Tough Week for Hastings, South St. Paul and South Washington Counties

This week has been a tough week for Hastings and South Washington Counties. We passed three major budget bills: taxes, human services and education. These budget bills exemplify the Republican majority values of prioritizing major tax cuts for wealthy business owners over Minnesota children and our most vulnerable.

The first bill we passed was a $900 tax bill. Yes, $900 million out of the $1.6 billion surplus. The most egregious aspect of this bill was $35 million in tax breaks for a sideways attempt to send public dollars to private schools. The students most likely to benefit from these are families who already can afford private schools. This money should be used to fund public schools so they may avoid cuts in staffing, supplies, and services without increasing property taxes.

We can do more to provide statewide tax relief for homeowners. Instead, the tax bill provides an 18 percent property tax reduction for business property while residential property only received a 0.4 percent property tax reduction. The bill freezes the statewide business property tax – which sounds good at the onset, but it will cost the state $1.2 billion over the next 10 years, and nearly 50 percent of that relief goes to out-of-state building owners, not Minnesota businesses. This just doesn’t make sense. This bill threatens to put future budgets out of balance.

The second bill we debated this week was the health and human services finance bill. Senate Republicans are cutting more than $335 million from health and human services and masked the severity of the cuts through shifts and gimmicks. This bill is fiscally irresponsible. It makes numerous promises the majority can’t keep. The bill uses one-time money for ongoing programs and shift payments out into the future – putting future budgets in jeopardy. These cuts are not just unnecessary, they are unsafe. The bill makes cuts to direct care and treatment, including funds for staffing and programming for the St. Peter Security Hospital.

We also debated the E12 Education bill this week. This bill is a huge disappointment. I take issue with this bill for a number of reasons. One is the size of the bill, which is less than half of Governor Dayton’s $709 million education proposal, the other is the amount Republicans recommend to put on the formula. They claimed they supported a 2 percent per year funding increase for schools, but when the bill came to the floor, they broke their promise to our communities. This bill contained a meager 1.5 percent per year formula increase. Because of this lack of funding, our local schools are going to face some deep cuts. Hastings School District will be forced to cut about $500,000 for the 2017-18 school year with a 2 percent funding increase. These cuts will go even deeper with the reduced 1.5 percent formula increase.

We know that pre-k is effective and working for our children. However, this budget lacks any new investment to expand pre-k across Minnesota. The lack of any new funding for expanding voluntary pre-kindergarten lies in sharp contrast to Governor Dayton’s proposed $175 million pre-k expansion. No new money will mean thousands of 4-year-olds won’t have access to critical pre-k programming to help prepare them for kindergarten.

What we experienced this week was the Senate Republican majority giving more than $900 million in tax cuts to benefit wealthy Minnesotans. They spent $35 million for private school vouchers that should have been invested in public schools. They cut health and human services by $335 million, and instead of funding health programs in a responsible way, they shifted millions into future budgets. They underfunded our education system, which will force our schools to make deep budget cuts which will hurt our students.

Because Senate Republicans spent so much on tax giveaways to the rich — on top of the $542 million giveaway to insurance companies – they irresponsibly spent the entire surplus. This puts future budgets in jeopardy. Yes, Minnesota, Hastings, South St. Paul, and South Washington County took a huge step backward this week when Republicans put corporate interests over family’s needs. I’m committed to putting our neighbors first.

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Dan Schoen represents District 54 in the southeast Twin Cities metro.

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