State lawmakers returned to Saint Paul this week to kick off the 2019 Legislative Session. The first order of business this session will be for committees to get to work on a two-year budget. State budget officials projected a $1.54 billion budgetary balance for the upcoming two-year budget cycle, but nearly half of this balance is only available for one-time spending and experts are predicting a slowing economy in the near future. It is more important now than ever to recognize that any new spending and tax cuts must be balanced. Protecting our state’s finances from future instability is the prudent choice as we anticipate slower economic growth ahead.
In the work of setting a new two-year budget, Senate DFLers are committed to building the state all Minnesotans deserve with high-quality education, affordable and accessible health care, and increasing support for working families. Here are some of the many issues Senate DFLers expect to work on in 2019:
- Tax conformity: State lawmakers historically have revised state tax law to align with federal policy, but Minnesota lawmakers were unable to reach a deal earlier this year to dovetail with the huge federal tax bill passed last year by President Trump and Congress. Since the state’s tax code does not align with federal codes, it could cause confusion come tax filing season.
- Bringing down the cost of health care: Many Senate DFLers believe one way to accomplish this is to allow Minnesotans to “buy in” to the existing MinnesotaCare program. MinnesotaCare is a successful bipartisan program created more than 20 years ago. Since 1992, MinnesotaCare has offered high-quality, lower-cost health coverage for more than 100,000 Minnesotans who meet income eligibility requirements. The MinnesotaCare Buy-In is a cost-effective solution because the program would be funded by the premiums of those who buy coverage and would require no ongoing costs for Minnesota taxpayers. This is a smart investment that would give Minnesotans more options for high-quality, affordable health care at clinics and hospitals across the state.
- Paid family leave and affordable child care: Working families deserve a chance to succeed, and paid leave is a fair, commonsense solution to help Minnesota workers take care of themselves and their families. The Senate must also find ways to make high-quality child care more affordable and accessible to all Minnesota families. The Senate DFL is hopeful businesses, families, and care providers will work together to find solutions to benefit all Minnesotans.
- Stable funding for transportation: Minnesota keeps falling further behind in providing stable investments in the state’s roads, bridges, and transit systems. One-time money and borrowing for projects are not sustainable – Minnesotans need a long-term solution. Republicans have been outspoken in their opposition to gas tax increases but as recently as 2015 indicated an interest in reforming tab fees to increase transportation revenue. Governor Tim Walz and numerous legislators continue to express support for raising Minnesota’s gas tax to better address the state’s infrastructure needs; the gas tax was last increased in 2008.
The Senate DFL would like to say a heartfelt goodbye to Governor Dayton. The state of
Minnesota has made tremendous strides over the last eight years, including increasing the minimum wage, marriage equality, investing in the state’s youngest learners, and building the middle class. None of this would have been possible without a strong partner in the governor’s office.
Senate DFLers are also excited to expand on that work with Governor Walz, tackling new issues that continue to build the middle class and work to close economic and achievement gaps across the state.
Members of Protect Minnesota and Moms Demand Action this week opened their 2019 legislative session with a rally urging legislators to remain committed to keeping gun violence prevention an immediate priority.
Members of both organizations called upon the memory of the 2011 shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and other members of Arizona’s Legislature, as well as the recent increase in gun violence in America in order to demand legislation promoting the passage of red flag laws, criminal background checks, and stronger gun violence prevention.
About 90 percent of Minnesotans support criminal background checks for the purchase of firearms. The Senate DFL remains committed to the importance of criminal background checks and gun violence prevention.
The Regent Candidate Advisory Council (RCAC) interviewed 24 potential candidates to fill four vacancies on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. RCAC members are set to vote on finalists on Jan. 11, 2019.
Four seats are open for appointment on the 12-member Regent Board. The seats opened are: Fifth Congressional District (Peggy Lucas – incumbent), one student statewide at-large seat (no incumbent) and two statewide at-large seats (Dean Johnson and Abdul Omari – incumbents.) All three incumbents have applied for re-appointment.
The 24-member RCAC will recommend two to four finalists to the Joint House-Senate Legislative Committee of the Higher Education Committees. The joint committee will then select one candidate to forward onto the joint house-senate convention. The joint house and senate committee must meet by Feb. 28, 2019 to recommend candidates to the full Legislature for a full vote.