For more information contact: Mike Molzahn 651-296-1774
On Friday and into early Saturday morning, the legislature held a Special Session to conclude work that was left undone during the regular session. Like many of you, I was frustrated that a special session was necessary and disappointed that a bipartisan compromise wasn’t reached sooner. However, I am pleased that the special session has concluded and that all sides were able to come to an agreement in time to avoid a government shutdown.
Here is some information about the legislation we passed during the special session and the work that remains going forward.
Why did we need a Special Session?
The biggest sticking point in the regular session was that the House Republican Majority did not want to adequately invest in education. They refused to compromise with Governor Dayton on an education bill that he would sign into law. In addition, they rushed through an omnibus jobs and energy bill during the chaotic final moments of session, and passed a controversial environment and agriculture omnibus bill. All three were vetoed by Governor Dayton. A special session was required to pass these budget bills before July 1, 2015 or the state would have faced a partial government shutdown.
What happened with education in the final budget?
I am pleased that the final budget improved upon our investment in Minnesota’s kids and future. The initial budget passed by the House Republican Majority provided less than a 1% increase for Minnesota schools. In a decade where we’ve seen class sizes balloon and schools cut programs, this would have forced teacher layoffs and even larger classes for our students. Since the regular session ended, Governor Dayton was successful in getting the House Republicans to agree to invest $125 million more in education, which includes a 2% increase in the per pupil formula each of the next two years. In today’s dollars, we’re 24% below the per pupil funding levels we were in 2003. The increased funding will also help to close the achievement gap and provide some of our earliest learners with the tools they need to be ready to start school. Still, we could have done better. House Republicans resisted efforts by Governor Dayton to ensure all pre-kindergartners have access to a quality education. It was disappointing that they were prepared to shut down state government over refusal to invest more in education.
What else was resolved in the Special Session?
While there were issues with the omnibus environment and agriculture bill, I did vote for it. It included bipartisan legislation to address our state’s avian flu crisis, a process for moving our area from unsustainable groundwater use to surface water, and funded programs at Second Harvest Heartland to feed the needy. The legislature was able to improve the jobs and energy bill, but I voted no because it rolled back decades of progress on clean and renewable energy. Also passed was a small bonding bill that includes a handful of infrastructure projects throughout the state, a Legacy bill which supports outdoors, clean water, parks and arts, and a technical bill making corrections to statutes.
What didn’t get done this year?
Unfortunately, the legislature left much work undone. Fixing our state’s roads and bridges was a top priority for many, but a “lights on” transportation bill was all that was accomplished because the legislature could not agree on a way to fund our needed fixes to roads and bridges. This was supposed to be the “Greater Minnesota session,” but the House Majority rejected many of our ideas and underfunded investments in broadband infrastructure, didn’t address railroad safety, and failed to deliver tax relief for homeowners, renters, or farmers. Tuition and debt for students at our public colleges and universities is also going to start increasing after the tuition freeze was discontinued. What makes some of these failures especially frustrating is that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle insisted on keeping nearly $1 billion of our state’s surplus on the state’s bottom line for next session for potential tax giveaways, largely to corporate special interests.
What should be our priority next year?
With a $1.9 billion surplus and growing economy, we missed a significant opportunity to improve our state for hardworking Minnesotans. I believe our agenda next session should be geared toward hardworking families whose priorities were not answered this session. We should look for ways to make college more affordable and reduce student debt, pass a bipartisan transportation compromise that will fix our state’s transportation system, improve workplace conditions for families and workers, and continue to improve our state’s world class education system for all of Minnesota’s kids.
How can you reach me?
With the Special Session concluded I would love to hear from you. We have more work to do next session and I’d love to hear your input and ideas.
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 651-296-5363
Rep. Peter Fischer