Thursday, September 21, 2017

News

Greetings from the Capitol!

It has been a very busy week at the Legislature as House Democrats unveiled their tax bill on Monday.  In addition most of the bills that create the new state budget (what we call Finance Omnibus Bills) for the next biennium are moving through the final steps of the committee process and coming to the House floor.  There are around a dozen bills that cover different areas of state government such as K-12 Education, Public Safety, Higher Education, etc.

We are scheduled to adjourn the third week in May, so the pace is really picking up as we head into the last month of the legislative session. We are spending more hours as a full House body in the chamber to discuss these bills and currently are sitting on the House floor on Saturday afternoon discussing the State Government Finance bill.

The common thread we are seeing among the budget bills is increases in state spending which are paid for with the large tax increase of $2.67 billion proposed in the Omnibus Tax Bill. What is discouraging (in addition to the tax hikes) is that these large finance bills lack measures to help our state operate more efficiently by cutting waste.

As for the budget bills we have seen on the floor this week, one pertains to jobs, another addresses agriculture and the environment and the last one that we voted on yesterday was the Public Safety Omnibus Bill. Here is an overview:

 

JOBS BILL

The Jobs bill was approved by the House on Monday - a $436 million proposal - 24% more than the projected base budget. While the goal of the bill is to grow jobs and promote economic development in Minnesota, the only jobs House Democrats can guarantee are at least six new full-time government positions. Despite the fact that this bill spends nearly $55 million more on commerce and jobs programs over the next two years, there is little evidence to suggest it will actually create new job opportunities for unemployed Minnesotans. The most frustrating piece of this bill is a provision giving an additional three years of unemployment benefits to people who have stopped working as a result of a lockout (failure of a labor union to reach agreement with the employer). Meanwhile, every other Minnesotan will still only be eligible for 26 weeks of these benefits.  Minnesota needs a healthy economy where workers have the same opportunity and everyone follows the same rules. 

AG/ENVIRONMENT BILL

On Thursday, the House approved a comprehensive agriculture and environment finance proposal that spends $822 million ($47 million more than current spending) in order to better protect our land, air, and waterways and promote the agriculture industry. Many lawmakers were taken aback by the number and level of fee increases included in the bill. Most controversial are increases in water permit fees, lake property, and a "product stewardship" recycling program which will directly increase the price of paint, carpet, and all batteries that you use for products in your home. The bottom line: prepare to pay more if you use city water, own a permitted well or lake cabin, want to paint or re-carpet your home, or just want to change the batteries in your remote control. This legislation would create 105 new employees for the DNR, 19 for the MN Pollution Control Agency and 3 for the Board of Water and Soil Resources.  Despite the Governor's insistence that there be continued permitting reform, there is no such thing in this bill. There is simply expansion of the government bureaucracy in the area of agriculture and environment.

PUBLIC SAFETY

I was encouraged and excited to support the Public Saftey Finance bill that passed yesterday afternoon with broad bi-partisan support. This bill represents a lot of good work and compromise. It includes increased funding for our court system which has been operating on a shoestring budget. The bill also has provisions for increased protections against sex trafficking, funding for updating the crime reporting system, and increased funding for grants to existing crime victims programs.  It was also good to see that the many controversial gun provisions that have been discussed this session were not included in this particular bill but will move separately. 

ONLINE SURVEY

The biggest budget bills - including K-12 Education and Health and Human Services - remain on the horizon for next week. I am seeking input from local citizens as we prepare to consider them on the House floor and welcome you to participate in an online survey I have made available. It only takes a few moments to complete and you can click here to find it.

Have a great rest of your weekend!

Tara

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