Activities at the State Capitol have been impacted by COVID-19, as has every other place in Minnesota. The MN House and Senate were in session (in modified seating arrangements to follow the recommended social distancing guidelines) until the wee hours of St. Patrick’s Day in order to pass a $200 million emergency funding bill to respond to the pandemic. Both Legislative bodies are now in recess until at least April 14, and access to the Capitol and state office buildings will be closed to the public. Legislators have stressed that they are still available to work on behalf of their constituents via email, phone, Twitter, text – all the usual ways that people communicate other than face-to-face. But in the meantime, the Governor Walz is in charge, given the executive powers afforded him through the Peacetime Emergency declaration.
What does this mean for Rethos’ efforts at the Capitol?
We, like the rest of the state, are working remotely and waiting to see how COVID-19 will affect our work in the coming weeks. The Legislative leaders have stated that their work during the remainder of the session (which must adjourn by May 18) will fall into three buckets: 1) COVID-19 response, 2) a bonding bill, 3) other things they can readily agree on. Thornier policy issues and spending proposals will be off the table.
We anticipate that there will be some talk about the need for economic stimulus at some point, as we are almost assuredly heading into a pandemic-induced recession. Back in 2010, the Minnesota Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit was passed as part of a jobs stimulus bill at the height of the Great Recession; there is a clear precedent for investing in rehabilitation activity in times of economic distress. We will continue to point to the robust economic impacts of the Historic Tax Credit in our outreach with Legislators and the Governor’s office.
Ironically, we were very busy with Legislative activity during the two weeks leading up to the statewide pandemic response. On March 3, the Historic Tax Credit sunset elimination bill was given a hearing in the House Taxes Committee. You can listen to the footage here (starting at 40:38) or read the excellent summary in Session Daily.
Following the hearing, Rethos Policy Director and our lobbyists from Winthrop & Weinstine had a productive meeting with Senate Taxes committee chair Sen. Roger Chamberlain. After also speaking with Ranking Member Sen. Ann Rest and Taxes committee member Sen. Kari Dziedzic, we feel confident that there is Senate support for adopting the main provisions of SF1639 – eliminating the sunset date and allowing multiple transfers of the credit. Chair Chamberlain also supports removing the retroactive provision from the 2019 tax conformity bill that affected HTC projects applied for between January 2018 and May 2019, and stated that he plans to include that in the Omnibus Tax Bill (provided there is one).
On March 10, Rethos hosted its third annual Main Streets at the Capitol. Thirty participants met in small groups with fourteen Legislators representing Main Street communities, and several more Legislators and staff stopped by our 10thanniversary celebration later in the afternoon. We were pleased by the thoughtful conversations and personal connections between Legislators and constituents – especially since the priorities at the Capitol shifted so dramatically in the days following.
Our Policy Director, Erin Hanafin Berg, accompanied by Rethos Board President Steve Knight, MN SHPO staff Amy Spong and Michael Koop, and Minneapolis-based historical consultant Elizabeth Gales, participated in Preservation Action’s annual Advocacy Day in Washington, DC on March 11. Collectively we bumped elbows with staff people in all offices of our Minnesota Congressional delegation and had meaningful conversations about appropriations to the Federal Historic Preservation Fund and support for the Historic Tax Credit Growth & Opportunity Act. Elizabeth urged more Minnesota Congresspeople to participate in the Historic Preservation Caucus by setting up a little inter-state rivalry with our Wisconsin neighbors; we’ll see if they take the bait. Many thanks to Rep. Betty McCollum (MN-04) and Rep. Angie Craig (MN-02) for representing our state on this bipartisan caucus.
Please stay tuned to our social media streams and website as we provide you ongoing information about our advocacy efforts in these uncertain times. Stay well, and support the small and local businesses that are the foundations of our communities however you can!