Legislative update, week 15: Mayo scrambles for support for state money

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Officials with the Mayo Clinic are hoping this is a better week for them at the Capitol as they meet with lawmakers to continue reworking the clinic's request for $585 million in state money.

The funds would be part of an ambitious $6 billion effort to improve the city of Rochester. But Mayo officials have been having a tough time selling lawmakers on it.

Lawmakers have been critical of a number of specific pieces of the proposal, as well as the broader implication of dumping a big pot of state money into one city, even if it is the home of the state's biggest private employer.

As Mayo pressed, last week lawmakers were further irked when Mayo President Dr. John Noseworthy made a not-too-veiled threat to expand in another state if Minnesota didn't contribute some money to the effort (Mayo has vowed to spend $3.5 billion and round up $2 billion in private investment).

Then on Friday, Senate Taxes Committee Chairman Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, pulled the proposal off his panel's agenda for the day, saying lawmakers and Mayo officials need to do a lot more work on it. Both Senate and House lawmakers are meeting with Mayo to cobble together an improved version of the bill.

This week, lawmakers and Mayo officials hope to get a better prognosis on the measure's chances this session. The House Taxes Committee is expected to revisit the proposal.

The Mayo legislation's chief author, Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, noted last week that the project could create as many as 30,000 new jobs. She also stressed that the money Mayo seeks from the Legislature would not go to Mayo, but to the city to improve infrastructure and Rochester’s cultural facilities.

Last week

Here's a quick roundup of some of the action from last week in the Capitol:

Sales taxes

Gov. Mark Dayton not long ago ditched his proposal to broaden the list of goods and services subject to Minnesota sales tax, but the plan has been brought back to life by some Senate Democrats. A newly unveiled proposal aims to tax services like tattoos, haircuts, dance lessons, cosmetic surgery and personal shopping services. Republicans still oppose the idea, and Dayton himself isn't planning to go back and support it, a spokesman said.

Vikings stadium

Fearful that new electronic pulltab gambling games won't raise nearly as much money for the state as expected, Minnesota lawmakers are considering a new roster of alternative plans to pay for the state's $348 million share of the new $1 billion Vikings stadium. Proposals include leaning on the Vikings to chip in another $200 million; obtaining venue naming rights from the team; new taxes on sports merchandise and luxury seats; and revisiting "racinos" – slot machines at Minnesota's two horse-racing tracks.

Human services cuts

House Democrats unveiled $150 million in cuts proposed to the $13.2 billion Health and Human Services budget for the next two years. Some of the "cuts" could amount to shifts in spending to other areas. The proposal also trims $66 million by changes in payments to managed care providers, and $93 million through "targeted reductions to existing programs and reforms of services in areas like dental and prescription drugs."

Education

House DFL leaders introduced an education budget bill with big goals: closing the achievement gap, reaching the nation’s highest high school graduation rate, 100 percent literacy by third grade, and 100 percent career and college readiness by graduation — all by 2027. MinnPost examines the highlights and "lower lights" of the bill.

Guns

Lawmakers continue to mull two competing background check bills – one that requires background checks in private sales at gun shows, and one that is broader, MPR reported. Meanwhile, Congress is considering a universal background check law.

Sex offenders

A bill that would require the state to offer more cost-effective treatment alternatives for the state's civilly committed 700 sex offenders had its first hearing last week. Lawmakers are looking for alternatives to housing them at the state's high-security treatment center in Moose Lake. No vote was taken, but lawmakers say they urgently need to find new solutions.

Transportation

Many officials in the state had been hopeful that there would be a big increase in new money for Minnesota road, bridge and mass transit construction projects, but hope largely faded last week as it became increasingly clear that the taxes needed to support the investments probably won't be approved this session.

'Stupor Bowl'

Lawmakers have long debated a proposal to allow liquor stores in the state to remain open on Sundays, but there's never been much political will to do it, given opposition from many store owners who don't want to work Sunday – and don't see a big-money benefit to doing it. Likewise, chances seem slim for a new attempt to at least allow stores to open on one Sunday a year for the Super Bowl.

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