The most important work of the 2019 Legislative Session is creating a budget reflecting our priorities and shared values, that we must pass by the time we adjourn on May 20. Over the next few months we will work together to create a budget that funds essential services and programs that Minnesotans rely on.
We’ve taken our first big step towards that goal with the release of Governor Tim Walz’s budget proposal. Though he doesn’t introduce legislation, Governor Walz will need to sign off on any budget bill that the legislature passes, and his budget outlines a clear set of priorities that reflect the decision of the voters in the 2018 election.
The Governor’s proposal makes robust investments in several vital areas for our community success. The biggest of which is in education, to guarantee that every child in Minnesota has access to a world-class education. This includes $523 million into the basic funding formula, which gives schools the resources and flexibility to meet the unique needs of each student.
The proposal also addresses an issue that we must find a solution for. It provides enough funding to freeze the special education cross subsidy, which ensures these programs are receiving the funding they need without taking funding away from other programming. Many school districts have been struggling to keep up with these growing costs, and this proposal will provide a much-needed stabilization in funding.
Another issue that this proposal seeks to tackle is the cost of health care. High-quality affordable health care remains out of reach for far too many people, and the cost of health care continues to be a major concern for hardworking Minnesotans. I am encouraged by the Governor’s proposed public health care option, OneCare, that would create an additional health care plan available for individuals statewide.
I am also encouraged by the proposal to provide a subsidy for people who receive their insurance through MNSure and the creation of a tax credit to ensure that people pay no more than 10 percent of their income on health care. We must provide real solutions to the cost of health care, and these three initiatives are bold proposals to directly lower costs.
While the state’s overall economic health is good, it hasn’t been felt equally everywhere. That’s why it’s so important that we invest in communities like Albert Lea. A major resource for rural areas is funding for Local Government and County Aid. When this aid is cut, the burden falls on local taxpayers in the form of rising property taxes. I want to thank Governor Walz for putting $60 million into these programs to provide relief for taxpayers while letting our towns and cities continue to provide necessary services.
Finally, the budget invests $70 million in the border-to-border broadband grant program, to ensure all households have high speed internet access by 2022. No one in Minnesota should be left behind in having access to high-speed internet. It’s vital for our local economies, for education, for health care, and for the overall success of every community.
It’s important to view the Governor’s budget as an aspirational approach. We will have a clearer economic picture after the February forecast, and we may have to make hard choices on what areas we can invest in. However, I look forward to having this conversation with my colleagues, and look forward to making sure we put the priorities of hardworking Minnesotans first.
This column was first published in the Albert Lea Tribune.