Gretchen Hoffman co-sponsors controverisal bill on public employee pensions
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota public employees would pay more toward their pensions in a bill unions say is like one in Wisconsin that drew national attention.
Sens. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, and Mike Parry, R-Waseca, introduced their bill Monday as a way to help plug a $5 billion state budget deficit by reducing state expenses.
"This will help the funds stay viable," Hoffman said. "The track they are on is not viable."
Without the bill, Hoffman added, the state may not be able to keep pension plans fully funded.
"We want our government employees to be able to count on their pensions when they retire," she said.
The bill would save the state $50 million in the next two-year budget.
Opponents compared the bill to a controversial Wisconsin action.
"What we have here is Scott Walker's vision brought to Minnesota," public union leader Eliot Seide said, referring to Wisconsin's governor, who has created a firestorm among unions for his efforts to remove power from them.
Teachers and other public workers already fund 5 percent to 9 percent of their pensions, Seide said.
Republicans say that requiring workers to pay 3 percentage points more to their pensions is better than the alternatives.
"Do we like it?" Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, asked. "I don't think we like it any more than Sen. Hoffman likes laying people off or cutting their wages" in her business.
Gov. Mark Dayton would not say he would veto the bill, but made it clear that he opposes the idea. He said the Minnesota GOP proposal would go beyond what happened in Wisconsin.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple met over breakfast Monday.
On the menu? Expected Red River flooding.
Dayton said the two just discussed the situation in general, but made no decisions.
The two, who have known each other since they were young, "worked on building our relationship," Dayton said.
Photo ID begins
A Senate committee Monday engaged in the rare practice of allowing a state representative to testify.
Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, talked to the committee about requiring voters to show a photo identification at the polls. She is a former secretary of state.
The bill she and Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, promoted would require a special state-funded photo ID.
Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, introduced his own photo ID bill, which would allow existing cards such as driver's license, tribal ID or other state- and -tribal-issued ID.
"My bill embraces the concept that less is more," Howe said. "This is a low cost way of making sure we don't have disenfranchised voters."
The committee will further consider the issue later this week.
The key sponsor of a Senate bill to allow nuclear a power plant to be built in Minnesota said the current Japanese nuclear problem should not affect her bill.
"Geographically, we are so different," Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said.
Still, she said, "we will have those discussions" about safety.
A House-Senate conference committee is negotiating relatively minor differences between bills passed by the two legislative chambers. It is not known when the committee may wrap up its work and Koch did not speculate on the timing.
There is discussion worldwide in light of nuclear plant failures following a Japanese earthquake and tsunami.
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.