Within moments of the state's projected $1 billion-plus budget surplus being announced, organizations began issuing press releases making the case why their cause deserves more state funding.
A coalition of 100 disability and senior community organizations plans to launch its "5% Campaign" today during a St. Paul press conference. The coalition will be lobbying for a 5 percent funding increase for home and community-based services. This push follows a successful effort last session for a 5 percent funding increase. Meanwhile, other groups are making their own pleas for more funding for everything from rural broadband to affordable housing.
"It has its own challenges to have a surplus, because there are a lot of unmet needs in the state and people do come forward and say, 'We need the money for this and that and the other thing,'" Rep. Tina Liebling, D-Rochester, said. "Sorting through those and deciding what your priorities are going to be is really challenging."
The bulk of the burden in the Minnesota House now falls on Republicans, who took control of that chamber in the November elections. Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, said lawmakers are always dealing with more requests for funding than they can accommodate, but those requests do grow when there's a surplus.
As part of the process, he said it's going to be critical for lawmakers to take a hard look at how state dollars are being spent. Once those issues are addressed, then it's a matter or prioritizing needs.
"I'm a firm believer that you look at and fix some of those problems so you can more transparently see where the dollars need to go," Quam said.
Davids to fight online lottery ticket sales
Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, is drafting a bill to prohibit online lottery ticket sales. It would also prohibit the sale of lottery tickets at ATMs and gas stations. Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a similar bill this year despite it passing by wide margins in the House and Senate.
"We're going to get a broad coalition supporting this, and I think we'll get it passed," Davids said.
This past session, Davids was the chief author of a bill prohibiting lottery ticket sales at gas pumps. He said to imagine a situation where a driver is in a hurry and needs to fill up his gas tank and encounters a long line of cars waiting because another driver is playing the lottery.
"Is that really necessary? This thing is spiraling out of control," Davids said.
He adds that he does not believe the lottery has the authority to set up virtual ticket sales without legislative approval. That's something officials with the lottery have disputed. Davids is also frustrated the governor vetoed the legislation after lawmakers went home, in essence preventing lawmakers from overriding his veto.
In a recent Associated Press article, Dayton was quoted as saying Lottery Director Ed Van Petten has a tough task in front of him trying to convince lawmakers to let the online lottery sales continue.
"The bottom line is if the vote is in both bodies as it was this spring, if I vetoed it, they would override it," Dayton said. "The director has his work cut out for him, but he deserves the chance to make his case."
Local DFL loses office space
Local Democrats are looking for a new headquarters after their landlord declined to renew their lease at Prow Plaza, 401 16th Ave. N.W. in Rochester. Their lease terminates at the end of the year.
The office has been the home base for Democratic election efforts for several years. Senate District 26 DFL Chairman Mark Liebow said Democrats don't expect to open a new headquarters right away.
"We are probably going to put some stuff in storage for awhile," Liebow said. "We will reopen, but we are certainly not going to be able to do something by the first of January."
DFLers leased 1,350-square-feet of space. On the bright side, Liebow said it's a slow time politically, so there's not a huge need to find new office space right away. He expects Democrats will open a new office some time next year.
"We are going to start looking and thinking about what our options are and how we want to be positioned in 2016," he said.