2017 LEGISLATURE ADJOURNS, PASSING BONDING, TRANSPORTATION BILLS

(Minneapolis Labor Review) After going into a special session, the 2017 Minnesota legislature adjourned May 26 after taking care of unfinished business from 2016: passing both a bonding bill and a transportation bill.

But the Republican-controlled legislature also inserted objectionable policy provisions in budget bills which DFL Governor Mark Dayton said he accepted only to avoid a budget stalemate and a government shutdown.

In response, Dayton used his line item veto to cut out the funding for legislative operations and staff — a bargaining chip to bring the legislature back for a special legislative session which he wants to repeal policy measures he opposes. As the Labor Review went to press June 16, that dispute was headed to the courts.

Dayton also used his veto power to block a “preemption” bill that would have barred local communities from enacting local minimum wage standards and sick leave policies.

Trades welcome bonding bill

Building Trades leaders welcomed the bonding and transportation bills as job-creating investments in state infrastructure, even as they hoped for better versions of both bills.

The $987.9 million bonding bill will fund public works projects throughout the state, including investments in facilities at the state’s university systems, the state security hospital in St. Peter, water infrastructure, local road improvement grants, and numerous other projects..

“We are happy that the legislature completed the work they started last year,” said Harry Melander, president of the Minnesota State Building and Construction Trades Council. “We’re always grateful and thankful to Minnesota legislators to invest in Minnesota’s infrastructure. By doing that, it creates a heck of a lot of jobs for Building Trades members throughout the state.”

“We’re pleased that they did a good-sized bonding bill,” agreed Kyle Makarios, director of government affairs for the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters. “We’re happy they got it done after the failure to get it done last year.”

Makarios noted that passing a bonding bill this year puts the legislature back on the normal cycle to take up a bonding bill next year (bonding typically takes place in the even-numbered years).

Transportation bill: two views

“We’re happy that the legislature after years and years of not being able to pass a transportation bill passed a bill that puts real significant money into roads and transit,” Makarios said.

“It doesn’t include all the funding mechanisms we hoped for,” he said, but “it’s an important, real step forward.”

The final transportation bill did not include immediate drastic cuts to Metro Transit that transit advocates vigorously opposed (Labor Review, April 28, 2017).

That positive outcome, however, didn’t satisfy State Representative Frank Hornstein (DFL, Minneapolis), a strong transportation and transit proponent. The final bill, he said, “zeroes out transit beginning in 2020. We’re going to have deep cuts in transit.”

He also criticized the bill for relying on funding shifted from the state’s general fund, rather than creating new revenue streams. “The way to fund transportation is through a gas tax or a license tab fee,” he said.

“This bill is a missed opportunity to solve the problem,” Hornstein said.

New teaching licensure policy opposed by Education Minnesota

One policy measure inserted into the education budget bill is strongly opposed by Education Minnesota, the state’s teachers union.

In a statement, Education Minnesota said Republican-backed changes to teacher licensure “would significantly lower standards.”

“This bill devalues the profession, allows people with little or no training to teach our children and makes it harder to recruit and retain quality educators,” Education Minnesota said.

“Teacher licensing standard changes… give school districts too much authority to hire people with much less teacher training,” the union said. “People can receive unlimited teaching licenses without any teacher preparation training — essentially allowing someone to tach for their entire career without any training on how to teach.”

Education Minnesota president Denise Specht said she welcomed Dayton’s move to cut the legislature’s funding in order to win repeal of the new teaching licensure policies.

AFSCME beats back attackon public employee bargaining

Like the teachers, AFSCME also vigorously opposed proposed policy changes sought by the Republican majorities in the legislature.

“AFSCME members beat back a sneak attack on our collective bargaining rights during the special session,” reported Jennifer Munt, public affairs director for AFSCME Council 5. “While negotiating the bill to fund state agencies, Republicans slipped in a poison pill to cripple the right of state employees to bargain wage increases and health insurance.  The change would have forced us to bargain with the Legislature, making it nearly impossible to get a contract.”

“Minnesota is not Wisconsin because Senator Tom Bakk, our union brother,  helped us remove the poison pill,” Munt continued. “We preserved the Public Employment Labor Relations Act. Without that strong protection, employers like Scott Walker could do just about anything they want to public workers.”

Looking to 2018

“The special session made it clear that workers must unite to elect a pro-worker governor and House in 2018,” Munt said. “Our wages, benefits and rights depend on it.”

In the 2017 legislative session, Munt said, “Republicans put big businesses and the wealthy few ahead of regular Minnesotans. They insisted there wasn’t enough funding to invest in health care, our schools and tax breaks for working families. Instead they gave away millions to big tobacco, giant corporations and the estates of multi-millionaires… They left work with a big mess and they shouldn’t get paid until the job gets done. Governor Dayton is smart to call them back to work to finish their work and put the needs of regular Minnesotans first.”