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Lawmakers send governor bill to fund state government

By Mike Cook
Rep. Sarah Anderson presents the omnibus state government finance bill on the House Floor May 25. Photo by Andrew VonBank

Lawmakers late Thursday night OK’d the appropriations needed to fund state government agencies, veterans’ services, constitutional offices and the Legislature.

The $1.07 billion package is $98.8 million more than a state government finance bill vetoed during the regular session.

Passed on a 99-32 House vote shortly after the Senate passed it 45-17, SS SF1 is headed to Gov. Mark Dayton.

“We crafted a budget that the House, Senate, and Governor’s Office will all be able to support,” said Rep. Sarah Anderson (R-Plymouth) said in a statement. Anderson sponsored the bill along with Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake).

“With this compromise we are putting an end to double-digit state agency increases, while still funding our shared priorities and making state government more efficient and accountable,” she said.

The bill includes provisions that would:

  • boost benefits to military and veterans affairs, including $8.4 million to sustain military tuition reimbursement, state enlistment and retention bonus programs;
  • $1 million for a new veterans cemetery in Duluth;
  • $700,000 for the Vets Journey Home program that helps struggling veterans find a home;
  • $500,000 for the Veterans Defense Project, that helps courts recognize a veteran who may have post-traumatic stress disorder; and
  • $200,000 for expansion of the GI bill.

Anderson said on the House Floor the bill would create a Legislative Budget Office that “will help us get an accurate picture of what things cost here at the Legislature … and give us more accurate and greater access to information when it comes to the financial decisions that we have to make.”

Executive branch severance package reform is also included, as are new measures related to gain-sharing to incentivize state workers to share ideas for how government could work better.

“Unfortunately, that program was not being followed,” Anderson said. “They’re supposed to have a dollar-for-dollar cost savings and that wasn’t doing that at all.”

The state auditor’s office would have its funding come from the General Fund, under a change made in the bill, as it did prior to 2013. Anderson said the goal is to have “greater oversight and transparency” into how those funds are used by the office.

Additionally, the state auditor is to report on legal expenses “so that we know how funds are being used and that they’re not coming out of the pension division that she oversees,” she said.

Parts of the omnibus liquor bill are also included in the bill. They include:

  • cocktail rooms could be open on Sundays without food;
  • the Minnesota Vikings’ training facility would obtain a liquor license;
  • the off-sale cap at brewpubs and small breweries would be increased from 500 to 750 barrels; and
  • the City of St. Paul would be permitted to issue a liquor license at the State Capitol.

Rep. Connie Bernardy (DFL-New Brighton) said she voted against the bill because it would eliminate funding for the staff at the Office on the Economic Status of Women.

“They were created to ensure that every woman and girl in the state has the ability and opportunity to achieve economic security,” she said. “This is the only entity that we as legislators get that provides us a broad range of public policy issues and the analysis on them as they relate to the economic status of women. This helps us to enact laws that create more of a level playing field for the women of the state.”

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