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of Meeting - House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, February 6,
State Representative Margaret Anderson Kelliher,
Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives
Verne Johnson, chair; David Broden, Dan Loritz, Tim McDonald, Jim Hetland
(by phone), Clarence Shallbetter (by phone), Bill Frenzel (by phone), Jim
Olson (by phone), Gary Clements (by phone)
Context of the meeting--With
the Governor's budget recently released, he has fallen under a lot of
criticism for cuts, one-time savings, and a continued refusal to raise
taxes. Today's meeting is to hear from the Speaker of the House her views
on the present budget crisis, and on alternative proposals from the
Legislature. Questions will also be on transportation, election system
reform, and education.
Internal discussion beforehand--Caucus
members discussed ahead of time what we hope to get out of this session,
with the amount of time spent with the Speaker anticipated to be less than
usual. Transportation and election change emerge as two key issues.
been an area of emphasis for the Caucus in recent months, and is becoming
increasingly so. The question of overall leadership at the state level is
central. The Governor did not discuss transportation in his recent State
of the State address. Federal earmarks drive construction as much as
anything. It is difficult to identify a sound priority-setting process.
Yet transportation is
a foundational element to investment in an economic crisis, for the short-
and the long-term.
Welcome and introductions--Verne
welcomed and introduced our speaker, by phone, DFL House Speaker Margaret
Anderson Kelliher. The daughter of a dairy farm family, she is married
with two children. Kelliher was first elected to the House in 1998 and
elected Speaker in 2007. Community organizer and writer, Kelliher lives in
Minneapolis representing district 60A.
Time was limited, so
discussion got promptly underway.
Comments and discussion--During
the Speaker's comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the
following points were raised:
1. Concern over the Governor's budget: Counter proposals?
serious concerns over the budget that the Governor put out, said the
Speaker. But he had seven and a half months to put the budget together,
and the legislators need time to understand it, and to talk it over with
living in a time of fiscal instability for the state, Kelliher said, and
need to have greater predictability of our revenue. This is a principal
concern of the Governor's proposal: 71 percent are one-time dollars, and
so it is not fiscally sustainable.
member commented: But you have no counter proposal? Kelliher responded
that legislators operate within a committee process, and so that will have
to run its course. This is necessary to gain the support of all members.
The public needs to have input, and an opportunity to provide feedback. "A
budget is representative of values of the public."
Caucus member offered that an example of the lack of fiscal sustainability
is the operating deficit of transit. Projects are built, but lack funding
for maintenance. Buses and rail transit incur substantial operating losses
since fares do not pay for the operating costs. The effort to close this
gap in the last session by charging a fee on all auto purchases is also
not working due to low auto sales. The general fund is tapped out.
structural questions about transportation that the Caucus has been
concerned about for some time. Namely, an absence of overall
transportation responsibility in the state. Federal earmarking dominates.
Transportation presents a huge challenge, agreed the Speaker. We have a
bifurcated system. There are some regional planning groups. Itasca is
looking at best practices from around the country. We need an umbrella
planning organization to maximize the resources out there.
leadership is not just about making the most of tax dollars, Kelliher
said, but about shepherding private involvement too. This is maximizing
resources. Such transportation planning leadership would have to be
authorized at the state level.
member asked if the Speaker sees any relief ahead for transport. We are
less than a year out from the '08 transportation bill, she replied. Give
it a year first to see where we're at.
Caucus member observed that there are ‘silos’ in the management of
transportation, and this is what impedes effective planning. Right,
Kelliher agreed, and we probably can't knock them down. We need to connect
from a Caucus member asked whether any federal stimulus money for
transport will come to the state to be allocated based on some statewide
plan, or go straight to various state, county, city, township, and special
agencies that own some roads or trails?
We need to
have better accountability, she responded. We spend the money that comes,
from the Feds that goes to the state, but we don't come back and review
how well it was spent. The same will happen with any stimulus money unless
we change procedures. The Speaker said she is holding a hearing on this
the week of the 8th.
distribution of any coming stimulus funds, Kelliher said that some will go
straight to cities. Some will go to agencies based on formulas, but we
need to ensure agency efficiencies as identified in a critical report
recently from the Office of the Legislative Auditor (dated February,
On election reform, in light of the ongoing Senate recount--The
Secretary of State, Kelliher said, has been identifying areas where there
can be improvement. We need to focus on where there have been real
problems, not spurious claims. There has been little evidence, for
example, of voter fraud. Clear up issues with the absentee balloting
process. She said we should move toward early balloting, and argued for a
required majority to hold statewide office.
member asked about the Speaker’s view on instant runoff voting. Kelliher
responded that she supports it, but we need to see how it works in
Minneapolis, first. There are other tools to try, as well. What about
Presidential primaries? The caucus process is important, she responded,
because it involves citizens.
4. Education and the session: Q-Comp,
is not enough data available yet, Kelliher said, to assess the performance
of Q-Comp. In a time of budget crisis though, the Governor wants to
continue to fund--and expand funding--for this program. That doesn't make
sense. The Governor has proposed major expansion of Q-Comp, a voluntary
program that allows local districts and exclusive representatives of the
teachers to design and collectively bargain a plan that meets the five
components of the law.
brought up legislation from Education|Evolving, reflecting a major
initiative for new school creation. In four bills it places primary
emphasis on giving districts tools to create new schools, with autonomies
similar to the charter sector. All bills will be introduced by the middle
of the month. All legislation is bipartisan.
Speaker remarked that she had not yet seen the legislation, but is very
commented that charter schools have their own problems, and are in cases
not living up to their lofty rhetoric. Some have had management problems.
A Caucus member suggested that this would call then for a strengthening of
sponsors, as opposed to a moratorium on future creation of new schools.
“We are dealing with people,” though, Kelliher responded. We cannot afford
to fail with new schools.
5. Prospects for bipartisanship this session--There
is a lot of bipartisanship within the legislature so far, Kelliher said.
Rhetoric gets heated at times but if you look at the outcomes the
temperature in the Legislature has come way down in the past two years.
The Speaker said that she and her colleagues have a fundamental respect
for one another, and for the Governor, as elected officials.
will likely operate in a similar bipartisan manner, she said, because they
have historically been more inclined to do so.
6. Any final thoughts or comments from the
budgeting, with such a serious budget gap, Kelliher reiterated that the
legislature will need to get public input on what they can tolerate being
cut, and “where they want to participate more.”
member asked for clarification: Does the Speaker mean that the Legislature
will be gathering testimony from citizens, to use as evidence in support
for a case to raise taxes? Someone asked if voter approval of the
constitutional amendment to raise the sales tax for the arts and
environment might indicate willingness on their part to accept an increase
in taxes to balance the budget.
behalf of the Civic Caucus, Verne thanks Speaker Kelliher for meeting with
us today, during this very busy time of year.
Conversation with University Metro Consortium at the University of
the morning’s session Civic Caucus core members spent a couple of hours
with a group led by John Adams. The purpose of the meeting was to provide
the Civic Caucus leadership, at the invitation of Mr. Adams, the
opportunity to explain the group’s purpose and process.
The meeting was hosted
at the Humphrey School. Called the University Metro Consortium, the group
of selected University members has been charged by President Bruininks to
plan and host a series of meetings starting in June on issues of current
interest. The meetings would run through the end of the calendar year.
They group may articulate positions on these issues as a result, but this
has yet to be decided.
Presently the group is
coming up with their strategy and reached out to the Civic Caucus to share
the operating premise of this organization. Conversation was productive.
Verne began with an introduction of the group, and its mission to engage
and educate decision makers in the state through electronic media. It is
difficult to get people to come to meetings now days, he said, and so the
Internet is especially apt. Engagement and feedback to notes is strong.
One participant from
the University said that it is no longer sufficient to maintain an online
library of communications. A Wiki or commons-space is more appropriate,
where users can come in and make comments or revisions to a mutual
document located on a website. This does away with the laborious process
of gathering, sorting, and sending out feedback, for example.
Another person from
the Journalism school noted that if the project wants feedback from
younger people it won't get it from what is becoming traditional email.
Instead new forms of abbreviated communication used by younger people are
Thanks all around, and
we will stay in touch as the consortium’s work progresses.