A rocky road to the finish line

With just ten days left of the 2019 legislative session, the lack of agreement between leaders could imperil the goal of finishing on time. Joint budget negotiations hit a roadblock this week when leaders of the House and Senate and Governor Walz failed to reach an agreement on budget targets by their self-imposed deadline of May 6. Governor Walz made a substantial offer to close the gap in overall spending, but Senate Republicans made no meaningful offer, stalling negotiations.

Although global targets have not been reached, conference committees have been working to review the differences between the House and Senate budgets; however, without budget targets, it will be difficult to negotiate the deep differences in earnest because budget targets set the funding parameters for the bills. Time is running short: leaders in the House and Senate agreed to a self-imposed deadline to post conference committee reports by Monday, May 13. Adjournment is constitutionally set for midnight May 20.

It’s clear there are great divides in the vision for Minnesota between Senate Republicans and House DFLers. Senate Republicans are staunch in their position that programs providing tax giveaways for corporations and the wealthy – along with giveaways to insurance companies with no strings attached – should be continued. But every dollar spent on the wealthy, overseas corporate giveaways, and insurance companies is a dollar taken away from students, health care programs, and crumbling highways.

There is little progress made in the E-12 and higher education budgets. DFLers are committed to making sure the state’s schools have stable and equitable funding. Most Minnesotans agree education is an important investment in the future for children and the future of the state’s workforce. Republicans are still holding strong on a short-sighted voucher program that would send taxpayer dollars to private and religious schools rather than provide stable funding for public schools. That’s just not right.

The Republican Senate health and human services budget is chock full of shifts, gimmicks, and shady budgeting. Republicans are fighting for harmful cuts to Minnesota’s affordable health care system that working families and farmers depend on. Instead of booking savings as they claim, these harmful cuts will force people off health care and increase costs to counties. Their budgets cut child care assistance, which is a devastating loss of a program that serves thousands of families who will no longer have help paying for child care. They also cut access to services for people with disabilities by capping enrollment in programs aimed at helping Minnesotans with disabilities access care in the community and limited necessary personal care assistance services. An estimated 1,800 people will lose access to their PCA services, and over 6,000 eligible people could be denied waiver services.

One of the major health care differences is in the 2% provider tax. Republican lawmakers want to let it expire at the end of 2019 as currently written in state law, but letting it expire will be catastrophic for low-income Minnesotans and will blow a huge hole in Minnesota’s state budget. The tax is expected to bring in $700 million this year, with most of the money earmarked for low-income health care.

Republicans have drawn a line in the sand when it comes to stable funding for transportation and won’t entertain any increase in the gas tax to address road safety and try to improve the terrible D+ rating for roads and bridges. The gas tax doesn’t fund other programs; 100% of the revenues go to fix roads and bridges. Deteriorating infrastructure is costing the average Minnesotan more than a $1,000 a year in time and car repairs while putting public safety at risk. Republicans are putting their heads in the sand and pretending roads and bridges can be fixed by taking money from education, health care, and other budgets without a gas tax increase which will just cost the state more in the future.

Senate DFLers are hopeful the gaps in vision and values will close in the next few days and the legislature will pass a budget Minnesotans can all be proud of. It feels a long way to the finish line, but Senate DFLers are all working hard to protect what they think is best for the state of Minnesota.