(Updated with committee action)
Officials from Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration say that the proposed spending package for state agencies, constitutional offices and commissions is “problematic” and primed for the governor’s veto pen, despite some legislators’ efforts to make the omnibus state government finance bill about building three new veterans homes in Greater Minnesota and increased cybersecurity.
The delete-all amendment, as further amended, was approved on a 9-4 roll-call, party-line vote by the House State Government Finance Committee late Wednesday, would represent a $7 million decrease in government spending for Fiscal Year 2019. HF4016 next goes to the House Taxes Committee.
“When I look at this legislation, I see it as a huge opportunity – an opportunity for us to make sure that veterans, when we send them off to war and across oceans, that we make that their last time that they have to be that far away from home. When they’re looking for end-of-life care, that they don’t have to look miles and miles,” said Rep. Sarah Anderson (R-Plymouth), the bill sponsor. “I also see this legislation as an opportunity to reform government.”
Department of Veterans Affairs’ Legislative Director Ben Johnson stopped short of endorsing the proposal, which would move $26 million from the Vikings’ stadium reserve fund to pay for state-run veterans homes in Bemidji, Montevideo and Preston. Johnson said although the administration supports constructing new homes, capital investment methods – bonding – is “a cleaner way to do it.”
“There’s work to be done,” Johnson told the committee, which opened up its omnibus bill for public testimony in a series of meetings earlier in the day.
Other members of the administration, facing possible operating budget reductions, weren’t as reticent in their responses.
“This proposed cut is unwise, unnecessary, and just flat out bad public policy,” Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey said about a proposed $1.4 million spending reduction. “[The bill is] inconsistent with the values and traditions of Minnesota leading on issues of civil rights. However, please know that if you do not reject it, Governor Dayton will veto the bill.”
Lindsey and his department drew sharp criticism from committee members for opening up investigations on 43 schools for reported disparities in student discipline.
Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans said although he can’t “forecast what the governor will or will not do,” the omnibus state government finance bill, which includes $4 million to create a sexual harassment office within MMB, makes “it difficult to come to an agreement” and “doesn’t bode well.”
Anderson said during a morning press conference there is some “give and take” with the bill, which includes Dayton’s priorities of a sexual harassment office and election equipment grants for the secretary of state’s office. Pointing to the veterans homes construction, Anderson said, “I can’t imagine anyone is going to be against this.”
DFLers joined the Dayton administration in highlighting concerns with the bill, drawing similarities between it and last session’s initial budget proposal that made reductions to agencies’ operating budgets.
“I don’t know if this bill is the solution,” Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL-North St. Paul) said.
“No matter where we are in this state, we need a government that works for our people,” Rep. Liz Olson (DFL-Duluth) said. “And this bill digresses from that on several formats.”
Citing a measure to move the data practices complaints office from the Department of Administration to the Office of Administrative Hearings, Matt Massman, commissioner of the Administration Department, said, “By trying to fix a problem, we’re going to create other ones.”
Johanna Clyborne, commissioner of MN.IT, said provisions in the 102-page amendment requiring her agency to contract with private sector businesses on specific projects were, “simply, unworkable.” The bill would require other state agencies to reduce spending by $9.65 million to cover the MNLARS fumble. Last month the Legislature approved that amount to help the beleaguered vehicle title and registration system.