Senate Republican budgets fail Minnesota’s children, working families, farmers, and small businesses
With only six weeks left of the 2019 Legislative Session, Senate Republicans have finally released their budget bills. Budgets are a reflection of values, and it is disheartening to realize their budgets will increase income inequity and make deep cuts to programs Minnesotans across the state depend on. Senate DFLers feel dismayed that after 14 weeks of work, Republicans’ extreme and unfair budget bills neither reflect the values of Minnesotans nor provide a clear path toward an orderly end of session.
In the early weeks of the session, there was hope of working together and getting things done when legislators of both parties agreed to pass a number of bills early on that had bipartisan support. This just hasn’t happened. Instead, after 14 weeks of session only a handful of bills have been passed– leaving most of the work of passing a two-year budget, tax conformity, and a number of important policy bills for the last six weeks before adjournment in late May.
When putting together their budgets, committees did not take public testimony on the Governor’s budget. Republican leadership refused to give his budget proposals honest consideration. Instead, committees held sham hearings where they allowed someone to speak on the Governor’s budget details for just a few minutes. This is not good governance or leadership.
Minnesotans have made themselves clear: they want the parties to work together to build the state all Minnesotans deserve, with high-quality education, affordable and accessible health care, and increasing support for working families. The Senate Republican budget ignores these Minnesota values. There are two options: the legislature can focus on the things Minnesotans have said they want and invest in education, health care, and community prosperity, or legislators can take the Senate Republican path and refuse to work together to build the state Minnesotans deserve.
At a time when investment in Minnesota’s children and schools to ensure world-class educations and a strong workforce should be considered a top priority, Senate leaders fall terribly short with a 0.5% increase in funding for schools the first year of the biennium and 0.5% in the second year, providing just $31 more per student in 2020 and $32 more per student in 2021. Taking inflation into account, their education budget is actually a cut to Minnesota’s schools. Additionally, there are no increases in special education funding and no school breakfast funding increases. Without stronger state investments, teachers will continue to be laid off, class sizes will continue to increase, and school districts will have no choice but to go to local property taxpayers just to fund the basics. That’s not the best way to ensure Minnesota’s classrooms, schools, students, and teachers have the resources to create a world-class workforce.
At a time when working families need child care to afford going to work, Senate Republicans are cutting funds for child care assistance. At a time when veterans need Minnesota’s support most, they’ve reduced spending for the state’s National Guard and put together a $0 target for veterans’ programs. At a time when working families struggle to pay their bills, they are rolling back legislation in the jobs bill that would lower wages for workers and increase income inequity. Too many corrections officers are getting assaulted on the job, and Senate Republicans chose to provide woefully inadequate funding to keep these workers safe.
Minnesota’s roads are rated a “D+”, and instead of introducing a real and stable solution to funding roads, they take money from the general fund that, in turn, reduces funding for education, health care, the environment, and public safety. Stealing from one fund to invest in another is just another gimmick Senate Republicans use to claim investments in roads – but it’s all smoke and mirrors. People are dying because the desperately needed, stable funding to fix Minnesota’s unsafe roadways is not being provided. The legislature must support stable and reliable funding for the state’s transit and transportation needs.
Many requests have been made to hold hearings on issues people care about: reducing the cost of insulin, paid family leave, common-sense gun safety provisions, restoring the right to vote, ERA – just to name of few. Senate Republicans are ignoring the will of the people they represent and forging their own path to protect Big Pharma, the wealthy, and private schools.
Additionally, Senate Republicans refuse to meet for the HAVA conference committee to work out differences with the House and pass this critical bill to the Governor – despite early promises to pass this bipartisan, common-sense bill early. Their inexplicable refusal to meet is holding up more than $6.5 million in federal help to secure the statewide voter registration system, provide training to local election officials, and implement security improvements for election systems. Minnesota is the only state in the nation that hasn’t secured these important funds to ensure future elections are not hacked by foreign governments. Full funding for HAVA just makes sense and Senate DFLers will continue to advocate for it.
Only one high-profile bipartisan bill became law before the legislative break — the hands-free cellphone bill to prohibit drivers from talking on their cell phone while driving with the exception of any hands-free mode. The bill is in response to strong evidence that cell phone use while driving can be distracting and cause accidents. It will become law on August 1, 2019.
There was hope the legislation to combat the opioid epidemic would also pass, but negotiations in conference committee broke down and will continue after the break. The legislation raises annual registration fees on pharmaceutical manufacturers and wholesale distributors to raise $20 million each year to fund treatment and prevention programs, amounting to just a sliver of the skyrocketing profits made by manufacturers of opiates each year.
Although the Senate DFL is disappointed in where the legislature is at this point in the session, with decreased investments for working families, small businesses, and farmers, Senate DFL members remain hopeful these budgets will get better. There is still time to find compromise and pass a budget to benefit all Minnesotans without going into a special session. Right now, the differences seem insurmountable with the extreme position the Senate has taken with its budget in comparison to the Governor and the House. Minnesotans need legislation that levels the playing field for working families, farmers, small businesses, and senior citizens. There is a lot of work to do in the last six weeks, and the Senate DFL is committed to supporting a budget that benefits all Minnesotans.