Capitol Notebook: Rep. Kline expects across-the-board budget cuts

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

Republican 2nd Congressional District Congressman John Kline visited the State Capitol on Monday (Feb. 18), saying he expects sequestration or the federal across-the-board budget cuts to begin on March 1.

Does the public know what’s going on in Washington?

“No,” Kline said.

Rep. John Kline

Rep. John Kline

“People don’t understand. In part because it’s very, very confusing.”

Kline said there are continuing budget resolutions being considered in Congress to delay sequestration, but these will not prevent the across-the-board cuts.

He dislikes the idea of across-the-board cuts, Kline explained, because they don’t reflect any prioritization.

On other matters, Kline, House Education and Workforce Committee chairman, said the committee will soon begin hearings on the issue of school safety.

Kline stressed that he preferred states and school districts to decide school safety issues rather than Washington, but the retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel offered a personal opinion on the question of teachers carrying guns in classrooms.

“I think I would rather have an armed teacher than a gunman going wild,” he said.

Kline is considered by pundits a possible Republican candidate to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken next year.

Kline neither embraced nor dismissed the idea.

“I will make a decision on what I am doing sometime in the summer,” Kline said.

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Two area lawmakers are pushing solar energy legislation.

Rep. Will Morgan, DFL-Burnsville, and Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, are looking to establish a 10 percent solar renewable energy standard in Minnesota by 2030.

“I believe Minnesota is heading in the right direction on solar energy,” Eaton said.

According to solar industry officials, Minnesota already has about 100 businesses in the industry and they argue that gradually increasing a solar energy ratio to 10 percent will create thousands of new jobs.

“This bill will provide jobs,” Morgan said.

Under the bill, a solar-energy incentive account tapping into 1.33 percent of the gross annual retail electric sales of power utilities would be created to pay owners of qualified solar collection devices.

Payments would extend over 30 years, the bill stipulates.

The amount of sunshine in Minnesota, rather than minimal, is comparable to amounts in the southern United States — better than Houston, Texas, and Jacksonville, Fla, industry officials say,

Further, the state’s cold weather, instead of harming the solar energy process, is actually helpful, they say.

Sixteen other states have enacted solar energy standards, solar industry officials said.

A new solar energy standard would leverage more than $230 million in investments in Minnesota in the first year, solar industry officials insist.

Xcel Energy Regional Vice President Laura McCarten is dubious of the legislation.

“Xcel Energy has worked cooperatively with policy makers and stakeholders to achieve a well-balanced, diverse energy portfolio that today is 46 percent carbon-free,” she said in a statement.

“We support efforts to continue to develop energy options that appropriately balance the goals of reliability, reasonable customer cost, and improved environmental performance,” McCarten said.

“Solar energy is an appropriate resource to develop, but we do not believe a 10 percent mandate is appropriate for our customers at this time. Solar energy is projected to remain expensive relative to other clean energy resources such as wind power and conservation programs. That is why we support a more moderate approach for advancing solar energy, one that balances the focus on solar with the other, more cost-effective clean energy resources available,” said McCarten in part.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton mentioned solar energy in his recent State of the State Address:

“The question is: are we progressing fast enough? Are we doing all we can to utilize other renewables, such as solar, and also to make Minnesota the best place to locate these new industries and their jobs?” Dayton said.

“I challenge this legislature to work again with our state’s visionary clean energy advocates, large energy providers, large energy users, other stakeholders, and my administration,” he said.

One provision in Morgan and Eaton’s bill addresses power storage. Industry officials concede storing power remains a “challenge.”

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Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, will soon introduce legislation dealing with silica sand, or frac sand, mining in Minnesota.

Disputes over the future of the frac sand industry recently packed a State Capitol committee room and is one of the hot button issues at the Legislature this session.

Schmit will call for a generic environmental impact statement (GEIS) to examine questions confronting local government officials.

“It’s a gold rush,” Schmit said of the mining industries’ interest in mining the quartz-sand, used in mining oil and gas as a means of fracturing deep shale deposits.

Frac sand mining in recent years has rapidly expanded.

Other features of the bill would create a “Southern Minnesota Silica Sand Board” bringing together state and local government officials to hammer out a regional ordinance standard for silica sand mining.

Some local government officials, including the chairman of the Houston County Board, have asked for the state to step in and help local government in addressing silica sand mining.

Other provisions in the bill will call for certain taxing authority for local government to deal with silica mining-related expenses and grant them authority to extend existing mining moratoriums until the GEIS is completed and the “sand board” do its work.

The bill, though, will include no statewide moratorium on silica sand mining, Schmit said.

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