For more information contact: Andrew Wagner 651-296-2809
Yesterday, the Minnesota House took up HF3172, an omnibus finance bill. An omnibus bill is a large budget bill made up of dozens, sometimes hundreds, of smaller bills which are all rolled into one. In this case, HF3172 included additional funding for a wide variety of government agencies and programs using money from Minnesota's budget surplus.
As is the case with many omnibus bills, HF3172 included good provisions and bad provisions, for a total of 446 pages covering every area in our State budget. This was one of the more difficult votes I've taken since coming to the legislature. Ultimately, this bill spent too much money, included too much wasteful spending, and shifted money away from the Health Care Access fund to effectively bail out MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance programs.
HF3172 spent $323 million in 2014-2015, and nearly $900 million in 2016-2017. This level of spending puts Minnesota at risk for future budget deficits. After a 10% increase in state spending in 2013, continuing the spending spree is an irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars, and is simply unsustainable.
The Health Care Access Fund is intended to be used to increase access to health care for uninsured Minnesotans and improve health care quality. The funds from the Health Care Access Fund were shifted to fill a hole and effectively bail out the budgets of MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance programs. These programs faced a budget gap due to lower-than-anticipated federal funding under the Affordable Care Act, sometimes known as ObamaCare.
Republicans did offer an alternative that reduced wasteful spending and was a more responsible approach for the use of Minnesota's budget surplus. The Republican alternative, which I was glad to support, included:
· $65 increase in per-pupil funding to put more money in the classroom, compared to $58 in the Democrats' bill.
· Stronger penalties for repeat sex offenders than were passed in the Democrats' bill.
· Full funding for the 5% Campaign for a pay increase for home and community-based providers who care for Minnesotans with disabilities.
· Funding to fix potholes on Minnesota roads.
· Reduced spending by $72 million this biennium, and reduced spending by more than $400 million in 2016-2017, compared to the Democrats' bill.
· Funding for Reading Corps, a popular program that has achieved verifiable results in increasing literacy.
· Funding for a Farm-to-Foodshelf program that helps farmers donate portions of their crops to food shelves.
I have been a strong supporter of the 5% Campaign and signed onto the 5% Campaign bill as a co-author. I was truly disappointed that the 5% Campaign bill did not come to the floor as a clean, stand-alone bill, and I voted on three separate occasions to bring the bill to the floor by itself, and not part of a politically-charged omnibus bill.
I would prefer that bills be brought to the floor one-by-one, rather than rolled into one big omnibus bill. That would allow legislators to weigh each bill on its merits, and vote for or against it without having to consider dozens, sometimes hundreds, of other provisions. Unfortunately, that too often isn't the case, and we as legislators have to take an up or down vote on massive omnibus bills containing both good and bad provisions. In this case, HF3172 contained more bad provisions than good provisions, and added more costs and regulatory burdens on Minnesota families and businesses. It was for these reasons that I voted no.
Second Tax Bill
Today the House voted with strong bipartisan support to pass a second Tax Cut bill. This bill provides about $100 million in targeted tax relief over the next two years. This tax bill included an amendment to give a tax credit to first generation college graduates, provided tax relief to farmers who have faced skyrocketing property taxes in recent years, and a number of other tax provisions that reduced taxes for Minnesota businesses and families.
I offered an amendment to the Tax Cut bill to include the Veterans Jobs Tax Credit bill I chief authored last session. With an unemployment rate of 12%, I authored this bill and offered the amendment today to provide non-refundable tax credit to businesses that hire veterans in Minnesota. This helps veterans get jobs and reduces the tax burden on our businesses. It's truly a win-win proposal, and I was very disappointed that the amendment was voted down today. I'll be posting the video of my floor speech on my legislative Facebook page on Monday if you would like to learn more about this important issue.
World Autism Awareness Day
On April 1st, the Minnesota House of Representatives passed a resolution to recognize April 2014 as National Autism Awareness Month in Minnesota. As a former Personal Care Attendant and a sister of a boy with autism, I've seen firsthand the joys and challenges that families of those with autism face on a daily basis. April 2nd was World Autism Awareness Day, and I attended a Light It Up Blue Open House hosted by Key Land Homes and Wells Fargo Bank in Apple Valley to support this cause. For more information on World Autism Awareness Day and Light It Up Blue, please visit www.autismspeaks.org.
Women's Bootcamp to Veteran Conference
I wanted to pass along information about the 2014 Bootcamp to Veteran Women's Conference coming up on Saturday, April 26th from 9AM-5PM at the Humanities Center in St. Paul. This free event is open to all women military members past and present, and features guest speakers, a comedian, prizes, and more. The Minnesota Department of Veteran Affairs will be available to explain benefits and services. For more information on this event, please visit: www.mnhum.org/bootcamptoveteran.aspx or call 651-772-4244.
It was an honor to welcome Pastor Jon Ellefson from Rosemount, MN. Pastor Ellefson and his wife Maila are District 57B constituents. Pastor Ellefson and gave a beautiful prayer at the beginning of Thursday's floor session.