The inability of Republicans to invest in cybersecurity has already had consequences for Minnesotans. Since last session, there have been at least three major reports of statewide IT issues:
- IP addresses associated with the Secretary of State’s website were scanned for vulnerabilities by Russian hackers, along with voter databases in 20 other states. Fortunately, there was no attempt made to breach the Minnesota State Voter Registration System and no data was compromised, but additional steps must be taken to ensure voter information is kept confidential and secure.
- Malware was unknowingly installed on computers at Tettegouche State Park between August 22 and August 25, which may have compromised the credit card data of Minnesotans who charged items during that period. The DNR does not have evidence that credit card numbers were accessed but customers should monitor their credit cards for any unusual activity.
- A hacker broke into legacy computer systems in June and accessed IT administrator email addresses in protest of the verdict in the trial of police officer Jeronimo Yanez for the death of Philando Castile. MN.IT performed a forensic investigation of this incident and the results were forwarded to the FBI.
The Legislature ignored Governor Dayton’s 2017 budget proposal to provide $26 million to MN.IT for cybersecurity efforts. Half of the money would have been used for data center consolidation (which has become more difficult without new money) and half would go toward additional cybersecurity staff and updated software. The Governor realized the critical need to secure Minnesotans’ information from hacks and identity theft, and with these new reports of hacking, hopefully a supplemental budget this session will begin to tackle the problem.
Line-item veto of legislative funding
The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in November that Governor Dayton’s line-item veto of the Legislature’s appropriation in the Omnibus State Government Bill was within his constitutional authority. The Court also determined the Legislature has adequate funds to continue to operate until the 2018 session convenes through carryforward accounts and commission reserves. Chief Justice Gildea determined the Legislature has access to up to $40 million in unencumbered appropriations.
The Legislative Coordinating Commission (LCC) subsequently voted to transfer the LCC carryforward account (approximately $3 million) and the fiscal year 2019 LCC appropriation (approximately $17 million) to the Legislature for continued operations. Speaker Daudt indicated the LCC transfers will allow the Senate and House to operate until session convenes in February. The Senate carryforward account would have been depleted in early December without support from appropriations intended for joint legislative offices.
Reinstating funding for the Legislature and backfilling the LCC accounts as well as legislative carryforward accounts will be a high priority this session. Governor Dayton has indicated his wish to renegotiate provisions in last year’s state tax bill in conjunction with legislative funding. Please see the Tax section for further details.
State employee contracts
In October, the Legislative Coordinating Commission Subcommittee on Employee Relations (SER) rejected the new state employee contracts agreed upon between the state and two major employee unions.
AFSCME Council 5 and MAPE represent 29,000 public employees across the state. The terms of the agreements would provide a 2% wage increase in fiscal year 2017 and 2.25% increase in fiscal year 2018, with step increases averaging 2.7% each year, depending on eligibility. These modest increases were agreed upon to ensure hard-working state workers remain employed by the state to provide the best possible services to Minnesota taxpayers.
Republicans on the subcommittee refused to allow the contracts to move forward because funding has not been allocated by the Legislature to pay for the wage increases. However, millions of dollars are projected in savings due to lower-than-projected health insurance premium increases, which would help pay for the terms in the contracts. Republicans and Governor Dayton will need to determine whether the proposed contracts will be part of a final agreement or whether another level of compensation for state employees is more appropriate. If no agreement is reached by the end of session, the former contracts will continue to be in effect.
Pension sustainability package
The 2017 Omnibus Pension Bill included a bipartisan agreement to implement sustainability measures to ensure the long-term stability of the major pension plans. The bill increased contribution rates for public employees and employers, lowered cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs) to more closely correspond with inflation, and provided state aid to support employer contributions.
Unfortunately, the bipartisan omnibus pension bill was rolled into a controversial special session bill that was vetoed by Governor Dayton. There continues to be broad support for a comprehensive solution, while the cost of pension reform only grows as the Legislature fails to pass a pension sustainability package. The Senate DFL remains committed to strengthening Minnesota’s public pensions and supports the need for a ‘shared sacrifice’ approach to improve the funding ratios of the plans.
Met Council restructure
A bill to force a complete overhaul of the governance structure of the Metropolitan Council was vetoed by Governor Dayton last session. It would have forced out Governor Dayton’s appointees and replaced them with county commissioners, local elected officials, and MnDOT representatives. It also would have increased the number of council members from 17 to 27. Efforts to pass this legislation may be renewed this session.
Republicans contend the Met Council is an unelected government agency with the ability to tax residents and spend indefinitely on unnecessary transportation projects without accountability. They argue locally and regionally elected officials should comprise the majority of Met Council membership because the council has regional taxation authority.
Advocates of the current Met Council structure contend that current appointees are accountable through the Governor and must have a regional, rather than parochial, outlook regarding metropolitan planning. By allowing city officials on the council, the Legislature would insert members that would have conflicts of interest between local and regional concerns. Elected officials serving as members of the Met Council would be acting in incompatible positions as the regulator and as the regulated.
The Senate DFL supports reforms to the governance structure of the Met Council to make it more accountable to the public: staggered terms for members, adding more citizens and locally elected officials to the nominations committee, and making the nominations process more transparent.