The unusual and tumultuous 2011 has concluded. The year was filled with dramatic events, ranging from the Minnesota state government shutdown to the death of Osama Bin Laden.
But, a new year of exciting events await in 2012. Here are just a few stories to follow in the coming year.
2012, of course, is a presidential election year. But, with the timing of redistricting, all major federal and state spots could potentially be up for election. The ultimate results will depend on the ruling of the panel of Minnesota judges.
However, the known elections across the country will involve 33 U.S. Senate seats and all 435 U.S. House of Representatives seats. In the U.S. Senate, Amy Klobuchar will be up for reelection. Locally, Minnesota First District incumbent Tim Walz currently has two challengers: State Sen. Mike Parry and Allen Quist.
Similarly, all state House and Senate seats will be up for election. The overload of elections should make for a very political year that could produce dramatic political changes. Expect to see all forms of political advertising flooding the airways, especially with the sea of cash created by the Super PACs.
Reform focus for the 2012 Minnesota Legislative Session
The 2010 elections resulted in a historic shift of Minnesota's politics. Republicans control the Minnesota Legislature, and there is a Democratic governor.
Neither side could find enough common ground to develop a compromise budget, resulting in a state government shutdown in July. When a state budget was finally passed, many Minnesotans were upset with the borrowing it entailed and changes it made to taxes.
In order to recover from the political bruising, the Republican Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton have indicated they plan to spend the 2012 session working together on the common issues of reform for state programs. There is more hope than usual that their claims will carry weight. The divisive issue of the budget is now off the table, and the bonding bill has mostly been handled in the 2011 special session. Brown County will likewise be looking to streamline, but no specific plans have been determined yet.
Same-Sex Marriage Amendment
Another issue coming up on the November ballot will be the vote on a state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. In addition to the issue's strong emotional element, the pending vote is expected to bring in large influence groups to the state. Some same-sex marriage groups are hopeful that Minnesota will among the first states to vote down such an amendment.
As part of the compromise budget, the Minnesota Legislature changed taxation methods in 2011. The biggest changes was the replacement of the Market Value Homestead Credit, which had the state pay cities for reducing select property taxes, with the Homestead Market Value Exclusion, which simply calculated select properties at a lower value for property taxes. The unintended consequences of the switch caused all outstate Minnesota cities to have to increase taxes to keep at the previous year's level. It also shifted the property tax burden, causing certain higher value homes and commercial properties to see a dramatic increase in taxes.
Republican lawmakers, upset with the results, have indicated they will look into passing legislation that will bring relief to businesses and select homes. No official method for addressing the tax has been presented yet, so the exact extent of relief is unknown.
After significant cuts to Local Government Aid and the increased cost of the recession, many Minnesota cities performed historic efforts by finding clever budget cuts to keep taxes down. But, especially for outstate Minnesota cities, the fear of unallotment of state aid looms in the background. Already weakened by adjusting for the last cuts, many cities fear unallotment would significantly impact their services.
The positive news of a state surplus projected for 2012 helps quell some fear of unallotment. But, no definitive statement that it will not occur has yet been announced.
GOP Salvaging Party
In the background of the busy Minnesota politics, the Republican Party of Minnesota faces a daunting task of rebuilding its credibility in the wake of scandals that filled the end of 2011. Between Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch stepping down under the scandal of having an inappropriate relationship with a Senate staffer and GOP Chairman Tony Sutton departing under allegations he mismanaged the party and caused its $2 million debt, the Party has lost a number of its skilled leaders that contributed to the historic 2010 election gains. Many Republican activists are concerned that the situation could weaken the GOP too much to provide a strong showing in the 2012. .
Proposed Flood Levee
New Ulm residents will be looking forward to the construction of a permanent flood levee along the Minnesota River, which is slated to begin some construction this year. The City of New Ulm hopes that the levee will become a permanent solution to the chronic spring flooding on the river. Factors that are still up in the air are how much the City will specially assess for the levee and how cooperative residents along the river will be in giving easements for the levee.
Changes and Cuts for Local Schools
New Ulm and Sleepy Eye districts are looking at dramatic changes in how they run their schools. Faced with state funding shifts and the failure of the recent tax levy referendum, District 88 in New Ulm will be facing down $1 million in cuts. The consequences of such a large budget cut could range from increased class sizes to four-day school weeks. Similarly, District 84 in Sleepy Eye is considering a four-day week after its referendum failed. The concept of a four-day school week could have dramatic impacts on the schedules of families and students. Hearings for District 84 are planned for Jan. 18, 25 and 30.
The Diminishing of Rural Minnesota
With the information from the 2010 U.S. Census finally available, the undertow to many of the Minnesota stories will be the shift of population away from rural Minnesota to the larger cities. The rural communities are increasingly filled with older populations, which are fading away as more people die of old age. At the same time, more young professionals are choosing bigger cities to start their careers and families.
The population changes will impact rural communities in diverse and extreme ways. The effects can range from skill or brain drains in some communities to weaker local economies to reductions in quality of life. Coupled with reduced state aid, many rural Minnesota cities will find it harder to continue to provide the quality of services that were expansive several decades ago. How these changes play out will determine how the very nature of Minnesota operates and appears to the world in the future.