When we last saw the Legislature in action, it was putting the final touches on a biennial budget that took effect minutes later.
Since that June 30, 2021 gathering of lawmakers — albeit many participating remotely — a pleasurable surprise has been handed to state leaders and legislators.
In December, state finance officials showed an expected $7.7 billion surplus for the biennium that ends June 30, 2023. Then, net general fund receipts for November and December were estimated to be $833 million more than expected. And there could be more federal stimulus money, too.
What to do?
Spend more in certain areas? Decrease taxes? Frontline worker bonuses? Reimburse the federal government and replenish the state’s unemployment trust fund? Issue “Walz Checks” to Minnesotans making less than a certain amount? Go really big on bonding?
Legislators could do all or they could do nothing. And the action or inaction will occur in an election year for the state’s constitutional officers and all 201 legislative seats that will soon be reconfigured by redistricting.
Because the biennium is already funded, no supplemental budget package is required. Nonetheless, both Walz and the House DFL have begun to unveil spending ideas, including a $100 million public safety plan. Senate Republicans laid out their priorities Wednesday.
In even-numbered years, the Legislature traditionally focuses on compiling a capital investment — or bonding — bill. For example, a $1.9 billion package became law in October 2020.
Walz released his $2.73 billion capital investment proposal last week; one would presume House DFL and Senate Republican wants aren’t far behind.
“In Minnesota, no matter where you live or what you look like, you deserve to see your state stepping up to invest in your community and future. The House Capital Investment Committee will be crafting a robust bonding bill this session that delivers for all Minnesotans,” Rep. Fue Lee (DFL-Mpls), the committee chair, said in a statement.
Members share their thoughts
Nonpartisan House Public Information Services has spoken to several members as we head into the 2022 session to learn more about them and hear their thoughts on issues they believe will, or should be, worked on in the months to come. Here’s a sampling of what they’ve said:
Rep. Kristin Robbins (R-Maple Grove): “I personally think the No. 1 thing we have to do when we get back is address the looming tax increase on businesses through the unemployment insurance. Right now we owe a debt to the federal government for using up the unemployment trust fund and not only do we have to repay the debt but now we’re accruing interest every month. It’s very substantial. So if we deal with that as a state and repay both the debt to the federal government and replenish the trust fund it will stop the tax increase that’s coming.
“… And then I really want to deal with the health care, frontline worker bonuses. I’m so disappointed that didn’t get done right away in September like we promised everyone. Our health care frontline workers are just flat out giving everything they have and we should figure this out and get them some sort of support.
“… So I really want those two things. And then, you know, I’m working on education reform. There’s a lot of other things we can do. But I think, given the size of the surplus this is a chance to do real tax reform.” [Watch her full interview]
Rep. Heather Edelson (DFL-Edina): “I think the challenge of redistricting and we have an election coming up and it’s a policy year. I think there’s that dynamic that’s the backdrop. But, you know, we have a pretty big, possibly, projected surplus. So there’s going to be some one-time money but you also have, with that, just a lot of issues in terms of staffing and workforce shortages. In our care facilities it’s a really big deal right now. I think we’re going to need to be talking about, almost always, what we are going to do about this workforce crisis that we have.
“Coming out of the pandemic and now here we are with this other really challenging issue. I mean we have schools that are understaffed, can’t keep bus drivers. I was just on the phone with some care facilities that their staffing in some homes, disability homes at [40% to 70%]. That’s not OK and that’s putting people at risk. So what are we going to do to solve that? I think that’s going to be a focus this session.” [Watch her full interview]
Rep. Matt Bliss (R-Pennington): “The problems are the same up here, they’re just kind of spread out through the rural areas. Our schools are a little smaller up here, but it’s still the funding for the schools, the jobs, are important. We are having a labor shortage up here just like everybody else in the country is having a labor shortage.
“… There’s a lot of ‘get the government out of my life.’ I know the rural metro divide is pretty deep on the COVID issues. They don’t like the one-size-fits-all that comes from St. Paul. They would rather have a little bit more local control.
“… We need to make sure our schools are adequately funded but we also need to make sure they’re meeting the needs of the parents and the students. And roads, we’ve got a lot of roads up here. Public land is a big issue.
“… There’s 1,200 jobs available in Bemidji, we don’t have the people to fill them. And we need to come up with not necessarily low-income housing, but market-rate housing at a lower level than what you’d normally think of. Right now I go down to the [Twin Cities] and I see these homes that are out there for three or four hundred thousand [dollars]. Well, your typical starter family can’t afford something like that so we need to focus on getting some housing for those guys up here as well. Low-income housing, we do have a fair amount of low-income housing, there’s a big wait list for it up here. I think we need to look a little bit differently on how we fund low-income housing. I’d rather see more incentives go to the private sector to build it rather than go through the government to get cash. That never seems to work out well.” [Watch his full interview]
Rep. Kristin Bahner (DFL-Maple Grove): “[Health care access and prescription drug affordability are key issues to my constituents] but there’s a couple of other minor things. One, I think in communities like mine and a lot of suburban communities, we have seen property values raise at an incredible rate. And one of the bills that I have coming this next session looks to allow for more property tax cuts and really the idea behind this bill is to expand the cap of folks who are eligible for property tax refunds but also to get more assistance to those at the bottom end of the spectrum.
“… Another thing that most people don’t know about Maple Grove and Osseo is that we have a considerable history of giving from charitable gaming organizations. And I have a bill that aims to reduce the rates so that those [organizations] have more money on the bottom line to give to charity.
“… And then, of course, child care is such a huge issue for those working families and mothers, making sure that kids have access to pre-K, home visiting and things like that. And really allowing parents to get back to work and keep our economy firing on all cylinders I think is really vital to communities like mine. So I’m hopeful that we can work with those items as well in the Legislature in the coming session.” [Watch her full interview]
[WATCH: All 2022 member interviews]
Legislating by Zoom
Whatever happens in the House will again mostly be done via video.
“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to bring uncertainty. We had hoped for a normal return to session, but like private and public sector employers that have had to postpone plans for a return to in-person work, the House will continue remote and hybrid operations at least through the end of the 2022 regular session,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) wrote in October. Floor sessions will remain hybrid, with members encouraged to attend in person.
How to follow the action
Session Daily is a free update published daily during session by nonpartisan House Public Information Services, and when other news warrants. Subscribe at https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/MNHOUSE/subscriber/new?topic_id=MNHOUSE_2. Email addresses are not shared with other entities.
A variety of other free email updates, including the House schedule and updates from members and their caucus, can be subscribed to at https://www.house.mn/maillist/mailinglist.asp.
All House Floor sessions and committee and division meetings are broadcast live at https://www.house.mn/htv/schedule.asp.
House audio and video archives are available at https://www.house.mn/audio/default.asp. Video archives are also available on the House Public Information Services’ YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/MNHouseInfo/videos.
Assistant Editor Jon Mohr contributed to this story