With just over three weeks left of the 2019 session, legislators have worked long hours to debate, discuss, and pass budgets in Finance or on the floor for various issues from ag to transportation. Deep divisions remain over spending and taxes, with House DFLers working to improve our state by making honest investments in education, health care, public safety, transportation, and transit. In contrast, Senate Republican budgets are effectively deep cuts to important programs that make Minnesota a great place to live, work, and raise a family. Their budget would contribute to even greater inequality, increase the cost of health care, reduce services for our most vulnerable, and close more than 30 state parks.
All budget bills need to pass the House and Senate by May 1 and head into Conference Committee where differences between the two budgets will be worked out. Because the bills are so different, it is expected to be a drawn-out process with both sides fighting for what they think will be best for the state.
Senate Republicans released their tax bill this week. The bill will do nothing to close the income inequality gap for taxpayers – there is no money for LGA to hold down property taxes, no money for the Working Family Tax Credit to help low- to middle-income families, and big tax breaks for the wealthy.
In the meantime, Republicans were no-shows to another negotiating session over whether to release $6.6 million in federal money to protect Minnesota’s elections from foreign meddling, just days after a federal investigation revealed the state was of interest to Russia in 2016. It is unconscionable that Senate Republicans refuse to work out these differences. The money comes from the federal Help America Vote Act and is designed to help states make sure our elections are safe and secure.
The House and Senate have both passed bills that raise $20 million to start addressing the opioid epidemic by creating a new registration fee for drug distributors and manufacturers. The conference committee has not met since early April. The Senate bills drops the highest fees in the event of a legal settlement between the state and an opioid manufacturer. The House bill does not include this provision, and that sticking point has delayed a final agreement.
Several groups came to the capitol this week. Minnesota families gathered outside the House chamber sharing their personal stories and delivering medicine bottles that contained stories of the struggle thousands of Minnesotans are facing due to Big Pharma’s continued price gouging on prescription medicines. There was a Youth Intervention Programs Association Rally where advocates brought attention to the lack of funding for programs to help tens of thousands of Minnesota youth. OutFront MN held their lobby day for LGBTQ equity to raise attention to fairness issues and stop the attacks and discriminatory legislation against LGBTQ people.
OutFront MN, an LGBTQ lobbying group, held a rally this week on the south steps of the Capitol, where legislators, advocates, and other members of Minnesota’s LGBTQ community spoke out against conversion therapy and other forms of discrimination in the community. The group wants to raise awareness of issues the community faces and help create a state where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people can live without fear of violence, harassment, or discrimination.
Lawmakers from both the Senate and the House addressed the amendment to outlaw conversion therapy that was recently added to the House DFL Health and Human Services omnibus bill as well as the Mental Health Protection Act. Afterwards, survivors of conversion therapy shared their stories. The rally concluded with a short concert from a local Latina hip hop artist, and advocates spent the rest of the afternoon meeting with legislators to discuss the LGBTQ legislative agenda.
The Senate agriculture and housing finance bill passed this week on a 43-24 vote. The Senate bill contains important investments in rural mental health supports for farmers and other agricultural related workers. Unfortunately, the bill cuts important proven-to-work housing programs and shifts money to other housing priorities.
The Senate approved a highly contentious bill this week to fund environment and natural resource agencies this week, on a vote of 35-32, with nearly all DFL senators voting no. The bill proposes a steep 25% general fund budget cut to the state’s environment and conservation programs.
Legislation passed this week in the Senate continues the decline of investments in Minnesota’s higher education system and post-secondary students.
The Senate Republicans’ Judiciary and Public Safety budget bill falls far short of keeping Minnesotans, corrections officers, or incarcerated people safe and adequately funding the state’s judicial branch.
The state government omnibus bill spends a total of $1.08 billion in 2020-2021. This is a $15 million reduction over the base and $90 million under the governor’s recommendation for $1.17 billion.
Senate Republicans released a tax bill this week that raises more than $600 million for the next budget but spends much of it on corporate tax relief and leaves little for average Minnesota families. The main piece of the bill – and the one everyone agrees is a top priority this year – is tax conformity. The state must update its tax code to reflect massive federal changes passed by Congress at the end of 2017.