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of Meeting with State Sen. Geoff Michel
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, March 13,
speaker: State Sen. Geoff Michel,
Johnson, chair; David Broden, Marianne Curry, Bill Frenzel (by phone),
Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, Dan Loritz, Tim McDonald, and Wayne Popham (by
Context of the meeting--The
Civic Caucus has been looking at several legislative issues, including
transportation, elections, transportation, and government structure.
Today the Caucus is visiting with a leader of the Minnesota 2020
Conference, a consensus-building group in the Legislature.
Welcome and introductions--Verne
and Paul welcomed and introduced State Sen.
Geoff Michel, assistant GOP Minority leader. Minnesota State
Senate. Michel is serving his second term in the Senate. In private life
he's an attorney with Securian Financial Group. He's a graduate of
Dartmouth College and the University of Minnesota Law School.
Comments and discussion--During
Michel's comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the following
points were raised:
1. Need for overall leadership on
transportation--Responding to a question about fragmented
decision-making on transportation in Minnesota, Michel said he agrees that
it seems as if no one is in charge. It is important that the Governor
provide overall leadership. Michel said he believes in a strong chief
executive. A problem in Minnesota, he said, is that there are multiple
pots of money for transportation, which makes it difficult for any one
office to provide overall leadership.
2. Recognize how legislators think about
priorities--When it comes to how priorities on transportation
should be set, Michel noted that individual legislators always tend to
think first about needs in their own districts. Thus, he said, in his own
case, he thinks first about the need to upgrade the 494-169 interchange.
He acknowledged that such a situation highlights the importance of a
strong statewide perspective being provided by the Governor.
3. Exercising leadership on dedicated, as well
as non-dedicated, funds--It was noted that traditionally most
attention is focused on what the Governor proposes concerning the state's
general fund. Michel was asked whether the Legislature might invite or
require the Governor to make proposals on other funds, even though such
funds might be outside the Governor's control. Thus, for example, it
should be possible for the Governor to make comprehensive proposals on use
of all sources of transportation funding in the state, irrespective of
whatever agency or level of government might exercise ultimate control
over certain funds. Michel said he is open to such an idea. A Civic
Caucus member noted that county governments are agents of state government
and, therefore, it would be logical that the Governor could suggest how
transportation funds dedicated to counties ought to be spent.
4. Lack of awareness of transportation problems--A
Civic Caucus member observed that many people mistakenly think the state's
transportation problems were largely addressed by recent legislation that
increased gasoline taxes and vehicle license fees and granted metro county
access to the sales tax for transit.
5. Relate transportation to the economy and
jobs--A Civic Caucus member said that transportation ought to
be thought of first as a strategic investment towards helping the
economy and jobs.
6. Questions about restrictions on charter
schools--Moving on to the field of education, Michel was asked
about proposals to place a moratorium on new charter schools in
Minnesota. Michel said that while improvements are needed in charter
schools, he opposes restrictions on their development because they are
important sources of innovation. Some legislators appear to be
interested in charter restrictions, he said, because of the possibility
that--in this time of budgetary shortfalls--dollars could be shifted to
related educational matter, Michel said he doesn't like the
federally-funded No Child Left Behind program and fears a growing federal
role in education.
7. Possibility of education seeking
constitutional revenue protection--A Civic Caucus member
inquired whether educators might seek in this session the same kind of
revenue protection that was given to outdoors and the arts in a
constitutional amendment last fall. Such an option--however distasteful a
dedicated fund might be--could be attractive for educators who want more
money and legislators who don't want to increase taxes directly. Michel
said he personally is reluctant to go that way. Taking note of proposals
in the Legislature to increase income taxes by $2 billion, Michel said he
is opposed because such increases would give Minnesota the highest income
tax rate in the nation. States like Arizona and Florida would welcome
such a decision because, he said, those states would welcome former
Minnesotans relocating their residences.
8. Legislature should be able to adjourn on
time--Asked if the Legislature might be deadlocked and need to
go to a special session, Michel said that shouldn't be necessary because
lawmakers have known about the magnitude of the problem for several
months. School districts and other local units of government are waiting
for state budgets to be set so that they can then set their own budgets.
We should not make them wait.
9. Explore new revenue-raising possibilities--Michel
said he favors taking a full inventory of state assets to determine what
might be sold or leased to private interests. He noted that Midway
Airport in Chicago has been leased to a private business. Maybe the same
could be done with Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Perhaps
the state lottery could be handled in that fashion and maybe other areas
such as parking meters (city of Chicago example) and Giant's Ridge golf
and ski resort in Biwabik. Such public/private partnerships might be
more attractive than floating bonds to be paid from tobacco revenues, he
Caucus member suggested that Governor Pawlenty might be hamstrung by a
campaign pledge of several years ago not to raise taxes. Another factor,
the member suggested, might be the Governor's possible interest in
10. Attacking the question of "too much"
government--In response to a question about using the current
budget shortfall as an impetus for substantial structural change, Michel
noted that Mitch Daniels, governor of Indiana, has put a commission
together to examine whether the state could eliminate one or more levels
of government. He said that Daniels wants to eliminate townships and roll
their services into counties. He also wants to require that school
districts have a minimum of 2,000 pupils.
distributed a flyer titled "Too Many Layers" that illustrates Minnesota
has 87 counties, 855 cities, 1,786 townships, 340 school districts, and 59
public college and university campuses.
difficult for citizens to know who is in charge, with so many levels, he
to a question, Michel said that a proposal to require counties to work
together to consolidate health and human services functions is still very
much alive in this session.
the question of higher education campuses is immensely difficult for the
Legislature because even raising the question is deemed to be anti-rural,
Michel said. He wonders if a legislatively-created body, similar to a
federal government commission on closing military bases, might be
appropriate for Minnesota higher education. The commission would make a
binding decision unless overruled by the Legislature. Broad bi-partisan
support would be essential for such an effort to succeed, he said.
11. Support for judicial selection and
redistricting changes--Michel said he supports the Quie
commission's recommendations for merit selection of judges, with retention
elections, and he supports the Humphrey Institute proposal for a
commission to redraw legislative district boundaries.
12. Public financing of election campaigns?--A
Civic Caucus member said that public financing of election campaigns would
have the effect of insulating legislators from pressures of single
13. Leadership by the business community--A
Civic Caucus member wondered whether the business community is taking
sufficiently strong positions on the importance of statewide elected
14. Recognize short-term impact of federal
stimulus money--Michel noted that the state's budget this year
will be partially balanced because of federal stimulus money. But those
are one-time-only funds and won't be available in subsequent years. Thus,
the Legislature will face a challenge in replacing those funds in the
following biennium. Michel agreed with a Civic Caucus member's
observation that the Legislature is likely to do the absolute minimum to
balance the budget for the upcoming biennium and nothing more.
15. Activity of Minnesota 2020 Conference--The
Minnesota 2020 Conference is a bipartisan group of legislators from the
House and Senate, with members from the metro area and Greater Minnesota,
Michel said. One major proposal from that group, he said, is to require
that the initial budget forecast for the upcoming biennium, which now
comes in November following the election, would be advanced to an earlier
date so that the legislative campaigns could be more focused on tough
decisions that will need to be made.
16. Thanks--On behalf of the Civic
Caucus, Verne thanked Michel for meeting with us today.