Supplemental finance omnibus bill falls short

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The omnibus finance bill this week was heard and passed on the floor. The bill is made up of several budget bills. The bill was loaded with controversial policy and cuts to agencies that will undoubtedly be opposed by Governor Dayton.

Senate DFLers offered numerous amendments that would have improved Minnesota’s quality of life. Instead, the state was left with budgets that avoids the kinds of necessary investments and forward-looking solutions that are needed to address the issues that are critically important to Minnesotans.

Omnibus Agricultural Finance Article: Republicans do not invest a single additional dollar in agriculture, housing, and rural development despite a substantial budget surplus. To fund their priorities, they cut the Department of Agriculture’s budget and reallocate it to mental health assistance for farmers and farm related businesses.

The current trend in agriculture is troubling; commodity prices are low and input costs are high. Moreover, the federal government is shaking the core of the market by starting a trade war by imposing tariffs. While all of this is occurring, the Senate Republicans have not appropriated any additional general fund money in its proposals that have passed the Senate in 2017 and 2018. All of this is in the wake of a consecutive budget surpluses.

Supplemental Energy Finance Article – The article containing the energy provisions caps Xcel Energy’s contribution to the Renewable Development Account and removes future funding for renewable energy in Minnesota. Additionally, the bill includes a provision requiring the Public Utilities Commission to allow public utilities to include excess pension costs in the rate base. This is problematic because it would require utility customers to pay for pension costs as well as the utility shareholder’s interest on the fund. Helping taxpayers must be a priority, but this is an additional cost to ratepayers and does not reflect the current accounting standard used in utility ratemaking.

Higher Education Omnibus Supplemental Bill – This bill takes $1 million from a program to help pay two-year college costs for Minnesota students and uses the money to fund other programs in their budget.  There is no campus support funding in this bill. Both MinnState and the University of Minnesota requested $10 million each for campus programs, but the University of Minnesota will receive no new funding at all and MinnState only receives $1.5 million. This is unacceptable. Higher education in Minnesota must be a priority.

Supplemental Jobs and Policy Bill – This supplemental budget transfers $2 million from the Minnesota Investment Fund to the redevelopment grant and demolition loan program. Governor Dayton funds the same program but does so by using new money from the general fund to support his priorities. It is important to take from the surplus rather than use money from a successful jobs creator like the Minnesota Investment Fund. In addition, this budget provides just half of what Governor Dayton requested for broadband funding in Minnesota. Unserved and underserved areas need access to high speed internet for commerce, education, and quality of life. It’s regrettable that Senate Republicans won’t do more to ensure all Minnesotans have access to high-speed, reliable internet.

State Government Finance Supplemental Bill – This budget includes abolishing MN.IT services and unfair public employee labor contracts. It also requires additional agency reporting on rules that impact residential construction. Public workers are the backbone of Minnesota, and the fact that Republican leadership does not want to invest in their work shows they don’t feel the same way.

Supplemental Transportation Finance bill – This budget provides funding for technical costs and staff for MNLARS, as well as deputy registrar reimbursements and other transportation funding. Senate Republicans declined to take up any of the Governor’s budget recommendations for transportation and public safety, opting instead for one-time fixes and earmarks.

Roads and bridges all over the state are in need of reconstruction and repair, but the bill only provides $1 million in earmarks for feasibility studies to reconstruct two interchanges. Republicans have refused to provide additional funding to the DVS call center, even for temporary employees until the vehicle services side of MNLARS is fully functional. This sets completely unreasonable expectations for call center performance and sets up MNLARS for failure instead of fixing the problem.

Despite a looming deficit of $95-100 million in 2020 and 2021, Senate Republicans do not spend a penny on transit, opting instead for further restrictions on transit expansion. The omnibus bill contains a provision restricting the use of state dollars for light rail transit operating dollars for expansion of the system—meaning Metro Transit would not be able to expand service hours using state dollars. Without dollars committed to fill the deficit this year, the state will need to find a solution so there are not drastic cuts to service.

Supplemental Environment and Natural Resources Finance Bill – This bill contains reductions and new spending that net out to the Environment Finance Committee’s zero budget target. This funding from the general fund includes money for aggregate mapping, monitoring and modeling of water levels in mine pits and for aquatic invasive species grants, among other things. Potential controversy for the bill comes in the form of air quality standards, water transfers, and other environmental issues.