End-of-session deal leaves much left to do

Special legislative sessions have become more the norm than anything “special,” and this year is no different. After a relentless legislative schedule last year that was in session every month, many hoped this year would bring a reprieve. But as the 2021 regular Minnesota legislative session adjourned last Monday, it was very clear that business was nowhere near done.

About 12 hours before session’s adjournment, Governor Tim Walz, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and House Speaker Melissa Hortman announced a budget agreement. In other years, a “budget agreement” included a framework for spending priorities with some specificity and resolution of certain controversial policy issues. This year, however, that budget agreement represented more skeleton-like budget priorities without much meat on the bones. Many speculate that the agreement was an opportunity for both Republican and Democratic leaders to declare victory on major session priorities (e.g., no new taxes and significant education spending) while collectively kicking the can on everything else further down the road to a special session.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, Governor Tim Walz, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and Senator Julie Rosen leave a press conference where they announced a two-year budget agreement on May 17. Photo by Paul Battaglia, Minnesota House of Representatives.

So, with the end of the state’s fiscal year looming on June 30 and a requirement that the Legislature pass a biennial budget to avoid government shutdown, legislative leaders laid out a framework for committee chairs to follow to assemble a budget deal by mid-June. By May 28, committee chairs should come to House-Senate agreement on spending items within their committees of jurisdiction. By June 4, committee chairs should find agreement on spending and policy items.

The budget agreement did not resolve any of the outstanding controversial policy and spending proposals being carried in the House and Senate, like police reform, California clean car standards, and paid sick and safe leave. However, it did note that controversial items will need to have agreement from the Governor, House and Senate to move forward.

We anticipate the Governor will call the Legislature into special session on or around June 14, as the peacetime emergency may need to be renewed. What we do not anticipate is that committee chairs will make any more progress on any controversial items in the next three weeks than they did during the regular legislative session, leaving many of these decisions to be made by “the tribunal” that was highly criticized in past sessions.

Our government relations team continues to navigate these tumultuous times for our clients and look forward to heading back in person to the Capitol when it reopens in June.

A new and improved “normal”

After more than a year of conducting business mostly virtually, organizations are returning to the office and to more in-person settings. The huge shifts we made during the pandemic, like working from home and hosting events and trainings virtually, are now becoming less about necessity and more about flexibility, accessibility, and choice.

Now is the time for leaders to assess their organizational, employee, and customer needs to take the best of what we have learned while engaging remotely and combine it with what we know about the human need for connection and the importance of building relationships. Strong relationships and trust are often at the core of business success.

When does convenience take precedence? When is it important for people to interact in person, feed off the energy in a room and take notice of non-verbal communication? Being intentional about how and when you gather with employees, customers and the business community at large will be key to successfully implement hybrid models.

Consider conducting a communications audit to better understand your organization’s strategies and how they should be modified in this new environment. Analyzing what you currently have in place can reveal what new tools or opportunities would help keep your strategies relevant and effective.

Ask yourself how your customers’ needs and wants have changed post-pandemic. How do they want to engage? Is it time to survey them to find out?

We have seen community engagement rise dramatically ever since people have been given more opportunities to conveniently engage online. What might you consider going forward?

  • If the event is fully virtual, determine how important it is for the event to be live. Could it be just as effective pre-recorded?
  • For hybrid events, consider enhancing the video quality and capabilities. People at home want to feel like they are getting the same quality experience as the people attending in person.
  • Consider opportunities for people who work from home to appear and participate in person.

Companies and organizations have essentially been in crisis mode for more than a year, and the dust is finally beginning to settle. It’s clear that what we once thought was temporary isn’t – and that things will continue to evolve. Make sure your communications are ready to flex with the times.

Seeking state bonding funds? What to do in 2021 to be successful in 2022

From wastewater facilities to community centers to cultural amenities, communities across Minnesota benefit from state general obligation (“G.O.”) bonds, which allow the state to borrow funds for the acquisition or betterment of public land and buildings. In Minnesota, there are always more requests for G.O. funding than there are funds available, which can lead to a huge backlog of projects and communities waiting for a chance to be included in state legislation. While there is still a chance for a bonding bill in 2021, the 2022 legislative session will also bring another “bonding year” and an opportunity for local governments to seek additional project funding.

Funding for bonding projects is always highly competitive. To be successful, local governments and their partners should start communicating about and advocating for projects well before the legislative session begins. Here are some steps to position your project for success.

1. Submit a capital budget request through the Minnesota Department of Management and Budget.

Local units of government need to officially request funding from the administration. This application process helps the state understand the rationale for the project and determine if the project is appropriate for state funding. Project submissions are due by June 18.

2. Establish the purpose and value of the project.

How would this project solve challenges in your area? What regional or statewide value would it bring? What is the local investment in the project? Clearly defining the project’s public purpose sets you up for success to secure bonding dollars.

Legislators toured Ramsey County’s Riversedge site using virtual reality technology to envision what the development could look like.

3. Think about how the messaging and branding of your project will be perceived by lawmakers.

Understand how your project’s messaging fits into the greater context of the state Legislature’s priorities. Articulate how this project aligns with current (and future) community needs in ways that captivate legislative champions.

Lawmakers will want to know why this project should be funded now. This means you will need to clearly communicate the benefits (economic, social and political) in terms that legislators can relate to. Bonding projects are a state investment in your community – if you’re not looking through that lens when communicating, you’ll be in trouble.

4. Share visuals that demonstrate impact.

Renderings serve a practical purpose, but what other visuals can you use to help people understand the full scope and impact that your project could have? Consider aerial photography, videos and collateral materials that communicate creatively about your project’s potential. Strong visuals can also generate media attention.

5. Identify champions for your project.

While finding bill authors is crucial, you also need to find other advocates outside of your local government leaders who can be vocal supporters of your project, like leaders from local schools, chambers of commerce, businesses or simply a resident who can tell a compelling story. These supporters need to buy in to your project so they can help you engage the broader community.

6. Generate excitement about your project.

Tell the community about your project through media stories, open houses, site tours and pop-up events. The more awareness and excitement you can bring to a project before session starts, the better.

By being strategic about how you conceptualize and introduce a bonding project, you can garner critical success early on, set your project above others, and give your project the best chance of being funded.