90th Minnesota Legislature Convenes
On January 3rd, the Minnesota legislature convened. I was honored to be sworn in for my second term representing Senate District 50, which includes portions of Bloomington and Richfield. My 66 Senate colleagues and I represent all different parts of the state, and come from a variety of different backgrounds: an attorney from North Mankato, a small-business owner from Grand Forks, a physician from Mendota Heights. Although I am now serving in the minority party, I am excited and eager to continue working for Minnesotans.
My committee assignments are similar to what they were during my first term. I’m fortunate to continue to work on education issues as a member of the E-12 Education Finance Committee, which will be chaired by Senator Carla Nelson of Rochester. I’ve worked with Sen. Nelson on early childhood issues previously, and I look forward to working with her.
I’ll also serve on the Health and Human Services Finance & Policy Committee. The HHS Committee is already diving into important issues. This past Tuesday, we heard S.F. 56, which includes HHS provisions of Republican proposals to address health insurance premium relief and certain reforms.
Finally, I’ll also serve on the Local Government Committee. Previous to my service in the Senate, I served on the Bloomington School Board, and I’m glad that I’ll have the opportunity to use that experience in working to address the needs of counties, cities, towns, school districts, as well as other local government entities and state government agencies that work with local governments.
I look forward to working in the committees I serve on, as well as within the Senate as a whole, to continue making progress on issues that matter for Minnesota families. I welcome your thoughts and feedback as the legislative session continues.
Gov. Dayton announces State of the State address
The Minnesota constitution specifies that the Governor “communicate by message to each session of the legislature information touching the state and country”. Traditionally, this has taken the form of the Governor delivering a State of the State address. Governors often use this opportunity to discuss the current state of affairs in Minnesota and lay out their priorities for the legislative session.
Governor Dayton has announced that he will delivery his 2017 State of the State Address on Monday, January 23rd, at 7 pm, in the House Chamber. I always look forward to this opportunity to hear directly from Gov. Dayton on his vision.
Minnesota’s Budget Outlook Remains Stable
In December, Commissioner Myron Frans of the Department of Management and Budget (MMB) presented the most recent budget forecast. I’m pleased that Minnesota’s fiscal picture is still very strong. We began the year with approximately $678 million from the budgetary balance that remained from the 2016-17 biennium. Thanks to both greater than expected revenue, and smaller than expected spending, we now estimate a $1.4 billion budget surplus.
Although this does represent a small downward revision from the November forecast, the overall fiscal situation in Minnesota is stable. This is welcome news as we begin budget discussions. Additionally, the $1.4 billion surplus accounts for transferring $334 million to the budget reserve account, which is now up to $1.9 billion.
My priorities will continue to be responsible investments on priorities that families in our district — and around Minnesota — have always valued. Serving on the E-12 Education and Health and Human Services Finance committees will give me a unique opportunity to focus on these issues. Education and Health and Human Services account for more than 70% of state budget spending. In fact, the lower than expected spending is largely driven by Health and Human Services.
There will be another budget forecast in February, which will be the primary source for budget plans and negotiations. The strong budget outlook in the December forecast suggests that we will be on solid footing when discussions begin in earnest. I’m hopeful that the budget adopted this year will continue this responsibility.
Legislative Task Force on Access to Affordable Child Care
Even when the legislature is not in session, legislators often work on issues important to Minnesotans. This past fall and winter, I was pleased to be the Senate Co-Chair, with Representative Mary Franson of Alexandria, of the Legislative Task Force on Access to Affordable Child Care. Increasingly, Minnesota families are relying on child care that is more expensive and harder to find.
The task force was given several specific charges as far as what to consider. These include factors that contribute to costs and the provider shortage in Greater Minnesota, access to culturally appropriate child care, training requirements and availability, and how the Dept. of Human Services (DHS) works with counties and providers.
Over several meetings, we heard from providers, families, as well as staff from DHS regarding accessibility and affordability issues, as well as the regulatory environment.
The final report will be issued by mid-January, and I’m hopeful that it will fuel discussions, as well as provide concrete steps that the legislature and DHS can take to address this important family and economic issue.
Looking Ahead …
In the coming weeks, I look forward to diving deeper into committee work,
particularly budget discussions since I’m fortunate to serve on two finance committees. I also look forward to meeting with constituents representing the Minnesota Association of Naturopathic Physicians and Independent Community Bankers of Minnesota. I appreciate that so many of our neighbors take the time to come to St. Paul and meet with me directly. It is an honor to represent you in the Senate. If you have time, I hope you’ll stop by the Capitol and say “Hi!” otherwise, I’ll see you around town!