Editorially, our newspapers have previously called for more prompt attention to the most important work of the 92nd meeting of our Minnesota Legislature — adoption of a two-year state budget that began July 1, 2021. 

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Minnesota’s divided government — Republican Majority Leader Paul Gazelka leading the Senate and DFLer Melissa Hortman as Speaker of the House — made a budget agreement with Gov. Tim Walz, a DFLer, prior to the House adjourning on June 30. The Republican Senate delayed adjournment for a few days to consider several of Walz’s appointees who have not yet been confirmed by the State Senate. 

By failing to meet the first budget deadline during the regular session on May 17, attention focused once again on a special session that Walz convened on June 14. The impending July 1 threat of a partial state government shutdown inspired the DFL House and GOP Senate to finish their work. 

While six weeks late, the $52 billion budget represents some important bipartisan progress. A record $2.4 billion is now projected to be in the “rainy day fund” beginning a year from now. Current tax collections are roughly $1.8 billion higher than projected. 

A tax reduction of $1 billion will be spread over the next four years. There are no new taxes in the final budget.

K-12 education funding will increase by $1.2 billion, the single largest increase in 15 years. There will also be more money for recruiting teachers of color and funding for suicide prevention programs. Higher education institutions will get a $100 million increase overall; the University of Minnesota will receive nearly $39 million more.

Minnesota will spend more than $16.5 billion on state health programs and other social services, not including federal money that passes through the state’s coffers. The budget bill provides more funding to make child care affordable, new money to help people live independently, more pay for personal care assistants as well as increased aid to lower income residents. The state’s reinsurance program will receive $130 million more; reinsurance helps insurance companies afford the claims of their costliest patients, which in turn keeps rates on the individual market down.

Walz and legislative leaders debated a 2021 bonding bill, but no deal was made. The Legislature may pass a bonding bill this fall in special session or will pass a major bonding bill in 2022 prior to the next election.

Walz has applauded the budget, stating “the work of recovery begins.” 

Progress has been made, of course, on other policy issues that are driven by budget decisions.

Among them:

Beginning July 1, Walz’s 16 months of emergency powers ended. This had allowed the governor to make unilateral decisions largely regarding spending of the COVID dollars sent to the state. Eliminating the practice was a top priority of Republicans.

Public safety policy includes new regulations on “no knock” warrants and improved jail safety practices, transparency regarding data tracking of officer misconduct, stronger body camera regulations for police and greater use of mental health specialists during 911 calls. Police will no longer be required to arrest a person for missing a court date and other lower-level infractions. 

Minnesota’s road construction season will proceed on schedule this year after lawmakers passed last October a $7.27 billion bill to fund transportation projects for the next two years.

The Jobs and Economic Development bill includes $70 million in new funding for border-to-border broadband infrastructure. The money will come from the federal stimulus bill and will help Minnesotans across the state with poor internet access. Minnesota aims to provide broadband at 100 megabits per second download and 20 mbps upload by 2026.

Walz’s 15-month moratorium on rental housing evictions will be phased out over the next 11 months under a $115 million housing budget bill. The bill provides an “off ramp” to the eviction ban; landlords must now give renters a 15-day notice. The budget bill provides $100 million in housing infrastructure bonds, plus $18.33 million to build single-family homes and $15 million for manufactured home park acquisition and improvements.

These final pieces of legislation were forged with extensive compromise between the two parties and represent a solid footing for the coming biennium. While we continue to urge the legislators to strive to meet their budget deadline, we congratulate our lawmakers for their diligence in keeping the state’s lights on and working toward a better tomorrow.

— An editorial from the APG of East Central Minnesota Editorial Board. The Forest Lake Times is a newspaper of APG-ECM. Reactions are welcome. Send to: editorial.board@apgecm.com.

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