For more information contact: Bennett Smith 651-296-6422
With less than two weeks until the end of the legislative session, I wanted to provide an update on budget negotiations and some priorities for our community. There are many reasons to be concerned about the contents of the Republican budget being pushed through the legislature, and I’ll share more below.
Talks between Governor Dayton and the Republican majority in the House & Senate had been moving forward steadily until late Monday night, when Republicans ended the negotiations and finalized their bills, despite Governor Dayton’s guarantee that he would veto budget bills in their current form. Even worse, many of the bills were finalized with neither public hearings nor advance notice. Many legislators, the Governor and his staff found out about these conference committee actions from Twitter. This article has a good summary of the situation.
There are numerous provisions in these budget bills that concern me. Governor Dayton & his administration have detailed their own concerns in 190 pages of letters and nearly 1,700 meetings with Republican leaders. The Governor has made clear that he will veto the bills.
Here is a very brief summary that touches on some of the most egregious elements of the Republican budget. I have opposed all of these bills and spoken on the floor against many of these bills.
The Republican transit plan cuts funding for bus service and light rail which will harm Minnesotans who rely on transit for school, work, and daily life. The transit cuts in the Republican budget will seriously affect the future of metro mobility and our ability to move forward as a region. If you or your family depend on transit and would be harmed by reduced service, I encourage you to call Rep. Paul Torkelson, the Republican Chair of the Transportation Committee. Tell him how important dependable transit is to our community by calling him at 651-296-9303.
Health and Human Services
Republicans have vowed to work on healthcare reform this year, and pledged to create more access and affordability. Unfortunately, their $500 million cut to the state health and human services budget does the exact opposite. This budget will have very negative consequences for seniors, children, the disabled, and the working poor who depend on a number of healthcare programs that are a lifeline for low income families. Those who don’t lose insurance coverage could lose vital direct home services they rely on to live independently. The Republican HHS budget also includes no requested funding to immediately address the current measles outbreak in Minnesota.
Even so, Republicans were able to pass hundreds of millions of dollars dedicated to big health insurance companies with no assurance that this money will reduce premiums for patients already this session. Minnesotans value accountability from their elected public servants, especially when it comes to helping our most vulnerable residents; this cut choice is arguably the most shameful.
Despite a budget surplus, the Republicans are choosing to underfund our schools. Educators, administrators and school districts have testified that a modest 2% funding increase is needed just to stay afloat with costs of inflation and student growth, yet Republicans are choosing to underfund our schools with much less. We also need to provide equal access to quality pre-K to all Minnesota kids. The House Republican education proposal completely cut pre-K. In contrast, Governor Dayton’s plan would provide opportunities to more than 17,000 four-year-olds in more than 260 school districts. Thanks to last year’s funding, 3,300 kids are already learning in voluntary pre-K and the program has been applauded by district officials around the state, including Minneapolis.
Even with a promise to veto the bill by the Governor, Republican leaders are choosing to prioritize private schools over public schools. The Republican Tax bill contained $60 million in private school vouchers. These are the wrong priorities for us, with 95% of Minnesota students attending public schools. Public schools see each of our students equally - whether they have a learning disability, a physical disability, or any other uniqueness they bring to the classroom. Meanwhile, private schools have the ability to pick and choose which students to teach. It's our responsibility to ensure ALL Minnesota children have access to a quality education, which is why strong public schools should be a top priority.
State Government Cuts
One reason overall budget negotiations have stalled was because of budget cuts to state government agencies that do not include specific directive on the essential services Republicans no longer want government to perform. In the 190 pages of letters provided by state commissioners I mention above, there are cuts outlined that will include firing corrections officers, firing staff that process tax return information, underfunding our cybersecurity needs and others. One of the pettiest cuts made in the Republican budget is the elimination of the Office on the Economic Status of Women (OESW). Rep. Rena Moran spoke about the importance of that office in advising lawmakers and providing information and statistics on women in Minnesota at a press conference Governor Dayton held with DFL women legislators this week. Legislators use the information provided by this office when considering policy changes, and it has been essential to creating laws that improve the lives of Minnesota women. You can view the press conference by clicking HERE.
The higher education budget assembled by Republicans comes in nearly $200 million less than what Governor Dayton requested. This will continue to lead to program cuts, staff layoffs, increased tuition and skyrocketing student debt. The University of Minnesota said if the Republican budget becomes law, students would see a tuition increase of up to 5% each of the next two years. Minnesota currently has the 5th highest amount of student debt in the country, so bringing college costs down should be a priority.
Even though housing costs make up a huge portion of most working families’ budgets, the legislature has not addressed that reality this year. The current Republican jobs bill conference committee proposal does not increase funds for affordable housing and ignores the Governor’s budget request to help stabilize the living situation for homeless families with children in school.
I am pleased to share that Governor Dayton has pledged to veto preemption legislation if it comes to his desk. Please call Governor Dayton and tell him not to compromise on the ability of local communities to set their own fair labor standards and to thank him for his veto promise. Call Governor Dayton's office and share your concerns at 651-201-3400. With recent local government gains for workers, House and Senate Republicans are working to pass statewide preemption laws which would prevent our local cities from raising wages and improving benefits for workers beyond state standards. This measure would roll back paid sick time for 150,000 workers and prevent other Minnesotans from gaining better benefits and higher wages. Unions, faith groups, and Minnesota workers have all rallied in opposition to this legislation because it undermines local democracy and endangers the economic security of Minnesota’s working families.
For the first time this year, we have formed a POCI (People of Color and Indigenous) Caucus at the legislature. There are four excellent Indigenous women included in that caucus, including myself, and I was proud to sit down and be interview by Minnpost with them earlier this spring. You can read the story here. For more information on the POCI Caucus, you can read the Star Tribune story here.
Powwow for Hope
Last week I was able to attend the American Indian Cancer Powwow for Hope with two colleagues, Rep. Peggy Flanagan and Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein. I’m proud to support their work to address health disparities and win the fight against cancer. It was also good to share issues facing our community with US Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar who were in attendance. Federal funding for Indian Health Services in Indian country does not cover many cancer screening services or adequately fund programs to reduce high smoking rates (40%) for American Indians.
Stay in Touch
You can always contact me if you have questions or concerns at 651-296-7152 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
State Representative – District 62B
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