Teaching wood working job skills at the Red Wing Juvenile DOC
Touring the Red Wing Correctional Facility on Monday with Public Safety Committee Administrator Mike Valleau, Rep. Barb Haley and Warden Thieren
Touring the Monticello Nuclear Plant with Representatives Knoblach, Lucero, West, Daniels and Rarick
Here is an update with the latest news from the Capitol and around our community.
Monticello Nuclear Power Plant
Last week, I toured to Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant, an important local employer in our area that generates around 10 percent of the electricity used by Xcel Energy customers in the Upper Midwest. It was a wonderful tour, and it was great to see first-hand the work we are doing right in our community to provide clean, reliable energy.
The Monticello Nuclear Power Plant is a key asset to our state, and I will continue to advocate for them in my capacity as a state legislator.
2018 Individual Market Rates
At the beginning of October, the Minnesota Department of Commerce released final rates for the 2018 individual health insurance market, showing that Republican reforms helped end a four year trend of double-digit premium increases. Without those reforms, premiums would have risen by 20 percent or more again next year.
What’s clear is that for too long, MNsure and Obamacare have hurt Wright County families, farmers, small business owners and individuals who purchase their own insurance. Premiums skyrocketed year after year, leaving many Minnesotans struggling to afford their insurance and provide for their family. That’s why Republicans advanced real solutions that lowered or kept rates steady for next year. That’s great news considering just last year, rates rose by nearly 60 percent.
I am pleased that these Republican-led reforms are having a meaningful impact, and I will continue to advocate for commonsense policy at the state-level to improve affordability, access and choice for Minnesotans who purchase their own insurance.
Subcommittee on Employee Relations and Union Contracts
As Chair of the Subcommittee on Employee Relations (SER), it is our job to approve or reject negotiated union contract agreements and compensation plans for union employees in the executive branch of state government. This is extremely critical work as nearly $10 billion worth of spending out a $46 billion total state budget goes through our committee which is made up of both House and Senate members.
Recently, the SER was tasked with accepting or rejecting MAPE and AFSCME Council 5 contracts for state employees. Unfortunately, there were a number of issues surrounding these contracts and they were rejected by the committee.
For one, Minnesota Management and Budget was not forthcoming with a full budgetary breakdown of how employee increases would fit into the overall state budget approved by the Legislature for the biennium. We cannot take their word for it without the numbers, when last biennium, projections of spending for these two union contracts were 40 percent over projections ($141 million over).
What’s more, there was no budget breakdown by agency of how the proposed salary increases would be allocated. If union contracts eat up all additional dollars given to state agencies, then that leaves no room for other operating spending like insurance and rent.
Furthermore, there were serious concerns about how ratifying these contracts would affect Minnesota State campuses. These increases were more than double what Minnesota State could handle financially which could lead to cut programs, staff layoffs, future tuition hikes and other problems.
Finally, when looking at the contract put before the SER, those contracts included across the board increases, step increases and increased benefits. When compounding those together over two years, it could be as high as an 11 percent raise, something not seen or matched in the private sector.
One of the biggest drivers of state government is agency spending, and we must be fiscally responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars. There is value to many state employees across our state who do good work, but there were far too many problems and unanswered questions surrounding these contracts for the SER to approve them. We must not continue to rubber stamp contracts without delving deeper into how they affect the overall financial health of our state and expedite future government growth.
Met Council Audit
On October 4, the nonpartisan Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) released an audit showing the Met Council had a significant $237 million discrepancy between their financial reporting to the federal government and the Legislature.
Working to secure federal funding for the Southwest Light Rail boondoggle, the Met Council reported a $152 million balance in their total operating budget, while in their report to the Legislature during the 2017 session, the Met Council reported an $85 million deficit. This is particularly troubling because during final budget negotiations earlier this year, Governor Dayton insisted that the final Transportation Finance bill include $70 million in taxpayer money to cover their operating deficit.
This is extremely disappointing to say the least, and why Republicans advocated for substantial reform to the Met Council this session. Accountability and oversight in state government is essential, and it is clear there is not nearly enough light shed on the goings on of this governor-appointed Met Council bureaucracy.
The OLA plans to look further into Met Council finances and will be providing additional findings to lawmakers soon.
High School Page Program
If you know a high school junior interested in state government and politics, encourage them to apply for the House High School Page Program. This week-long experience gives an in depth look at how government operates, allowing students to assist in the legislative process, meet with elected officials and provide a unique hands-on learning experience.
All applications are due by December 1, 2017. You can learn more about the program and how to apply here.
If you need assistance on an issue pertaining to state government, my office is available to you. You can e-mail at Rep.Marion.ONeill@House.MN or call my office at 651-296-5063. You can also write a letter to me. My office address at the Capitol is 549 State Office Building, 100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, St. Paul, MN 55155.