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Minnesota Legislature

Conferees discover differences aplenty in state government funding, policy

The vote on an agreement on funding elections security, and who may be able to cast a ballot, may be a few days away.

Those are just some issues facing the conference committee for the omnibus state government finance bill, which received overviews from nonpartisan research and fiscal staff Monday and is expected to hear from interested parties Tuesday. No members commented on policy or funding proposals.

Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park) and Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) sponsor the versions of HF1935/SF2227*.

In a budget setting year, let’s start there.

Net General Fund spending in the House version totals almost $1.2 billion; Gov. Tim Walz is proposing a shade over $1.18 billion and the Senate checks in at $1.07 billion. Proposed funding based off the February forecast is just less than $1.09 billion.

Where that money is spent differs in ways both large and small, with, for example, the House seeking an $11.5 million increase in the 2020-21 biennium, the Senate wants an additional $6.31 million for its operations and a $5 million operating increase in the current fiscal year which ends June 30. Neither body funds the opposite’s want and the governor has zero for all requests.

The Senate also calls for operating reductions for Minnesota Management and Budget, the Revenue Department, Minnesota Historical Society and three executive branch offices: state auditor, attorney general and secretary of state. The House and governor do not.

[MOREView the detailed spreadsheet or view the appropriations side-by-side comparison]

In terms of fiscal policy, the Senate would preclude 2020-21 biennial appropriations from being used to pay salary and benefits for full-time equivalent state positions over the number employed as of June 30, 2019. Some exceptions would apply in law enforcement and corrections.

And the Senate calls for some agencies to use zero-based budgeting in each biennium whereby they would need to justify all expenses each biennium as if it were a new expenditure to allow for every function to be analyzed for its needs and costs. Agencies would be on a 10-year rotation.

Minnesota is the lone state yet to accept federal election security dollars that Minnesota’s secretary of state has said are badly needed to make the state’s voting systems safe against outside attacks. Secretary of State Steve Simon has said the funds would be used on efforts to modernize, secure and update Minnesota’s Statewide Voter Registration System.

The House plan would appropriate the federal dollars. The Senate has no such provision.

A plethora of elections policy changes are included in the House plan, including a felon’s right to vote upon release from incarceration and authorizing cities, counties, towns and school districts to adopt the use of ranked-choice voting for local offices. It also contains changes relating to redistricting and campaign finance.

The Senate has zero elections, redistricting or campaign finance policy proposals.

Each body has some veterans and military proposals, including a few observances and a House proposal to create an alternative sentencing option for veterans with service-connected trauma, substance abuse, or mental health conditions who commit certain crimes.

The following are policy provisions in the House version, but not the Senate:

  • eliminating the Legislative Budget Office created in 2017;
  • extending expiration date for the Legislative Commission on Data Practices and Personal Data Privacy to June 30, 2026 and the Legislative Water Commission to July 1, 2025;
  • an Office of Enterprise Sustainability would be created “to assist all state agencies in making measurable progress toward improving the sustainability of government operations by reducing the impact on the environment, controlling unnecessary waste of natural resources and public funds, and spurring innovation; and
  • establishment of a program to provide a U.S. and Minnesota state flag flown over the State Capitol to families of public safety officers killed in the line of duty or military members who died while in active service.

The following are policy provisions in the Senate version, but not the House:

  • establishing legislative commissions on cybersecurity, information technology and housing affordability;
  • a working group would be established to report strategies for attracting and retaining state employees with disabilities;
  • a process would be established for the state auditor’s review of county audits performed by a private CPA;
  • places the state on Daylight Saving Time year round, beginning when federal law authorizes such action; and
  • May would be designated as Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month.

 


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