Government & Veterans
The Senate passed the state government and elections omnibus bill, which spends a total of $996 million in 2018-2019. This is a $29 million reduction over the forecasted base budget and $161 million under the Governor Dayton’s proposal of $1.15 billion.
Many state agencies receive a 7.5% cut to their operating budgets in this bill, including the attorney general, the state auditor, the secretary of state, and Minnesota Management and Budget. The Department of Revenue receives between a 4% and 5% cut and MN.IT, which handles information technology for state agencies, is required to reduce personnel costs by $3 million, despite the Governor making significant requests for cybersecurity investments to keep Minnesotans’ personal data secure. (S.F. 605)
Although Governor Dayton has not publicly taken a position on the state government omnibus bill, many of his commissioners have expressed their objections to the current Senate proposal. They have stated the operating budget reductions in this bill will mean significant cuts in staffing levels, which will impede agency responsiveness, increase waiting times for services, and reduce the quality of services provided.
MMB Commissioner Myron Frans stated in that in its current form, he would recommend Governor Dayton veto this bill because cuts of this magnitude will directly affect Minnesotans and are unnecessary with a $1.6 billion surplus. He argued that now is the time to invest and maintain services, not cut from the wrong places at the wrong time.
The funding shifts for MN.IT only provide $2 million in new general fund appropriations when the request for cybersecurity measures was $26.9 million. The shift from the odyssey fund may actually impede cybersecurity because current agency projects have IT security components and would lose funding due to the $10 million shift from the odyssey fund to MN.IT.
Revenue Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly has estimated that in addition to longer waiting periods for income tax returns and tax auditing services, the agency could lose $35 million in uncollected revenue due to the $11 million in operating reductions proposed in the Senate Republicans’ budget. The agency depends heavily on the general fund for its operations, so cuts of this magnitude will inevitably reduce services to taxpayers.
The Department of Military Affairs testified to the lack of funding for their enlistment incentives. They testified in committee about the frustration they have with pitting their internal accounts against each other, and the cuts that will have to happen as a result of the shifts from their general administration account to their enlistment incentives account.
Senate DFL Caucus concerns:
Finding efficiencies in state government should always be a top goal, but making one-size-fits-all cuts and leaving vital needs, like cybersecurity, unfunded is irresponsible and potentially dangerous.
Instead of making government more efficient, Republicans are making it harder for Minnesotans to get the service they need from their state. This level of cuts will mean fewer staff, longer wait times, and higher long-term costs. It’s appalling that with a $1.6 billion budget surplus, the legislature is short-changing Minnesota’s veterans and military departments and holding back enlistment incentives they’ve asked for.
A bill to revamp the organizational structure of the Metropolitan Council is currently awaiting passage on the Senate floor. Instead of being comprised of gubernatorial appointments, the Met Council would be made up of county commissioners, locally elected officials, and MnDOT representatives, for a total of 27 members.
The Governor currently appoints all members of the Met Council from each of the metropolitan districts. Critics of the Met Council argue that unelected Met Council members should not have the ability to raise revenue for regional transportation projects. They believe the Met Council should be comprised of locally elected officials since the Council has the ability to raise metropolitan-area sales taxes. Opponents of this legislation contend appointees are already accountable through the Governor and must have a regional, rather than parochial, outlook regarding metropolitan planning. (S.F. 1490)
The Met Council has indicated any governance restructuring of the council will need to through a conversation between the Legislature and the Governor. The council has briefly mentioned concerns regarding the inherent conflict of interest and the risk of parochialism by having only locally elected officials serve on the council.
Senate DFL Caucus concerns:
The Senate DFL Caucus is committed to reforming the Met Council to ensure it is responsive to the long-term interests of the Twin Cities area. DFLers support good-governance changes such as staggered terms for Met Council members and more transparency in the selection process to ensure the most qualified candidates serve on the council.
However, forcing the council to be comprised solely of locally elected officials could put regional planning interests at risk. City councilmembers and county commissioners would be put in an untenable situation to provide more for their own constituents instead of advocating in favor of the best outcomes for the metropolitan community as a whole. There is work to be done to make the Met Council a stronger organization, but removing the role of the Governor is not the solution.
The Senate Republican elections omnibus bill is currently sitting in the Finance Committee and has several objectionable proposals. The bill would implement provisional balloting for the first time in state history, repeal the ability of voters to self-certify their eligibility to vote at the polls, and make voters’ challenged status data publicly available. (S.F. 514)
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon testified with concerns regarding these proposals. Simon opposes the introduction of provisional voting in Minnesota on the grounds that it isn’t necessary with same-day voter registration, it would be expensive for local governments to administer, and provisional voting would create a ‘maybe’ pile of votes that may never be counted. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, of the over two million provisional ballots cast nationally in 2012, over 25% were never counted at all.
Additionally, Simon opposes certain elections data from becoming permanently and publicly available. Any challenge to a voter’s status – regardless of whether it has merit or not – would be permanently and publicly available. If, for instance, a voter happens to have the same name as a felon, and is given a provisional ballot as a result of it, a record of that unwarranted challenge will permanently exist. The secretary of state also objects to party affiliation of election judges becoming publicly available data because it could make it more difficult for municipalities to recruit election judges.
Senate DFL Caucus concerns:
The Senate DFL is concerned the omnibus elections bill will result in the disenfranchisement of thousands of Minnesota voters. The legislation repeals the ability for voters to self-certify their eligibility to vote despite the fact that providing inaccurate information is already a felony. Self-certification and same-day voter registration have contributed to Minnesota consistently having one of the highest voter turnouts in the nation. Additionally, provisional ballots in other states have been used in conjunction with voter ID legislation, which is a serious concern. The original intent of provisional ballots was to allow citizens to vote who otherwise would not be able to due to the inability to register at the polls, but this is not a problem because Minnesota has same-day registration. The omnibus elections bill is not in the best interests of Minnesota voters and would create a system of second-class ballots.
An amendment adopted into the veterans funding bill that got rolled into the state government finance bill would allow Support Our Troops account money to be used for grants for disabled veterans that need to adapt their homes for accessibility. The amendment allows the Department of Veterans Affairs to allocate grants up to $3,000 from Support Our Troops funds to veterans that need to retrofit their homes to adapt to their disabilities. This money could be used for installing wheelchair ramps and grab bars, widening doorways, and making other changes to a home that would make it more accessible for disabled veterans returning from combat. (SF 605)
A bill passed by the Senate replaces the current plaque on the Capitol grounds that recognizes veterans from Minnesota that served in World War One. The current plaque only recognizes veterans that served abroad during the war; the number on the plaque is 57,413. The new plaque will recognize World War One veterans whether they served abroad or stateside. Minnesota has a total of 118,497 World War One veterans. (SF 106)