The Unsession: Creating a Better Government for a Better Minnesota
Governor Mark Dayton and key members of the Cabinet today unveiled his administration’s legislative agenda for the 2014 Unsession. Governor Dayton’s reform proposals include over 1,000 ways to make state government work better for the people of Minnesota. From reforms that will improve state government services, to the elimination of unnecessary and outdated statutes, to simplifying the language of our state laws, the Governor’s Unsession proposals have one overriding goal: creating a Better Government for a Better Minnesota.
“Some people like to talk about reform. We really mean it,” said Governor Dayton. “During the past three years, we have worked hard to improve and streamline state government – saving Minnesota citizens and businesses time and money. I look forward to working with the Legislature to build on that progress and give Minnesotans the high-value, efficient services they deserve.”
In his 2013 State of the State Address, Governor Dayton proposed making the 2014 Legislative Session an “Unsession.” During the Unsession, the Governor has asked legislators to devote their efforts to eliminating excessive laws, rules, and regulations; and getting rid of anything else that makes government nearly impossible to understand. After months of preparation – having gathered input from thousands of citizens, legislators, and state employees – Governor Dayton today laid out a roadmap for reforms, both big and small, that will make a difference in the lives of Minnesotans.
Plain Language Executive Order
Dense forms, documents, and websites full of complicated jargon and hard-to-find links create confusion and waste Minnesotans’ time. To make state government work better for the people it serves, Governor Dayton has signed an Executive Order implementing the state’s first-ever Plain Language policy. The Governor’s Plain Language initiative will direct all state agencies to use commonly used language, write in clear and concise sentences, and reduce the use of jargon and acronyms that make state government nearly impossible to understand. More information about the Governor’s Plain Language initiative is available here. Examples of what Plain Language looks like are available here.
Since taking office, Governor Dayton has made streamlining environmental permitting a top priority. The Dayton Administration has made permitting faster and more predictable for Minnesota businesses, while ensuring strong environmental protections remain in place. Today, 97 percent of environmental permits for economic development projects are issued in less than 150 days. Governor Dayton believes we can do better. As part of the Unsession, the Governor is proposing new reforms that would ensure that 11,000 of the 15,000 permit requests each year are completed in 90 days or less. Many of the remaining permits would be completed in less than 150 days. More information about this initiative is available here.
Photo credit: cc Flickr user Mark Evans
ST. PAUL, MN – Governor Mark Dayton this morning signed legislation providing additional state funding to keep Minnesotans safe and warm during this winter’s propane emergency. The first bill signed into law by Governor Dayton this session (HF2374/SF1961) adds $20 million to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), giving approximately 180,000 Minnesotans the financial help they need to pay their heating bills this winter.
“The amount of propane needed to heat Minnesota homes, farms, and businesses during this exceptionally cold winter and the skyrocketing cost of propane threatened to exhaust our state’s LIHEAP funding and put our citizens out in the cold. This funding crisis required immediate action – action that the legislature wisely took today,” said Governor Dayton. “We are continuing to do everything possible to keep Minnesotans safe and warm during this emergency.”
Soaring prices for heating fuel, caused by a severe shortage of propane in the Midwest, have led to financial hardship for families across Minnesota – placing additional strain on LIHEAP funds. Without state action, Minnesota’s heating assistance funds were projected to run out shortly after March 1st of this year. But the new state funding allocation provided today will help ensure that all eligible Minnesota households seeking assistance to heat their homes this winter will get the financial help they need.
“By the end of this winter, we are projecting that nearly 180,000 qualifying Minnesota households will apply for and receive heating assistance – that is a 30 percent increase over last year,” said Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman, whose agency manages the state’s LIHEAP program. “Without the support of Governor Dayton and the Legislature, we would not have been able to provide tens of thousands of families the help they need to weather the rest of these cold winter months.”
In a letter to legislators earlier this month, Governor Dayton expressed his plans to shore up state funding for LIHEAP, if the federal government did not provide additional funding for Minnesota. The new heating assistance funds authorized by the legislature today will be available immediately for eligible Minnesota households.
Expanded Heating Assistance Program Will Help Thousands of Minnesotans
Knowing the financial hardships Minnesotans are facing due to the propane shortage, Governor Dayton took executive action earlier this month to expand LIHEAP assistance to another 120,000 Minnesota households. Now, Minnesotans earning less than 60 percent of the state median income (SMI) are eligible for LIHEAP.
That means a family of four earning less than $52,370 per year, or a household of two earning less than $35,612 now qualify for heating assistance this winter. The Minnesota Department of Commerce projects that roughly 30,000 to 40,000 newly-eligible households will apply for heating assistance this year.
LIHEAP recipients will also benefit from additional financial assistance this winter. In response to the propane shortage, the Dayton Administration announced that LIHEAP applicants who heat their homes with propane and heating oil will now qualify for up to $1,000 in crisis payments – an increase of $500.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad
We are governors from neighboring states and different political parties. We don't agree on everything, but we stand united in our belief that our nation needs a robust Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and together in our opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency's proposal to weaken the RFS.
Since Congress enacted the RFS in 2005 by huge bipartisan margins, it has provided the secure policy foundation that rural America needs to continue investments in renewable fuels. Those investments yield excellent returns. They diversify our nation's energy portfolio, clean the air, grow opportunities for businesses, create good paying jobs in rural America, add value to farm products, and give consumers lower-cost choices at the pump.
Big Oil dislikes renewable fuels, and has used its clout in Washington D.C. and at state capitals to thwart their progress. When Minnesota became the first state to require all gasoline sold to contain at least 10 percent ethanol (E10), Big Oil predicted fearsome disasters. They warned that ethanol would clog cars' carburetors and explode their engines, disrupt supply lines causing gasoline shortages, and increase the price at the pump for consumers. None of that happened.
The petroleum industry also claimed that the RFS causes higher fuel prices. In fact, the opposite has proven true. On February 4, 2014, regular gasoline in Cresco, Iowa, a town about 15 minutes from the Iowa-Minnesota border, was selling for $3.44 per gallon. E10 was selling at $3.13 per gallon. E85 fuel, which is 85 percent ethanol, was selling for $2.60 per gallon at the same station - 84 cents per gallon cheaper than regular gasoline.
A recent study at Iowa State University found that, "Feasible increases in the ethanol mandate in 2014 will cause a small decline in the price of E10. Our results should reassure those in Congress and the Administration who are worried that following the RFS commitment to expanding the use of renewable fuels will result in sharply higher fuel prices for consumers."
The Environmental Protection Agency previously estimated that by 2022, renewable fuels would replace 13.6 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel consumption and save motorists nearly $12 billion each year. The EPA also predicted that this displacement of gasoline and diesel would reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 138 million metric tons, equivalent to removing 27 million vehicles from our nation's highways. Ethanol can increase competition and save consumers money, provide real choice at the pump, and drive innovations and efficiencies that are good for the economy.
Photo Credit: Flickr User Aaron Landry
Governor Mark Dayton has proposed a jobs bill that will make critical investments in infrastructure projects across our state, and create an estimated 27,000 jobs. The Governor’s bonding proposal would make major investments in key projects in Mankato and surrounding communities. Some of those projects include:
Mankato Civic Center and Ice Arena. The Governor’s proposal recommends investing $14.5 million in the renovation and expansion of the Mankato Civic Center and Ice Arena. While many Minnesotans may know it as the home of Minnesota State Maverick hockey teams, the center also is critical to the regional economy – hosting conferences and regional events. Since it was first built, more than 80 businesses have started or expanded in downtown Mankato adding more than 520 new jobs, while retaining an additional 400 jobs.
Making this new investment in the Mankato Civic Center will help ensure this shovel-ready expansion and renovation project moves past the planning stage. Doing so will deliver big benefits for our state, including:
South Central College. Governor Dayton understands that Minnesotans need access to a world-class education to be prepared for the jobs of the future. That is why nearly 25 percent of the Governor’s bonding proposal invests in higher education projects, including $7.5 million to renovate science, technology, and engineering, and math facilities at South Central College in North Mankato. Making these improvements will help Minnesotans develop the skills they need for great jobs in health care, computer technology, and agribusiness.
Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) Commissioner Brenda Cassellius was joined today by Office of Higher Education (OHE) Commissioner Larry Pogemiller and Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Commissioner Katie Clark Sieben to announce that graduation rates are the highest in the last decade, with more than 79.5 percent of Minnesota high school seniors graduating in 2013, up from 77.6 percent in 2012. This increase is twice the yearly increase seen over the past three years, showing acceleration in progress for Minnesota seniors.
"Today is a great day for students throughout Minnesota," Cassellius said. "We are not only seeing a higher graduation rate for all students, but increases in the number of students graduating in every single group. These increases are the result of targeted investments by Governor Mark Dayton and the Legislature, as well as greater accountability for schools through our waiver, and the incredible work being done each and every day by Minnesota’s educators."
Across the board, all student groups showed gains, with some of the largest increases being made by black students—up 6 percent over last year—and students learning English, whose rate increased by 7.5 percent over 2012. In fact, no single group of students made less than a 3 percentage point gain.
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development announced today that Minnesota ranked fifth among states in employee perceptions of job creation at their workplaces, according to a new study released by the Gallup organization.
“The Gallup Job Creation Index results are another positive indication of a strong economy in Minnesota,” said Katie Clark Sieben, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). “High scores in the index strongly correlate with standard of living and confidence in the economy rankings.”
Snowplow Skills Training at Camp Ripley
Governor Dayton understands the importance of investing in Minnesota’s future. Just like a homeowner who maintains their property – making smart investments in Minnesota’s infrastructure will ensure our state remains a great place to live for decades to come. That’s why the Governor’s bonding bill proposes to invest $986 million in critical infrastructure projects across our state. These projects will produce more than 27,000 jobs for Minnesotans and improve facilities essential for job creation, education, and transportation.
The Brainerd Lakes region would benefit from several projects proposed in the Governor’s bonding bill, including:
Governor Dayton calls on all Minnesotans to cheer on, support 19 Minnesota Olympians
Today, Governor Mark Dayton recognized the 19 Minnesota athletes preparing to compete in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games. Governor Dayton issued a proclamation today declaring February 7, 2014, to be Minnesota Winter Olympians Day, and called on all Minnesotans to support our athletes at the Winter Games1.
"I am one of many Minnesotans, who grew up dreaming of making the U.S. Olympic team. Few athletes, however, have the exceptional talent and extraordinary dedication needed to reach this sports zenith," said Governor Dayton. “For all Minnesotans, I send our state's Olympians our heartiest congratulations for their amazing achievements. We are proud to send our very best wishes to Minnesota's athletes and to the entire Team USA."
Minnesotans have a proud tradition of representing the United States at the Winter Olympics. This year is no exception, with 19 Minnesotans representing the United States in a variety of competitions at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. This is more than all neighboring states combined, and ties Minnesota for the second-most Winter Olympians of any state in the nation, behind only California (a state with more than 38 million residents).
Cheer on Minnesota’s 2014 Winter Olympians
Minnesota’s Winter Olympians will compete in a variety of different sports including: biathlon, curling, ice hockey, Nordic skiing, and speed skating. Minnesotans can learn more about their hometown athletes and follow their events by clicking these links to the Team USA website:
David Backes, Minneapolis, Men’s Ice Hockey
Backes is the captain of the St. Louis Blues’ Hockey Team. A native of Minneapolis, he played three years of college hockey at Minnesota State University at Mankato before turning professional in 2006. At six feet, three inches, Backes is known for his determination and physical style of play.
Jessie Diggins, Afton, Women’s Nordic Skiing
At 22-years-old, Diggins is the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic Women’s Nordic Ski Team. As a Stillwater Pony, she won three Minnesota state high school Nordic ski titles. Continuing that success, Diggins won a gold medal at the 2013 FIS World Ski Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy.
Justin Faulk, South Saint Paul, Men’s Ice Hockey
Only 21-years-old, Faulk is an up-and-coming professional hockey star for the Carolina Hurricanes. Before turning professional, Faulk played high school hockey for South Saint Paul and helped lead the University of Minnesota Duluth to a National Championship in 2011.
Jeff Isaacson, Virginia, Men’s Curling
Issacson has been competitively curling since 1996. The 2014 Olympics will be his second time representing the United States. In 2010, Issacson was part of American squad that finished 10th. This year, Team USA will be looking for redemption and an Olympic medal.
John Landsteiner, Mapleton, Men’s Curling
Landsteiner currently resides in Duluth, where he competes as a member of the Duluth Curling Club. Though he is only 23 years-old, Landsteiner has plenty of curling experience – winning bronze medals at both the 2012 and 2013 U.S. National Championships.
Photo credit: Eric Schmuttenmaer, Flickr
Governor Dayton takes executive action to help tens of thousands of families in propane crisis
As Minnesota’s propane emergency continues – with heating fuel prices now three to four times their usual level – Governor Mark Dayton has taken executive action to expand eligibility for the state’s heating assistance program. That action, which was implemented this morning by the state’s Commissioner of Commerce, means an estimated 120,000 more Minnesota households will now qualify for assistance from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The Minnesota Department of Commerce estimates that because of this change, an additional 30,000 to 40,000 newly-eligible Minnesotans will apply for heating assistance this winter.
The executive action announced by Governor Dayton today extends eligibility for heating assistance from 50 percent of the state median income (SMI) to 60 percent of SMI. Under these new income guidelines, households of four earning less than $52,370 per year, for example, will now be eligible for heating assistance. A household of two earning less than $35,612 per year would qualify. By expanding the LIHEAP program, Governor Dayton hopes to provide needed financial assistance for tens of thousands of Minnesota families who are now struggling to pay for the rising price of propane and other heating fuels.
“Minnesotans across our state are living in fear that they will run out of the fuels they need to keep their families safe and warm,” said Governor Dayton. “This crisis requires immediate action, which I have taken today. I will continue to do everything I can to ensure the safety of our citizens during this serious emergency.”
The Minnesota Department of Commerce recently announced that LIHEAP crisis payments would increase from $500 to $1,000 for applicants who heat their homes with propane and heating oil. These increased allocations will apply to all Minnesota households now eligible for LIHEAP assistance under the executive action announced today.
How to Apply for Heating Assistance
The executive action announced today extends eligibility for heating assistance from 50 percent of the state median income (SMI) to 60 percent of SMI, or $35,612 per year for a household of two and $52,370 per year for a household of four. Qualifying households must apply for assistance at the local service provider in their area. Minnesota has 32 local service providers statewide. A list of local service providers, additional information on income guidelines, and guidance for how to apply for assistance is available on the Minnesota Department of Commerce website or by calling (800) 657-3710.
Governor Dayton Calls for Additional LIHEAP Funding
Skyrocketing propane prices, and a growing demand for propane, have put additional strain on the state’s LIHEAP program. Last week, the federal government allocated an additional $15.8 million in heating assistance funds for eligible Minnesota households. Despite that new allocation, without additional funding Minnesota’s heating assistance program is projected to run out of money sometime between March 10 and March 31, 2014.
To address that shortfall, Governor Dayton will seek the assistance of the federal government and, if necessary, the state legislature to appropriate additional funding to ensure that all Minnesotans who seek and qualify for LIHEAP assistance under the new eligibility guidelines will receive help in the remaining months of winter.
Governor Dayton notified state legislative leaders today that if the federal government does not provide additional LIHEAP funding for Minnesota, he plans to include $17 million of state funds for the program in his supplemental budget proposal – which will be completed shortly after the release of the upcoming state budget forecast.
Governor Dayton’s letter to legislative leaders can be found here.
Keeping homes heated at safe levels during the winter is extremely important – and Governor Dayton is working to help assist families from making tough choices about whether to heat their homes or buy food and medication.
Propane Shortage Hotline – Minnesota residents with questions about the current propane situation or who are in danger of running out of heating fuel can call 651-297-1304 in the metro area or 1-800-657-3504 in Greater Minnesota. The hotline is staffed with experts from the Minnesota Department of Commerce who can provide information about Energy Assistance Programs, connect callers with resources in their home county, and provide other information.
Emergency Executive Order – On Monday of this week, Governor Dayton issued Emergency Executive Order 14-02, declaring a Peacetime State of Emergency in Minnesota in response to a severe shortage of propane and home heating fuels statewide. The Governor has called an emergency meeting of the state’s Executive Council on Friday to consider extending that state of emergency for up to 30 days.
Protecting Consumers from Price Gouging – The Governor has also directed the Commissioner of Commerce to use his consumer protection authority to help guard Minnesotans from potential price gouging activities. On Wednesday, January 29, Commissioner Mike Rothman sent a letter to the propane industry concerning skyrocketing prices. It stated that he will take all necessary steps to protect consumers from potential price gouging and unlawful market manipulation. Consumers who believe they may have been the victim of price gouging are encouraged to contact the Minnesota Department of Commerce's Consumer Help Line at (651) 539-1500 or toll-free at (800) 657-3602.
Additional Financial Assistance for Consumers – Consumers who need financial assistance to pay their heating bills may also qualify for help through the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The Minnesota Department of Commerce recently announced that LIHEAP crisis payments would increase from $500 to $1,000 for applicants who heat their homes with propane and heating oil. Qualifying families must apply for assistance at the local service provider in their area; Minnesota has 32 local service providers. A list of local service providers and information on applying for assistance is available on the Minnesota Department of Commerce website or by calling 1-800-657-3710.
Working to Increase Propane Supplies – This week, Governor Dayton met with propane industry officials to identify immediate steps that can be taken to help resolve the propane supply and price issues. The meeting included Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson, Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman, and state legislators. The Governor also joined Minnesota’s Congressional Delegation in petitioning President Obama to knock down regulatory barriers, take additional steps to alleviate the shortage, and provide expanded relief to families and agriculture producers.
Other National and Federal Measures – The American Railway Association has asked its 175 members to prioritize propane delivery by making cars available and dropping propane shipments at necessary locations. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Transportation has established a regional emergency declaration suspending the regulatory provisions pertaining to hours of service for drivers of commercial motor vehicles transporting propane to affected Midwestern states.