For more information contact: Andrew Wagner 651-296-2809
This week, the omnibus budget bills are nearing completion, taking us one step closer to completing our work on the 2014-2015 biennium budget.
The three omnibus bills I've worked closely with during the committee process are the Education Finance bill, the Legacy bill, and the State Government Finance and Veterans Affairs bill. I wanted to give you a brief update on each of those bills.
The Education Finance and Policy Omnibus bill, HF 630, is authored by the Finance Committee Chair, Rep. Paul Marquart. It spends $15.7 billion this biennium, an increase of $550 million over the current law base budget.
In addition to adding $209 in per pupil funding to the funding formula, one of the other features of this bill that has attracted bipartisan support is the early learning childhood scholarships, a program piloted by Republicans last biennium. This proposal would empower low-income parents to make education choices about their children's schooling that best suit their needs.
The bill is also proposing $105 million dollars for all-day kindergarten. My concern is that the expansion of all-day kindergarten is not fully funded, which would force school districts to either subsidize these costs from other areas of their budget or increase class sizes.
There are many other provisions related to drastically changing the testing process, creating more flexibility for districts to use safe schools levy dollars, and re-purposing integration dollars with the goal of closing the achievement gap. Unfortunately, this bill does not pay back the remainder of the school shift or fund teacher evaluation.
While there are many good provisions in this bill, I still have some concerns regarding unfunded mandates and increased bureaucracy. Even though our committee work is done, this bill still has a few stops to go, including the Tax Committee and a Conference Committee with the Senate Education Finance Committee to work out the final details. I am hopeful that we will have a truly bipartisan bill when it comes to the House floor for the final vote.
The Legacy Committee is tasked with appropriating dollars from the Legacy Amendment, which was passed by voters in 2008 to fund projects that fall under four separate areas: Clean Water, Outdoor Heritage, Parks and Trails, and Arts and Cultural Heritage. The Legacy Omnibus Bill, HF 1183, is authored by the Legacy Committee Chair, Rep. Phyllis Kahn. The bill spends about $538 million over the next biennium.
One of the parts of the Legacy bill that I worked on was to secure funding for 15 wildlife and habitat projects in the Metropolitan Area. All seven of the Metro-area counties have projects in the proposal, and it had strong bipartisan support with 33 different co-authors on the bill that was eventually put into the Omnibus bill.
This bill also has a few stops to go, including the Ways and Means Committee and a Conference Committee with the Senate Finance Committee to work out the final details.
State Government Finance and Veterans Affairs
The State Government Finance and Veterans Affairs Omnibus bill, HF 1184, is authored by the State Government Finance and Veterans Affairs Committee Chair, Rep. Mary Murphy. The bill spends about $921.4 million over the next biennium, with almost $33 million in new spending.
The bill funds all of our state agencies, the legislative branch, and the Governor's Office. The bill includes several provisions to help our veterans; including funding for County Veteran Services Offices grants, Honor Guard, and the MN GI Bill for on the job and apprenticeship training.
The omnibus bill also includes double-digit percent increases for several agencies. At a time when we're facing a $627 million dollar deficit, I don't believe that many of these increases are justified, especially given that they are partially paid for through new fees and expected additional tax revenue from proposed tax increases on hard-working taxpayers.
Even though our committee work is done, this bill still has a few stops to go, including the Ways and Means Committee and a Conference Committee with the Senate State Government Committee to work out the final details.
I am hopeful that we will have three truly bipartisan bills when they come to the House floor for the final vote, and am hopeful that the majority will consider adopting at least some of the amendments my colleagues and I will offer to these bills.
Good Economic News
This week we learned that revenue collections for February and March exceeded projections by $145 million dollars. Much of that money will go toward paying back part of the remaining school shift. We also learned that employment has returned to pre-recession levels. This is welcomed good news, and an indication that our state is on the right track to recovery thanks to the legislature's fiscal discipline and limiting the growth in government to just 1% last biennium.
I also wanted to update you on the status of the bills I have chief-authored this session.
HF 532, the Veterans Hiring Credit bill, could possibly be included in the Tax Omnibus Bill. Since a House bill can only have up to 35 signers, I have introduced an identical bill, HF 851, due to the high number of House members who wanted to sign on. Between the two bills, there is a total of 54 signers with about a 50/50 split of Republicans and Democrats.
Next Tuesday, the DFL will unveil their Tax Omnibus bill. I am hopeful that HF 532 will make its way into this omnibus bill. The bill has broad bipartisan support, and inclusion in the Tax bill is probably the last opportunity to get the bill passed this session.
I hope you will consider contacting the Tax Committee Chair, Rep. Ann Lenczewski, and respectfully ask her to include the Veterans Hiring Credit bill, HF 532, in the Tax Omnibus bill. You can contact her office by email email@example.com or by phone at 651-296-4218.
HF 757, my bill to allow the Minnesota Zoo to bring in wild hoofed animals, such as orphaned moose, has been referred to the Rules Committee. It has a chance if it passes the Rules Committee to come to the floor later this session.
HF 1368 which requests bonding funds for County Road 42 and Highway 52, HF 1296 which makes modifications to publication requirements, and HF 836 which would allow parents to freeze their children's credit to protect them from identity theft, all have not received committee hearings, and are unlikely to be taken up before the end of the session. I plan to reintroduce these bills next session, and hope to see them passed then.
As always, I welcome your feedback and input on the budget bills, and any other issue as we transition from committee work to voting on the bills that have made it to the House floor. You can contact my office any time by phone at 651-296-4306 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great weekend,
State Representative, District 57B
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