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More money for pre-K education, savings are priorities in gov’s revised budget

By Ricky Campbell
Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith release their supplemental budget at a March 17 news conference. The governor proposes to spend an additional $100 million on voluntary pre-K programs and keep $200 million in reserve. Photo by Paul Battaglia

After his administration announced late last month a larger-than-expected surplus, Gov. Mark Dayton released his adjusted budget numbers Friday that continues to prioritize pre-kindergarten, but braces for possible changes coming from Washington, D.C.

The governor is building into the two-year $45.8 billion budget proposal he announced in January and Minnesota Management and Budget’s February Budget and Economic Forecast that projected a $1.65 billion surplus — exceeding state economists’ November forecast by $250 million. Where his initial budget, called “An Opportunity Agenda for a Better Minnesota,” focused on early education, transportation and health care, the realigned numbers add emphasis on saving $200 million.

“Uncertainties surrounding the federal budget and its implications” also weighed heavy on the governor’s decision, he said. With the Trump administration releasing drastic cuts across federal government — many that affect state coffers — the governor said there could be “devastating cuts” to Minnesota’s budget.

“We’re not going to be able to make up for everything,” Dayton said.

For the next biennium, Dayton proposes expanding pre-K spending by an addition $100 million, which he said, “would allow more schools to offer that opportunity to students and families across Minnesota.” It brings Dayton’s total proposed increased spending for pre-K up to $175 million.

The Pathways to Prosperity, a jobs program run through the Department of Employment and Economic Development would see an additional $10 million bump over the next two years under Dayton’s updated plan.

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith joined the governor on Friday. She highlighted increasing licensing fees on pharmaceutical companies and diverting $42 million into the Opioid Stewardship Program.

Smith also underlined a $3 million, six-month demonstration of extending the Northstar line to St. Cloud, partnering with Amtrak and BNSF. The supplemental budget sets aside $850,000 for a study to update a 2010 version focused on engineering costs and projected ridership.

“I have talked to so many people in St. Cloud who feel strongly that this is an important part of the city’s economic vitality and opportunity,” Smith said.

Other changes include:

  • $15.6 million in “modernizing” pharmacy reimbursements;
  • $10 million for buffer implementation;
  • $2.8 million in revising Supreme Court Appeals panels;
  • $2.8 million to reimburse Roseau for flood mitigation; and
  • $1.5 million to establish “Farmer-Led Councils” for water quality.

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