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.