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In late January, the cost overruns on Southwest Light Rail were formally acknowledged and a new 2027 first-service date was announced, as reported in the StarTribune.
On February 15, State Sen. Julia Coleman (R, Carver County) wrote to her constituents,
“I am appalled and frustrated by the mismanagement of the Southwest Light Rail project. It is projected to cost an additional 210 million dollars, and is delayed another 36 months. From my understanding, this is just the tip of the iceberg, with additional challenges and problems coming down the tracks (pun not intended, but appreciated).
“As Chairwoman of the Legislative Commission on Metropolitan Governance, I am committed to holding the Metropolitan Council accountable, and finding ways to reform this organization so the taxpayers and voters have a greater say over their operations.”
Our successful precinct caucuses were the last we'll have with current district boundaries.
Minnesota will reset its legislative district boundaries in 2022 to take into account population shifts identified in the 2020 census. The intent is to more equally align the number of voters in each MN House district, so each legislator represents roughly the same number of citizens. Our January article described the legislative and court processes that will establish the new boundaries.
The impact of redistricting (also known as "reapportionment") for most of us may be minimal. Delegates to conventions elected at this year’s caucuses will continue to be delegates after redistricting. However, if a precinct is moved or redefined to a new MN House and/or Senate District (BPOU), their delegates will now be delegates of that new BPOU.
In addition, the leaders of the current BPOUs will need to document the available funding and the value of non-financial assets. Even small changes in BPOU boundaries may involve the transfer of assets proportional to the transfer of delegates.
Chairs and executive committee leaders of BPOUs need to be prepared that boundary changes could be more significant. In cases where two or more portions of different BPOUs are combined into new BPOUs, several actions will need to be taken. These actions include:
• Convening of an Arrangement Committee
• Drafting of new BPOU bylaws
• Negotiating the transfer of assets from the old BPOUs
• Planning the convention for the new BPOU
• Identifying BPOU officer candidates
• Confirming legislative candidates within the new boundaries
MN GOP Chair Hann will be appointing Convention Arrangement Committee conveners for the new BPOUs shortly after the final district maps are approved and released. Members of the Convention Arrangement Committees will be named from key officers from the previous BPOUs.
The attendance at the Republican caucuses in Edina and Bloomington was about double the turnout for the caucuses in 2018 and 2020. From anecdotal reports on social media, this experience was repeated in precinct meetings in Minneapolis and across the state. Reports have also been received of individuals who remarked that they had voted for Democratic candidates in prior years, but they could no longer see themselves reflected in the Democratic Party.
Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman David Hann congratulated volunteers, candidates and staff on a successful round of precinct caucuses on February 1.
“We appreciate the hard work of everyone involved in reorganizing our party from the grassroots up for this year’s elections and beyond. We saw a strong showing of enthusiasm from Republicans all across the state. Our party is excited and unified for the opportunity to make our case to the voters and elect Republicans this fall.”
Talk was upbeat and enthusiastic. Many new participants, particularly young people, were elected into precinct leadership positions. We experienced a great turn-out of enthusiastic party activists and new people resolved to get involved to make changes in the leadership of our state government. To those of you involved in planning and conducting these caucuses, your efforts are truly appreciated.
By law, Minnesota should reset its legislative district boundaries in 2022 to take into account population shifts identified in the 2020 census. The intent is to more equally align the number of voters in each MN House district, so each legislator represents roughly the same number of citizens.
As we reported in our last newsletter, redistricting is supposed to be under the purview of the state legislature. Due to political divisions between the DFL-led House and GOP-led Senate, it is not likely the chambers will come to an agreement. Previously, the courts have determined the 201 newly drawn district lines in 2010, 2000 and 1990. Should legislative agreement be lacking this year, the courts are expected to provide its version of district lines on February 15 or shortly thereafter.
The Minnesota Supreme Court appointed a special redistricting panel of five judges to hear and decide challenges to four redistricting plans that have been submitted for their consideration. The judicial panel may accept one of the submitted maps or decide to draw its own maps, so it is not possible to say at this time precisely how Senate District 49 will be impacted by redistricting.
However, if the four submitted plans are any indication, it appears likely that many of the district lines in the southwestern metro will be redrawn. The plans divide up Senate District 49 into three (3) to five (5) pieces for reallocation.
An example is the redistricting proposals of the Anderson Plan, which was brought forward by several Minnesota Republicans. This plan (picture at top) would
• combine northwest Edina with Hopkins and Minnetonka (the new SD47);
• link the Eden Prairie and Minnetonka precincts now in SD49 with Eden Prairie and Chanhassen (the new SD49);
• combine southern and eastern Edina with Richfield and a sliver of northern Bloomington (the new SD50);
• combine the rest of Bloomington (the new SD51)
Our Senate District leaders will need to start planning now for the potential impacts of redistricting. The newly created districts will have one month or less after the final plan is issued to work out such things as arranging a senate district convention, drafting new bylaws, and vetting candidates for senate district chairs and executive officers.
Bloomington’s December 2021 budget presentation cheerfully brags about increasing the city’s portion of your 2022 property tax levy “only” 2.75 %, a smaller increase than neighboring suburbs. Unmentioned is the fact that last July the city quietly bumped-up the “franchise fee” (a charge that each household, church, business or city building pays on electric and natural gas utility bills) almost 23%. The new fees took effect January 1, and the city plans to review them every two years.
The $3.75 monthly fee per household utility bill is now $4.60. It’s a yearly cost of $110.40 for those with two utilities. Fees are substantially higher for businesses, churches, and nonprofit organizations, ranging up to $141 monthly per utility, for a total of $3384 yearly.
The new fee rates will generate more than $6 Million / year for the city; the prior rate netted just under $5 Million.
When these city fees were first approved in 2016, as we wrote back then, the funds were designated for use on “pavement management projects” (PMP), especially street repavement overlays and non-street paths for walking, bicycle paths or park trails. Almost all of the funding goes to streets, with only 3-4 miles of trail maintenance yearly. In the future that will continue to be the case, although the city’s website says sidewalk replacements may be added to the mix.
On January 18th, Rep. Steve Elkins, District 49B, sent out a constituent email in which he laid out his plan for your backyards. Elkins plans to mandate State control (read: elimination) of local residential zoning to ensure “…housing affordability…”
Elkins asserts in his email that “…the biggest single barrier to ‘affordable’ housing is the shortage of home lots (meaning home lots at a price Elkins decides is ‘affordable’). But Elkins has another purpose – he strongly implies that single family zoning is racist and his bill would end that racist practice.
According to Elkins, “affordable” houses (Elkins never specifies what that means) for newly-forming families are blocked for two reasons. First, cities can’t legally recover their cost of connecting new construction to the road grids – that recovery is barred by state law. Second, builders need to recover the growing cost of residential lots in the pricing of their new homes.
Rep. Elkins frames his bill to win the support of both cities and builders. He would change state law to allow cities to redefine neighborhoods planned for “remodeling” as “Street Improvement Districts”. All the parcels in these districts would be subject to “Street Improvement District Fees”, whether or not the parcels are being redeveloped. For builders, Elkins would exempt new low-income housing units from local “impact fees.” Higher cost condos, apartments, and single-family homes would face higher fees.
In essence, Elkins takes away the ability of cities to zone an area for single-family housing. To overcome opposition from voters who cherish the residential neighbors in which they live, Rep. Elkins labels single-family zoning as racist.
If you don’t like the idea of subsidized housing towers in your newly un-zoned single-family residential area, you are just a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard), says Elkins:
“Examples of the abuses that my ‘Legalizing Affordable Housing Act’ bill is designed to address include zoning provisions which…. allow NIMBYs to block the construction of multifamily housing – even new senior housing, and even when the city’s own comprehensive plan allows it.” (emphasis added)
For Multifamily Housing, read “government subsidized housing”. And if you don’t want it, you are a NIMBY who is taking advantage of the law for racist purposes, according to Elkins.
The comments by the legislators from SD49 and SD50 on the Bloomington Legislative Priorities Zoom meeting on January 17 expressed some candid opinions about the projected surplus of $7B+ in the state budget and how it will be approached in the upcoming legislative session.
All of the legislators who were on the call are members of the DFL party. Although their views on the budget surplus varied, none of them called for cuts in the state’s personal income tax. None stated that a budget surplus has been occurring now for several budget cycles and that the state’s high personal and corporate income tax rate should be reduced. Their remarks largely indicated the need for the government to redirect more money in the state’s economy rather than less.
Senator Melisa Lopez-Franzen (DFL, Edina), serving as the Senate Minority Leader, expected that the legislature would bring up tax cuts. She would look at property tax relief and some targeted tax cuts. She also would seek funding to support families and kids. She expects that the DFL will focus in issues with staffing (nurses, child care, and schools), and transportation. Key areas this year: public safety and the economy.
Senator Melissa Wiklund (DFL, Bloomington) noted that the legislator needed to deal not only with the surplus but also with the significant amount of federal funding that has flowed to Minnesota. She pointed to helping people though the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, providing funding to nursing homes and public health and child care.
Rep. Michael Howard (DFL, Richfield) saw the surplus as a one-time opportunity and does not support permanent tax cuts that would “put the state in a hole for years.” He wanted to use the surplus to address “economic insecurities”, to put money in the pockets “of people being squeezed.” He said that there is an affordable housing crisis due to “persistent underfunding of housing.” He wants formula-based housing aid to cities to invest in housing solutions and asked for the kind of solutions that Bloomington would pursue if grants of funding were available. He also believes that the focus should be on the biggest items in family budgets and suggested that child care might be one of the biggest items.
Bloomington presented its Council Members' legislative priorities on January 17 in a Zoom call with state legislators in Senate Districts 49 and 50 as well as local representatives on the Hennepin County Board and the Metropolitan Council.
First on the agenda was the capital improvements Bloomington is seeking to get approved this year. The City is pursuing a two-prong approach to get funding approved for four projects. Legislative approval of a Local Option Sales Tax is one of the prongs. The other prong would involve state support in the 2022 bonding bill.
Bloomington City staff estimate that $11M would be required annually for 20 years to provide the $220M needed, including interest and finance costs. To raise this money, Bloomington will ask the legislature to approve the imposition across the City of a half-cent sales tax.
Like the sales tax approved by the legislature for the Vikings stadium, Mayor Busse did not mention if the tax would be imposed for only 20 years.
The projects and their estimated capital costs are:
• Bloomington Ice Garden improvements ($32M)
• Bloomington Center for the Arts ($33M)
• Dwan Golf Course ($15M)
• Community Health & Wellness Center ($70M)
In her remarks later, MN Senator (and MN Senate Minority Leader) Melisa Lopez-Franzen recommended that Bloomington ask for more than $220M because of inflation.
The "Community Health & Wellness Center " (a "gym" in short-version English) is clearly the largest project in the City’s wish list. Given the size of its request, this Center may well be the reincarnation of the Bloomington Community Center that was proposed and then dropped a couple of years ago. In this Zoom meeting, it was described as providing recreation, fitness, and educational opportunities. One of the reasons given in its support was that it's needed to address racism as a public health crisis.
Oral arguments were presented before the Minnesota Supreme Court on January 4 in an election lawsuit that could dramatically change how cities and counties conduct future statewide elections.
While Minnesota Voters Alliance (MVA) v. Ramsey & Olmsted Counties (Case number: A20-1294) involves just two counties, MVA points out that there are hundreds of governing bodies (cities, counties, school districts) across Minnesota ignoring the requirements in state election law to maintain 'party balance' on their ballot boards.
MVA maintains that many cities and counties are shutting out Republican election judges from accepting and rejecting absentee ballots by exclusively appointing partisan government unionized employees to this critical role when the statutes clearly require election judges from both parties.
This case focuses on the duty to:
- establish a ballot board,
- appoint a sufficient number of election judges to a ballot board to accept and reject ballots,
- exhaust election judge lists submitted by the political parties, and
- maintain party balance on ballot boards.
The 201 members of the House and Senate return on January 31, 2022, to gavel in for the start of the regular session. The Minnesota Legislature remains divided with a DFL-led House of Representatives and a GOP-led Senate.
The DFL-led House announced all legislative work will continue to be conducted virtually, while the Republican-led Senate will operate under a hybrid model.
Statutorily, lawmakers have no required business to complete in the second year of the legislative biennium. Historically, even numbered years are considered the time for significant infrastructure investment packages also referred to as bonding projects. However, the last 18 months in Minnesota and nationally have been anything but typical.
The legislature is constitutionally required to adjourn by May 23, 2022.
Additional driving factors in the session will be the significant influx of federal funds coming to the state, the upcoming election with all 201 lawmakers and the governor on the ballot, and re-drawing of all 201 legislative districts.