Editor's Note: The following is a newsletter from Rep. Paul Thissen (DFL), who currently represents part of Richfield.
Spring is upon us and we are a short month and a half from the scheduled adjournment of the 2012 legislative session. I am disappointed to report the legislature has not made much progress on its most important work this year - getting people working again and building a strong, middle class economy. With six DFL jobs bills receiving committee hearings, I am hopeful that the second half of the legislative session will be more productive.
CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS CONTINUE TO BE REPUBLICANS' FOCUS
There has been considerable attention to adding more constitutional amendments to the ballot in November. In the House, the voter ID constitutional amendment continues to move through the committee process. Last week, Gov. Dayton and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie proposed an alternative to the amendment that would allow voters to arrive at their polling place and have their identify verified by retrieving their information electronically from state records. I hope the Republicans seize this bipartisan and commonsense alternative rather than proceeding with a constitutional amendment that will impinge on the voting rights of Minnesota citizens. The fact is that 215,000 registered Minnesota voters lack valid or current identification.
HELP FOR MINNESOTA HOMEOWNERS
I am also pleased to let you know that today, House Democrats will introduce the Supporting Responsible Homeowners and Stabilizing Neighborhoods Act, HF 2823, to address the continuing (and likely to grow in 2012) foreclosure problem in Minnesota. The Act includes the following provisions:
Supporting Responsible Homeowners
• Expand refinancing options for responsible homeowners who are current on their mortgages, but face barriers, such as being “underwater,” which prevents them from taking advantage of historically low interest rates.
• Prevent needless foreclosures by providing a 12-month stay of foreclosure proceedings for unemployed homeowners who have lived in their home for ten years.
• Increase transparency for homeowners applying for loan modifications by requiring banks to provide clear and straightforward eligibility criteria, and protect homeowners against unnecessary foreclosure, including right of appeal.
• Make “dual tracking” illegal so that banks are not allowed to foreclose on a house while a loan modification is pending.
Holding Banks Accountable
• Require banks to notify homeowners of each and every loan modification option available to them so that no one is needlessly foreclosed upon when another solution available.
• Prohibits lenders and brokers from charging fees for services not performed.
In February, the Minnesota Attorney General announced that the state will share in the national mortgage settlement that involves the five largest national mortgage lenders: Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank, and GMAC/Ally Financial. Minnesota borrowers will be eligible for up to $280 million under the settlement, including monetary relief, refinancing benefits, and principal reductions. To learn more, call the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office at 651-296-3353 or 1-800-657-3787 or the Minnesota Department of Commerce at 651-296-2488 or 1-800-657-3602, or visit nationalmortgagesettlement.com.
BUDGET FORECAST AND PAYING OFF THE SCHOOL SHIFT
In other news, we learned that Minnesota’s budget has improved in the short term. The recent forecast shows an additional $323 million for the remainder of the biennium. The temporary surplus results largely from lower than expected spending on state health care programs as well as increased revenues from a slightly improved economy. The money is statutorily dedicated to our budget reserves and will allow us to make a minimum down payment on our debt to schools.
The fact remains, however, that we still owe our schools $2.4 billion. Our long term-deficit exceeds $4 billion due to excessive borrowing from Minnesota schools and the raiding of tobacco bonds; the short-term fixes the legislative majority relied upon to solve our budget deficit last year and end the government shutdown.
Despite this tenuous future economic outlook, Republicans this week proposed to continue this pattern of imprudent fiscal management. The K-12 Education Finance committee heard a bill that would drain our budget reserves and direct $430 million towards paying back the school shift. The Commissioner of Management and Budget indicated this would put Minnesota at risk for future borrowing and leave our state on unstable financial footing.
Democrats, in contrast, have proposed a permanent solution to paying back our schools by closing corporate tax loopholes for companies that park their money overseas to avoid taxes in Minnesota. When the choice comes down to protecting big corporations or fairly and responsibly paying back Minnesota schools, the answer seems obvious.
Finally, . While I will continue to proudly represent district 63A, Richfield and south Minneapolis, through the end of the year, the new district I live in, 61B, includes south Minneapolis from Highway 62 north to Lake Street and the communities around Lake Harriet and Diamond Lake. . It has been a privilege and an honor to be your state representative. Go here to learn more about the redistricting process and use the interactive map to find the new district where you live: gis.leg.mn/html/redistricting.html
As always, please continue to be in contact about the issues that are important to you. I appreciate your visits, phone calls, letters, and e-mails. I can be reached by phone at 651-296-5375, by email at email@example.com, or you can visit or send mail to my office, 267 State Office Building, 100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, Minnesota 55155.