The State Government Budget funds our critical public employees during the pandemic: epidemiologists, health care workers, unemployment insurance officers, and other critical front-line workers that Minnesotans have relied upon. Rather than support these employees, Senate Republicans propose to slash their budget by $23.4 million—an arbitrary 5% cut across all state agencies.
Acknowledging the need to keep government lean, Governor Walz has proposed modest inflationary increases to state government budgets of approximately 2% with targeted investments in our critical state workforce. Numerous public employees have been reassigned to other duties during the pandemic to help administer vaccinations, acquire PPE, and ensure unemployment benefits are distributed to those who have lost their jobs. Now is not the time to take a hacksaw to government services when they are desperately necessary and functioning efficiently.
The Senate Republicans has not only focused their time on proposing arbitrary cuts, but have heard dozens of controversial and poorly conceived policy bills to prevent the governor from responding quickly during the peacetime emergency, gut the authority of state agencies, and interfere in the collective bargaining process of public employees.
Below are controversial state government related bills moving through the Republican-controlled State Government Finance Committee:
- Eliminate the governor’s authority to use peacetime emergency declarations to protect school classrooms. (SF 2)
- Arbitrarily reduce state agency and public college budget assumptions arbitrarily by 5%. (SF 3)
- Restrict the ability of the governor to continue peacetime emergencies by giving each body of the legislature veto power. (SF 4)
- Prevent state agencies from using federal COVID-19 funds by requiring approval by the legislature. (SF 8)
- Prohibit licensing agencies from enforcing executive orders related to business violations of COVID-19 safety and sanitation protocols. (SF 213)
- Privatize the administration of road exams for driver’s licenses and creating a system rife with conflicts of interest. (SF 276)
- Restrict the ability for state agencies to respond to the needs of Minnesotans by tying state employment numbers to the overall population of the state. (SF 299)
- Punish state agencies that are unable to hire difficult-to-fill positions because of a lack of qualified candidates by reducing the appropriation to the agency by a corresponding amount. (SF 411)
- Lay off one public employee at the Board of Cosmetology by transferring all of the duties of the board to the Department of Health except that one position. (SF 691)
- Upend the rulemaking process for state agencies, which would bring regulations across all of state government that keep Minnesotans safe to a standstill. (SF 714)
- Prevent the administrative expertise at state agencies to make final determinations on rules. (SF 993)
- Create ambiguity in the ability of elected officials to speak in favor of or opposition to ballot questions (SF 995)
- Restrict the ability of the state to negotiate in good faith with public employee unions by allowing the legislature to restrict negotiations to the parameters of appropriations the legislature sets. (SF 1256)
- Prevent the ability of state agencies to use federal funds by giving the Legislative Advisory Commission the ability to hold up the money, which is typically accompanied with extensive requirements from the federal government. (SF 1564)
- Allow either body of the legislature to circumvent the legal representation of the state by the Attorney General, which would result in competing legislative claims in court at extensive additional costs to taxpayers. (SF 1688)
- Require the state to sell a building currently used to store PPE and other COVID-19 related supplies. (SF 1836)
- Require the state to replace the Christopher Columbus statue at a cost to taxpayers of over $100,000. (SF 1913)
Hands-off budgeting by the Republican Senate won’t solve the deficit
A proposal is moving through the Senate to require Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) to reduce all agencies’ administrative expense planning estimates by 5% in each fiscal year from 2022 through 2025 in the February 2021 forecast. The Department of Human Services Direct Care and Treatment program and the Department of Veterans Affairs are the only two exemptions to the proposed cuts.
Instead of making targeted investments and reductions to address the anticipated $1.3 billion budget deficit, Republicans are attempting across-the-board reductions that will disproportionately affect agencies, their missions and programming, and the public employees who administer these services. Republican legislators who claim the deficit can be solved through budget cuts alone should be asked specifically what they would cut.
Republicans should also be asked how they can guarantee these arbitrary cuts won’t hamper Minnesota’s response to the pandemic, whether that means the health department that is responsible for testing, vaccinating, and managing the pandemic; the educators who are trying to keep our kids afloat during a crisis; or the department administering unemployment and job-retraining for laid off workers.
State agency operations are a relatively small part of the budget, and even a 10% cut would only save about $100 million, achieving little savings while seriously limiting the quality of public services these agencies are able to provide. Health and human services and K-12 education account for about 70% of the state budget. Those are two areas that clearly need the most attention right now, not deeper cuts.
Republicans that support this bill are taking a hands-off approach to budget negotiations instead of working with the Walz administration to find targeted savings that can help balance the budget. This legislation would lead to arbitrary and harmful cuts to agency budgets during a critical time when specific investments need to be made to ensure an effective pandemic response. (SF 3)
Counterproductive proposal to punish state agency hiring passes
A bill passed out of committee that would claw back appropriations from state agencies that are unable to fill open job positions within 180 days. Agency budgets would be reduced by the corresponding appropriation for the open position applicable in the fiscal years 2024-2025.
The proposal punishes state agencies for being unable to hire employees for difficult-to-fill positions. A similar provision in the 2019 State Government Omnibus Bill also included drastic cuts to state agencies and salary freezes, which did not become law.
One important factor in unfilled agency positions is whether the state is offering competitive salaries relative to similar job classifications in the private sector or local governments. This can result in long-term unfilled agency positions because of the difficulty in recruiting qualified candidates for specialized roles, which is especially common for IT positions. (SF 411)
Lieutenant governor constitutional amendment proposal
A bill was heard that would propose a constitutional amendment on the next general election ballot to change how a vacancy of the lieutenant governor is handled. The governor would be authorized to appoint a new lieutenant governor with the advice and consent of the Senate as opposed to the president of the senate automatically assuming the role.
This proposal is a response to the lieutenant governor vacancy that occurred when Governor Dayton appointed Tina Smith to the U.S. Senate in 2018. The Minnesota Constitution required the President of the Senate, Michelle Fischbach, to assume the role of lieutenant governor. Senator Fischbach resigned after the 2018 legislative session, serving as both lieutenant governor and state senator for several months, which was challenged in court but never fully adjudicated.
This bill would effectively resolve this situation by amending the state constitution and allowing the governor to appoint a new lieutenant governor with the advice and consent of the senate if a vacancy occurs. (SF 57)
Emergency Powers Bill passes Senate chamber
A bill passed the Senate that would limit the ability of the governor to extend peacetime emergencies without full legislative approval. Currently, governors have the authority to declare a peacetime emergency and must call a special session every 30 days to allow the Legislature to reject an emergency declaration during the interim. The bill would instead require a majority vote of both bodies to extend a governor’s peacetime emergency beyond 30 days.
The bill has not been heard in the House and would restrict the ability of Governor Walz to manage the pandemic. Each of the widely supported executive orders managing the pandemic are predicated on these emergency powers, including the eviction moratorium, worker protections, and vaccine distribution. This proposal would result in more gridlock at the Capitol and could even jeopardize federal disaster assistance funding.
48 states remain in a state of emergency declared by both Democratic and Republican governors. Governor Walz has remained committed to protecting public health and saving lives throughout this pandemic. Peacetime emergency powers have allowed him and his administration to respond quickly to the evolving pandemic. Providing one legislative chamber veto power over emergency declarations would be shortsighted and dangerous. (SF 4)
Elections mid-session review
Minnesota has a strong reputation of providing access to the polls and promoting the freedom to vote, with the state once again leading the nation in voter turnout last year. We should be building on this success by making it more convenient to vote, engaging more voters in the democratic process, and providing sufficient resources to our local election officials.
Instead, Senate Republicans have refused to debunk election conspiracy theories and misinformation to the detriment of our democracy and public confidence in our elections. Republicans across the country have spread the big lie that our elections were not fair, which led to the January 6insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Compounding these false claims, Senate Republicans have pushed legislation this session to make it more difficult to vote, create second-class ballots that are less likely to be counted, and meddle in the effective administration of our elections. The effect of these proposals would disenfranchise thousands of Minnesotans, waste taxpayer dollars, and take away local control.
Republican-led election bills moving through the Senate would:
- Impose onerous photo ID requirements to vote and create a second-class system of ballots that often go uncounted. (SF 173)
- Create another second-class system of challenged voter ballots to weaponize the ability for anyone to challenge the eligibility of a voter and keep their vote from counting. (SF 1422)
- Allow red congressional districts to send their presidential electors to a Republican presidential candidate regardless of the statewide presidential ballot tally. (SF 429)
- Restrict early voting locations and making it less convenient to vote before election day. (SF 651)
- Make private data on volunteer election judges public for political parties to use for partisan and electioneering purposes. (SF 652)
- Eliminate the ability for local governments and citizens to choose whether to implement ranked choice voting and repeal RCV for the cities that have already adopted it. (SF 708)
- Appropriate additional taxpayer dollars to legislative candidates whose opponents opt to spend additional private funds over optional campaign spending limits. (SF 1907)
The Senate DFL is committed to expanding voter access, advocating for policies that reduce disparities, and empowering citizens to participate in the political process. By giving democracy back to the people and rejecting disinformation, we put ourselves on a path to acknowledging that truth, voting access, and our First Amendment rights are paramount to who we are as a nation.
Senate DFLers have proposed the following election bills, continuing to await hearings this session:
- Defending Our Democracy bill to expand voter access (SF 422, SF 1064, SF 1065, SF 1066, SF 1067, SF 1068, SF 1069)
- Overturning Citizens United v FEC (SF 940, SF 649, SF 878)
- Allowing mail-in balloting in any city with fewer than 400 registered voters (SF 326)
- Authorizing local election officials to expand early voting (SF 499)
- Allowing 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote (SF 330)
- Allowing minors to vote in primaries if they will be 18-year-olds by the general (SF 361)
- Restore the vote (SF 842, SF 1010)
- Permitting voters to be absent from work to vote in person before election day (SF 846)
- Proposing a constitutional amendment providing free, fair, and equal elections (SF 937)
- Expanding ranked choice voting (SF 218, SF2159, SF 1651)
- Requiring voting instructions and sample ballots to be in languages other than English (SF 657, SF 816)
- Electing the president by national popular vote (SF 18, SF 30)
Redistricting is the redrawing or revision of boundaries for representational districts. Local governments are responsible for local redistricting and drawing precinct boundaries. The Minnesota constitution gives the Legislature the authority to draw congressional and legislative districts, and state law requires the Legislature to draw Met Council districts. The Legislature is guided by redistricting principles and uses a specialized software to draw maps and create reports. The redistricting principles on a federal level focus on equality in congressional and legislative districts and no discrimination based on race. The state redistricting principles require convenient contiguous territory, and that districts are nested and numbered in a regular series.
States continue to await census data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which has faced continued delays and is now expected to be delivered to states by the end of September. This will allow Minnesota to begin redrawing legislative and congressional districts. February 15, 2022 is the deadline for the legislature to complete redistricting. By May 8, 2022 candidates must establish residence in their legislative district and January 31 is the candidate filing deadline. August 9, 2022 is the state primary election and November 8 is the general election.
Senate Republicans push voter ID, continue to spread deceptive election integrity claims
Senate Republicans are once again promoting a controversial voter suppression bill that will reduce turnout in Minnesota elections by tens of thousands of voters. The proposal requires all voters to possess either a driver’s license, Minnesota identification card, or voter identification card in order to vote.
Minnesotans rejected onerous voter ID restrictions in 2012 by voting down a Republican-supported constitutional amendment, with 52% of Minnesotans voting against the proposal. The Senate Republican majority is actively thwarting the will of voters by attempting to impose voter ID through statute instead of a constitutional amendment. Voter ID is predicated on the same unsubstantiated and dangerous claims of voter fraud that led to the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, which left five people dead.
Minnesota prides itself on consistently having the highest rate of voter turnout in the nation. This proposal will put that distinction in jeopardy and will disenfranchise many voters. Voter ID laws have also been found to disproportionately disenfranchise minorities because voters of color are less likely to possess a photo ID and the required documents to obtain an ID.
The bill also creates a second tier of ‘provisional’ ballots for those that lack required identification at the polls. Typically, over a quarter of all provisional ballots in other states never get counted based on the failure of voters to preregister or update their residence.
Burdensome voter ID laws across the country are a solution in search of a problem and a cynical attempt by Republicans to suppress voter turnout. The Senate DFL will reject any effort to undermine your right to vote and will fight to stop any voter ID restrictions proposed by the Senate Republican majority. (SF 173)
Controversial election bills heard this weekThe Senate heard three controversial election-related bills. The bills would alter the way Minnesota seats presidential electors, reduce early voting options, and disclose personal election judge information.
Minnesota awards electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis like the majority of other states. The first bill proposed in State Government Finance would award one electoral vote each to the presidential candidate who wins each congressional district, which will dilute the electoral vote gain for whoever wins the statewide presidential race.
The second bill would put additional requirements on early in-person voting locations that local election officials set up to reduce congestion at main election offices and will have the effect of shutting down temporary and mobile polling locations prior to election day.
The final bill would require the Secretary of State to provide a list of all election judges, their addresses, and their party affiliation to the major political parties in Minnesota, which will jeopardize their privacy and could result in difficulty recruiting new election judges.
These three election bills are not supported by the Senate DFL and do not accomplish our vision of expanding—rather than suppressing—voting rights, making it more convenient to vote, and ensuring adequate support of local election officials that administer our elections. (SF 429, SF 651, SF 652)
Politicizing election judge personal information
A bill passed another committee in the Senate to disclose election judge’s personal information to political parties. The bill requires local clerks and county auditors to submit a list with each person who served as an election judge to the secretary of state. The list must include the judge’s name, address, whether the judge was appointed from a list provided by a major political party or another source, and whether the judge is affiliated with a political party. The secretary of state must compile lists by party and provide the lists to the chair of each major political party to be used for elections or political activity.
The proposal raises serious issues of data privacy for election judges when local election officials are already struggling to recruit and retain election workers throughout the pandemic. Requiring the personal and political data of election judges to be available to political parties for the overly broad purpose of “elections or political activity” provides no accountability for how the data is used. Election judges must undergo extensive training and there are already procedures and plans in place to ensure judges remain accountable. Disclosing their personal information to political parties is an attempt to solve a problem that does not exist and will reduce the pool of citizens willing to serve. (SF 652)