailing me at Rep.Joe.Atkins@house.mn.
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