Daily Digest: Another day without a deal

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1. Offers traded, but still no deal at the Capitol. There’s still no budget deal at the Minnesota Capitol with the clock ticking toward adjournment of  the legislative session. DFL Gov. Tim Walz and top legislative leaders returned to the bargaining table Monday, and even traded some offers aimed at resolving their budget impasse. But they failed to make any meaningful progress and remain far apart on spending and taxes.  At one point in the negotiations, Senate Republicans agreed to spend $100 million more on education and public safety. Walz and House Democrats agreed to reduce their 20-cent gas tax increase to 16 cents. It was some modest movement that didn’t last long. “I won’t hide that I’m disappointed. I truly felt we were making progress,” Walz said after a pair of Senate offers left him flummoxed. One would take $2.5 billion from state budget reserves and allow the 2 percent tax on medical providers to expire as scheduled at year's end. The other would move money from the health care access fund to general fund spending. Walz said the offers amounted to a radical departure that left the two sides further apart. (MPR News)

2. Diabetics make plea for help with insulin costs. A group of Minnesota diabetics made an eleventh-hour plea on Monday for lawmakers to address the rising costs of insulin. During a news conference at the state Capitol, the women urged lawmakers to unite behind a proposal that would give diabetics an emergency supply of insulin if they cannot afford it. The “Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act” provision is wrapped into the House and Senate health and human services bills, but the versions are slightly different. Those who have high-deductible insurance plans could get an emergency refill under the House bill, but not the Senate version. And the House bill would provide an emergency supply of 90 days, as opposed to the Senate proposal of 30 days. “If I go even a couple of hours without insulin, I run the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis,” said Abigail Hansmeyer, a Type 1 diabetic from New Brighton. A vial of insulin cost her $20 when she was diagnosed with diabetes in 1996, she said. Now, that vial costs her $240 — and she needs two to three of them per month. “Our lives have a price tag, and we either pay the price or we die,” Hansmeyer said. (Pioneer Press)

3. Bill would allow taxpayer data to be used to study minimum wage hikes. Minnesota lawmakers are moving closer to providing tax data for a study of ordinances that set higher minimum wages in Minneapolis and St. Paul. A House bill that advanced Monday would give the Department of Revenue authority to provide tax information to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. The bill now awaits action by the full House. The data wouldn’t be traceable to individual taxpayers, but it would supply critical research on the economic impact of eventual $15 per hour minimum wages in the two big cities. “The proposed evaluation is the most comprehensive economic study of its kind and has the potential to inform public policy not only in Minnesota, but also nationally,” said B Kyle, head of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce. She added that the Federal Reserve is a trusted, neutral party for the study. Mike Solomon, treasurer for St. Paul, said the city council has adopted a resolution backing the study. “Overall, the study is a really important part of the successful implementation of the city of St. Paul’s minimum wage ordinance,” he told state lawmakers. Minneapolis business and government leaders are also on board. The research would be done at no cost to the city. (MPR News)

4. Bipartisan sales pitch doesn't always work. A feature that’s unique to Minnesota among all states this year — a bicameral legislature with one chamber controlled by one party and the other chamber controlled by the other — has resulted in a very common strategy during the 2019 session: In order to break through that division, activists have been trying very hard to frame issues as bipartisan — whether they are or not. Want to push increased transportation taxes to pay for road projects and transit? Bring in some chambers of commerce and corporate leaders to make an appeal to Republicans’ desire to boost the economy. Wage theft? Have skilled trade unionists who have a reputation for spreading campaign endorsements and donations to both parties deliver the message to the GOP. Affordable housing? Present it not just as a social justice issue but as a problem for manufacturers in cities and towns facing labor shortages. Finding ways to pitch issues to both parties — to conservatives and liberals both — is a good strategy on paper. Anything that reaches the desk of Gov. Tim Walz will need to win a majority in the DFL House and GOP Senate. And in theory, bills can pass with just a few members of the majority caucus joining all of those in the minority. But in practice, caucus discipline remains strict, and more powerful forces are making the bespoke bipartisanship just another nice try. The Senate GOP is united around a no-new-taxes platform that makes gas and transit taxes impossible, and even items with Republican support that cost money, such as a new tax credit for contributions to affordable housing projects, have been set aside. (MinnPost)

5. Health care expenses up. Health care spending for Minnesota businesses and their workers jumped 9.6% last year — nearly triple the national growth rate — as employers reported that old cost-cutting solutions have begun to run their course. Minnesota was an early user of strategies such as moving workers to high-deductible health plans and enticing them to pick cheaper generic prescription drugs. But there is only so much waste they can eliminate from the state’s overall health care bill, said Deb Krause of the Minnesota Health Action Group, a business coalition, which reported the results Monday from its annual survey of employers regarding workplace benefits. “We’ve already realized cost savings from these strategies and now we’re seeing costs climb again because the heart of the problem — the cost of care itself — has not changed,” Krause said. This year’s survey of 108 companies, which employ 269,850 people, showed a continued transition toward high-deductible health plans, which reward patients for making use of efficient and preventive forms of health care but require them to pay greater copays and deductibles for all other medical services. (Star Tribune)

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