We have been hearing many budget bills on the House floor recently, and will continue to pass pieces of the budget this week. I want to provide you with a brief update of each piece of legislation.
With a $2 billion surplus, investing in education should be one of our top priorities. Unfortunately, the House majority has brought forward an education budget that increasing education funding by less than a 1 percent. We have heard from districts across the metro that class sizes will grow and teachers will be laid off as a result. I spoke about this issue Saturday on the House floor, when the bill was passed. To watch my speech and hear more, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=COlcg_BRHKw.
Civic and business leaders agree that Minnesota is a great place to live and work because we have one the best educational systems. But it won’t stay that way if we can’t provide schools funding at times when the economy is strong, especially after years of cuts and budget shifts. It is my hope that a more reasonable and sustainable proposal comes back from conference committee. I am happy to report that there are some good provisions in the education bill, such as increased investment in early childhood education and concurrent enrollment opportunities for our high school students so they can earn post-secondary credits while in high school. Hopefully we can build on these bipartisan investments in conference committee.
The legislature was able to work productively this session in the area of public safety and crime prevention. The resulting bill includes $250,000 to combat terrorism in Minnesota, stemming from the recent ISIL recruit arrests. The bill also includes additional resources to combat human trafficking and child abuse. I supported this bipartisan bill.
State Government Finance
The state government bill was passed on Friday, which unfortunately shifts millions out of pension funds, creates unfunded burdens and eliminates limits on campaign spending and contributions from PACs and lobbyists. This provision is especially troubling to me, as I believe we need more disclosure and less outside spending in our elections.
Environment & Natural Resources
On Friday, we also passed the environment and natural resources bill. I voted against this proposal because I felt that it threatened Minnesota’s clean water and breathable air, as well as the accounting shifts and gimmicks included. The environment bill shifts nearly $60 million out of the fund we use to clean up closed landfills, takes money from the school trust, and gives up on fighting aquatic invasive species by cutting millions from prevention efforts. I have concerns about the funding shifts in this bill and the troubling trend of this accounting in the House majority’s budget.
Monday, the House passed the higher education on a nearly party line vote. This bill reverses the tuition freeze currently in place for all Minnesota students at public colleges and universities and will increase the costs of higher education for students and parents. There is absolutely no funding included to help our University of MN students with skyrocketing tuition. With a budget surplus, I think we should prioritize student debt and tuition relief for students and their families.
Unfortunately, the transportation bill raids some funds the Minnesota Department of Transportation holds in reserves for emergencies, such as harsh winters or natural disasters. There is also a great deal of shifting of funds and borrowing used to fund various transportation needs. We need to have a serious discussion about which additional funding streams we may want to dedicate out of the general fund to transportation, and how we will handle that additional strain on the general fund, which funds education and health care, during the next inevitable economic downturn. I have serious concerns with this funding and voted against the proposal.
Jobs & Energy
Last Thursday, the jobs and energy bill was passed. Provisions within the bill will stop us from repaying loans we took out under Governor Pawlenty. We should be using our budget surplus to invest and ensure sound budgeting into the future. I voted against this proposal.
Health & Human Services
The health and human services bill will cut state health funding by $1.152 billion and eliminate MinnesotaCare, which will cause 100,000 low-income, working Minnesotans to lose their health insurance. The bill includes many accounting shifts and gimmicks, including $300 million in savings that our House nonpartisan research staff has said will only amount to an estimated $17 million. For these reasons, I voted against the bill.
I voted against many of these budget bills due to insufficient, unstable funding and budgetary tricks and gimmicks. With a surplus, we should be making strategic investments to ensure a prosperous economic future for businesses and families. While there were some good provisions in these pieces of legislation, I am hopeful that the final budget proposal includes more balance and sound budgeting and will garner bipartisan support.
As always, please contact me anytime with your input. I can be reached by phone at (651) 296-3964 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for the honor of representing you at the State Capitol.