Legislative session should focus on investments

It’s no secret that last year’s legislative session ended with some very devastating cuts to core programs that many Minnesotans rely upon. The Governor’s plan to raise new revenue to support Minnesota’s budget was rejected. Now, we’re all seeing the consequences of not investing in some of our most important priorities.

Thankfully, the Governor has proposed a supplemental budget this year that would correct some of the most devastating mistakes of last session. I’m happy to carry this bill for him in the Senate, although I’m disappointed the Republican majority has not yet granted a hearing on these proposals.

Specifically, our plan would repeal last year’s harmful 20 percent cut to family Personal Care Attendants – people who suspend their own lives and livelihoods in order to care for sick and disabled family members. PCA’s enable people who need assistance with the activities of daily life to remain in their homes and avoid institutional care, which is why the state has always prioritized this program. Last year’s cuts will make it impossible for some families to continue care if not reversed.

The budget bill also would restore cancer and kidney dialysis treatments that no longer are provided under Emergency Medical Assistance. That program provides health care coverage for people who face a medical emergency or suffer from a serious chronic health condition, but last year’s bill restricted care to that provided in an emergency room or hospital. Clearly, it was a mistake to omit other life-saving, necessary measures.

Our bill also puts $6.4 million into Medical Education Research Costs (MERC). This funding provides grants to health care providers that train medical students, an essential program for our rural primary care workforce. That money will restore half of the 2011 cuts for the current Fiscal Year and fully restore the program for 2014.

What’s most important is that this budget is paid for. By closing obsolete tax loopholes that are still allowing corporations to shelter money in out-of-state accounts, we can collect the revenue we need to invest in these priorities. This bill does not borrow money, it doesn’t shift funds around, and it doesn’t rely on back-door property tax increases. It presents an upfront, responsible way to pay for some of the things this state really needs right now.

Another upfront, responsible way to invest in the state would be to pass a significant bonding bill this year. Governor Dayton has proposed a $775 million package, a conservative amount that would sell state bonds to invest in public projects around the state. His package is estimated to create as many as 21,000 new private- and public-sector jobs, providing a boost to the state’s economy. Unfortunately, House and Senate Republicans have proposed packages far smaller than this, leaving out many important projects.

Supporting the projects with bonding dollars today means Minnesota will save millions of dollars by taking advantage of record-low interest rates and construction costs. As an added benefit, we’ll be adding thousands of public- and private-sector jobs across the state in the very immediate future, providing a jump-start to the state’s economy and a resource for thousands of unemployed Minnesotans.
Financial institutions have assured us that Minnesota has substantial bonding capacity right now, meaning we can afford to invest in these projects without jeopardizing our state’s credit rating or financial stability. This is a perfect time to invest in the core needs of our state; lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle should unite behind this important jobs proposal.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at sen.tony.lourey@senate.mn, or 651-296-0293, or at 75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155.

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Senator Tony Lourey
Tony Lourey represents District 11, which includes portions of Carlton, Kanabec, Pine and St. Louis counties in the northeastern part of the state.

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