May 5, 2017
In addition to the beautiful spring weather, the arrival of May ushers in the end-of-session! The Minnesota Constitution requires the legislature to complete its work by May 22, leaving just over two weeks remaining in this year’s legislative session.
Conference committees have been working to finalize compromises over the past week. As chairwoman of the Senate E-12 Finance Committee, I have been working with the House on an education finance bill that prioritizes programs that work while ensuring all Minnesota students have access to an education that will prepare them to be tomorrow’s leaders. Over the next two weeks, expect things to continue to move quickly as we begin to debate and vote on the budget proposals on the Senate floor and send them to the governor for his signature.
In the meantime, I have included some information on the various budget bills – as well as other happenings at the legislature – in this newsletter. As always, you can find the most up-to-date information on my Facebook and Twitter pages.
Conference committee update
The Senate passed all budget bills by the end of April, marking the earliest time in recent memory this had been done. To prevent the “last-minute lawmaking” that has plagued the legislature in sessions past, we continued our push to get things done by releasing our joint House and Senate budget targets on May 2. Completing our work with time to spare has been something I have fiercely advocated for in the past as I pushed for a fourth committee deadline. You can read my thoughts on that here.
While we do not have a fourth committee deadline, things are moving quickly through the Senate as we wait for the governor to engage in our negotiations. As I wrote last week, conference committees serve as the final negotiations between the House and the Senate on the various budget and policy initiatives for each budget area. With ten budget bills moving through the committee process, it can be a bit confusing – but here are a few of the key details:
Making Deadlines, including Governor’s priorities in bills
Many of Governor Dayton’s major priorities have been included in the legislature’s budget bills, including over 536 policy sections requested by Governor Dayton’s agencies. In an effort to increase transparency and receive more public input on bills, the House and Senate met four early deadlines and succeeded in starting budget discussions a month earlier than usual (read about my efforts(4th committee deadline wrote) in this regard):
- March 31 deadline for bills to be passed out of finance committees
- April 8 deadline for bills to be passed out of each chamber
- April 28 deadline to agree to 2-way House and Senate joint budget targets
- May 1 deadline to agree on language for budget bills. Governor Dayton has also agreed to work with Republican leaders over the weekend to decide on 3-way budget targets between the House, Senate, and governor. This is the next critical step toward getting our work done on time.
Tax relief, fixing our roads and bridges, and lowering health care costs are reflected in the budget bills and so are many of the governors finance and policy requests.
Five reasons Governor Dayton should agree to each budget bill. [Asterisked items were Governor’s requests.]
- Invests in Roads & Bridges. $5.35 billion in increased funding to fix our roads and bridges. Infusing much needed resources for our state highways, county roads, city streets and township roads, the bill also provides significant resources for small cities that currently do not receive constitutionally-dedicated transportation revenues.
- Relieves Congestion. Drivers will spend less time in traffic due $350 million in new funding for the Corridors of Commerce Program, which focuses on adding lane capacity and congestion relief along our state’s busiest highways.
- Builds Safer Bridges & Rail Crossings. Safer Driving with more than $25 million for the local bridge replacement program, improvements to rail safety, and critical safety upgrades at some of the most dangerous rail crossings across the state. *
- Establishes Fair & Transparent Construction Process. A reformed, transparent process will ensure each road construction project is scored and ranked so everyone can see where their local projects stand in comparison to other projects statewide-fixing key issues identified by the Office of the Legislative Auditor.
- Restores Funding to Bus Transit. Ensuring continued bus service in the Metro area thanks to increased funding for cost-effective transit options. *
- Invests in our schools. Minnesota schools will see more than $1.1 billion in increased funding, 4.1% increase to our 18.5 billion dollar budget, to ensure that every child in Minnesota has access to a great education.
- Places More Dollars in the Classroom. Focusing the vast majority of new funding on the per-pupil formula will ensure education resources are put where they’re most flexible and effective- in the classroom helping students and teachers. *
- Commits to Early Education. Our littlest learners are prioritized thanks to more than $300 million in early education funding-including flexible funding for all schools with Pre-K programming. *
- Tackles the Teacher Shortage. Key reforms and innovative grant programs will help schools retain the best teachers and address teacher shortages in Greater Minnesota by recruiting the next generation of educators.
- Keeps Kids Safe. Testing for lead in schools will ensure Minnesota kids have clean drinking water.
- Puts Money in Seniors’ Pockets. Reducing state taxes on Social Security will mean a raise for thousands of Minnesota senior citizens.
- Reduces the Tax Burden for Farmers. Property tax relief for farmers though a new School Building Bond Agricultural Credit makes referendums fairer. *
- Makes College Affordable. A first-in-the-nation tax credit for student loan debt and new tax incentives for families saving for college will help lower the cost of higher education for Minnesota families.
- Reinvests in Hometown Businesses. Eliminating an unfair and automatic property tax increase above and beyond local property taxes on poor Minnesota businesses, making Minnesota a better place to grow jobs.
- Reduces the Cost of Childcare. The Dependent Care Credit will put more money in the pockets of families with young children, helping to lower the increasing cost of childcare. *
Jobs & Energy
- Innovates Job Creation Efforts. Prioritizing public-private partnerships will help grow better-paying jobs and improve the economy across the state.
- Leverages State Dollars to Grow Jobs. Increased funding for the Minnesota Investment Fund and the Job Creation Fund leverages public dollars to grow good-paying jobs across the state. *
- Expands Access to Broadband Internet. Further expand broadband access to rural areas with $15 million in new broadband grant funding. *
- Focuses on Workforce Training. Workforce training initiatives, from Greater Minnesota to the Twin Cities, will help Minnesotans develop skills to fill good-paying job openings.
- Develops our Future Workforce. Increased funding for the PIPELINE and the Youth Skills Training Program to help train Minnesota’s workforce. *
Environment & Natural Resources
- Protects Our Outdoors. Right-size state park user fees to maintain and preserve our world class outdoor activities and tourist destinations.
- Improves the Regulatory Process. Technology upgrades for the Pollution Control Agency and a more transparent and streamlined environmental review process, making it easier to attract and grow good-paying jobs while protecting our environment. *
- Improve Water Quality. Funding for Conservation Easement Stewardship to permanently restore wetlands and wildlife habitats, and reduce soil erosion. *
- Improves the Buffer Law. Clarifies ambiguous language in the 2015 law which would have resulted in more litigation than purifying water.
- Stands with Sportsmen & Sportswomen. Protect our game and fish populations for future generations by cracking down on poachers and limit violations. Enable hunters to wear blaze pink and utilize scopes for muzzleloaders.
Health and Human Services
- Protects Minnesota Seniors. Prioritizes the safety of our most vulnerable with increased investigations of elderly abuse complaints by the Office of Health Facilities Complaints. *
- Supports our Healthcare Workers. Those who care for our most vulnerable citizens will see a 110% rate increase and expanded access through a scholarship program to help recruit and retain quality staff, and address a shortage of healthcare workers. *
- Fights the Opioid Epidemic. New prescription limits, and grants for prevention and treatment of opioid addiction will save lives and fight back the rising opioid abuse epidemic. *
- Improves Mental Health Treatments. Grants for a variety mental health services and system reforms will improve Minnesota’s treatment for those struggling with mental health challenges. *
- Reduces Waste, Fraud, and Abuse. Common-sense eligibility checks will prevent waste, fraud, and abuse in our public programs. *
- Creates Efficient & Effective Government. Manageable reductions and increased reporting requirements to reduce the cost of state government and make it more accountable to the people it serves.
- Prioritizes Our Veterans. Enhancing educational and job training opportunities for our National Guard members. Forward on approvals for new veterans’ homes in Greater Minnesota. *
- Modernizes Election Equipment. Matching grants to reduce the costs of voting equipment upgrades for local governments and to improve the integrity of Minnesota’s election system. *
- Increases Oversight of Rulemaking. State agencies should not have unilateral power to impose costly and burdensome rules without approval from the legislature. New legislative oversight of expensive rule proposals make state agencies more accountable to Minnesotans.
- Ends Taxpayer Funding of Political Campaigns. Minnesota’s current system allows tax dollars to be funneled to partisan political machines. It’s time to end Minnesota’s wasteful welfare for politicians.
- Freezes & Reduces Tuition. Students at two-year colleges will benefit from a tuition freeze next year and a 1 percent tuition decrease the following year. Students at four-year universities will see a tuition freeze next year.
- Assists Low-Income Students. Students with financial need at the U of M, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, and private colleges will benefit from $18.5 million in new funding for the Minnesota State Grant program. *
- Provides Educational Resources for Family Doctors. Family medicine doctors will receive significant support through an investment of $14 million for Health Training Restoration at the University of Minnesota. *
- Invests in Brain Injury Research. $6 million dollars for the Spinal Cord and Traumatic Brain Injury Research Program – even more than Gov. Dayton asked for in his budget. *
- Fights Cancer through Research. Cancer patients will benefit from $2 million toward cancer research and increased availability of clinical trials across the state as a part of the MnDRIVE initiative. *
Public Safety & Judiciary
- Offers Cost-Saving Drug Treatment Options. Grant funding gives communities expanded treatment options as an alternative to incarceration when technical violations of conditions of supervision occur, a course that is more effective and less costly.
- Reduces Legal Costs for Minnesotans. Reducing fees on civil filings and motions helps make our legal system more accessible and affordable for Minnesotans of all income levels.
- Supports Law Enforcement. Respecting our police men and women by giving them resources for training programs and creating penalties for those who impersonate an officer and tamper with public safety vehicles.
- Keeps Our Neighborhoods Safe. Combating sex trafficking and terrorism recruitment will mean safer communities across the state.
- Provides New Judicial Funding. Two new district court judgeships will help ease caseloads in the 7th and 9th Judicial Districts. *
- Supports Pollinator Research. Funding for pollinator research at the University of Minnesota will help us better understand this important aspect of our agricultural economy. *
- Expands Markets for Farmers. New opportunities provided by livestock investment grants, value-added agriculture grants, biofuels infrastructure, and new market development funding in the AGRI program will help Minnesota’s farm community continue to thrive.
- Battles Noxious Weeds. Local community grants will help fight noxious weeds, including Palmer amaranth, that threaten our agriculture industry. *
- Fights Plant Pathogens. Funding for rapid detection, control and management of high priority plant pathogens will prevent the spread of diseased plants. *
- Reduces Burdensome Regulations. Prohibiting the “verification of need” before pesticide usage gives farmers flexibility they need to protect their land and crop yields.
E-12 Education Budget
As chairwoman of the Senate E-12 Finance Committee, I have been focused on funding Minnesota’s public education system in a way that focuses on students while funding what works. Our joint House and Senate budget proposal would spend a total of $18.57 billion over the next two years, representing an increase of $1.14 billion compared to the previous budget. Many of the funding areas and policy provisions included in the bill are meant to encourage literacy, foster stability, and incentivize innovation through the empowerment of our local school districts – there is no doubt that Minnesota has excellent schools and passionate educators!
I have based my work in education this session from a five-block system, highlighting five principles that I believe to be key in advancing Minnesota’s public schools: ready for kindergarten, third-grade literacy, career and technical education, concurrent enrollment, and innovation. I believe our proposal encompasses these ideals.
With the work of the House and the Senate finding an agreement ending, we now await the governor’s input and his assurance that he can sign our proposal into law. I am hopeful that Gov. Dayton will engage with us over the next week. In the meantime, here are a few key details from our education proposal:
- A per-pupil increase of 1.5% each year, increasing the statewide average per-pupil funding by $230 and spending a total of $18.57 billion over the next two years.
- A significant investment into preschool learning for those who would benefit most through $19 million for additional early learning scholarships. Last year, Minnesota passed a law putting our state on the path of government-sponsored and government controlled preschool, which is both unaffordable and unnecessary, and weakens choices currently made by families. This bill repeals that and replaces it with flexible early learning dollars.
- In recognition of the varying needs of school districts in Greater Minnesota, the start of a rural consortium grant program to advance career and technical education is included in the bill, along with agricultural educator grants and ongoing funding to assist rural school districts with bussing issues.
- In recognition of the importance of science, technology, engineering, and math education as the future, the bill provides grants to increase STEM education and make it more readily available to low-income and disadvantaged students.
Let’s end youth tobacco use!
Despite all the talk centering on the budget, bills can continue to be introduced until the end of this year’s session – keep in mind that all bills introduced this year can be considered next year.
This week, I introduced legislation that would increase Minnesota’s legal smoking age to 21. I believe we must do all that we can to ensure our state’s youth are not exposed to the harm and addiction of cigarettes and other tobacco products – between 75%-90% of smokers start smoking before the age of 21. While the bill will not move this year, I am hopeful we can begin building support and get this bill passed next session.
You can read the Post Bulletin’s coverage of the bill here.
You can read the press release on the bill’s introduction here.
Legislation included in omnibus bills
With the omnibus budget proposals containing hundreds of pages of policy and finance language, I am pleased to report that many of the bills that I co-authored this session have been included in their respective budget areas. Altogether, 23 of my bills were included! Here is a quick snapshot of the most notable:
- Health and human services
- Four of the bills that I authored, including electronic service delivery documentation, a loan forgiveness program for health professionals, an increase for the reimbursement rate to housing facilities in Olmsted County, and prior authorization reform, were included in the health and human services budget bill.
- The omnibus taxes bill includes six of my provisions: a modification to the state general levy base, a research and development tax credit change, an exemption to apprenticeship training facilities, an exemption for the Minnesota State High School League, and an increase to the K-12 education expense tax credit.
- State government
- My bill to provide additional funding to Minnesota Public Radio, of which thousands of listeners in the Rochester area benefit every day, was included in the state government budget bill.
Spirit of the Alley award
I was honored to receive the “Spirit of the Alley” award from the Minnesota Medical Alley Association last week; Medical Alley represents nearly 650 companies involved in Minnesota’s medical health technology. In my time in the legislature, it has been a top priority to support health innovation and medical technology – especially since Minnesota is the epicenter of medical and biotechnical innovation.
It is a tremendous honor to receive the Spirit of the Alley award from Medical Alley, which represents one of the top health innovation clusters in the nation. Our state is and must remain a leader in health technology, health innovation and biotechnology. You can read the Post Bulletin’s coverage of the award here.
New survey question: electric vehicles
Transportation continues to be a hot topic in the legislature as Minnesota finds its roads and bridges in need of repair. Our Senate proposal invests $1.3 billion in Minnesota’s infrastructure over the next two years, without raising taxes. However, the transportation discussion has led to another debate: what should we do with electric vehicles? Specifically, we must decide whether users of electric vehicles should be taxed on that use, or would that disincentive the use of “cleaner” vehicles such as electric?
Question: Do you support the taxing of electric vehicles?
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