Over the weekend, the House passed three budget bills. First among them is the Higher Education Omnibus bill which funds higher education at $3.5 billion, which is $100 million over the base appropriation. The bill was negotiated in secret by the House and Senate chairs and the Commissioner of Higher Education under direction of the Governor. This bill will allow Minnesota State College and Universities to raise tuition 3.5% without doing anything to address the skyrocketing cost of college. It also spends a million dollars on a working group to figure out how to send a letter to high school students in 10 school districts to inform them about their opportunities at public colleges and universities. It should be noted that all 201 legislators send a letter to every high school senior every year already. Meanwhile, the bill underfunds Republican priorities like public safety on campuses and additional mental health resources. The shooting of five innocent bystanders in Dinkytown over the weekend highlights the public safety crisis in the neighborhoods surrounding the U of M Minneapolis. For these reasons, I voted no.
We also passed the Agriculture and Broadband Omnibus bill, which funds the Department of Agriculture and the work it does with Minnesota farmers and livestock producers, as well as the Office of Broadband to expand broadband infrastructure. It also included funding for mental health specialists for farmers, farm safety grants, livestock processing and meat science, food banks, urban and youth agriculture grants, and farm-to-school programs. Again, the bill was negotiated behind closed doors with undue influence by the Governor and because of this, I voted no.
The final bill passed over the weekend was the Omnibus Legacy bill. This bill is funded by the Legacy Amendment, an additional .375% sales tax approved by Minnesota voters in 2008. The bill includes spending in outdoor heritage (33%), clean water (33%), parks and trails (14.25%), and arts and cultural heritage (19.75%). It also funds Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Chronic Wasting Disease testing, and civics education grants. When it left the House during regular session, this bill included a lot of problematic funding and policy provisions, however Senate negotiators were successful in removing those provisions. One of the remaining concerns I have is the continuation of the purchase of private land, taking it off the tax rolls and out of private ownership. This year’s bill will take another 20,259 acres out of private ownership. The Federal, State and Counties own more than 12 million of the 51.2 million acres of land in Minnesota, or 24% of the state. Additionally, these are the most updated numbers on the DNR's website, but they haven't been updated since 2002. The state has been buying land by the tens of thousands of acres every year, and yet updated numbers are seemingly nowhere to be found. I want to know when is enough, enough land for the government to own.
On Monday evening, the House passed the Commerce, Climate, and Energy finance bill. This bill isn't notable so much for what is included as what is excluded - our nation-leading program called reinsurance, which has held down health care costs for the past 5 years, and which Democrats are refusing the fully reauthorize for the next 5 years. This will result in skyrocketing health insurance rates, reduced health care options, and an instability Minnesota's private insurance market. It is disappointing that House Democrats are trying to end a program that has saved Minnesotans huge sums of money. Without this program, private health insurance rates for those not on government insurance will go up 25 to 30% or more this year. To exclude this program from our state budget will drive out the private insurance market leaving us with only a government option.
This process has been frustrating for all the legislators who were shut out of negotiations. Striking secret deals between House chairs, Senate chairs, and the governor's commissioners, giving the executive branch undue influence over the content of bills and a preemptive and unconstitutional veto over policy in bills is wrong way to enact budget and policy for the citizens of Minnesota.
Please Contact Me
As always, if you need assistance on an issue pertaining to state government or have concerns or ideas about legislation, my office is available to you. You can e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my office at 651-296-5063. You can also write a letter to me. My office address at the Capitol is 357 State Office Building, 100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, St. Paul, MN 55155.