We’ve reached the point in the legislative session where committee work has wrapped up and the majority of our time is being spent on the House Floor debating legislation. Over the past week the majority has brought forward their major finance bills regarding transportation, jobs and energy, environment, state government, and E-12 education.
There’s a common theme with all of these bills: a lack of significant investments accompanied by major cuts and budget gimmicks.
With a $2 billion surplus, these misplaced priorities, cuts and budget tricks all have their roots in the tax bill that the majority party leadership in the House has proposed.
The tax bill that’s moving through the House contains $2 billion in tax cuts targeted at the super wealthy, instead of benefitting average Minnesotans. Republicans are talking loudly about the “middle-class tax cuts” found in their bill, but they only total about $70 a year for a single filer making $70,000. It’s a tax cut that lacks any significant impact, and even worse, it’s only a temporary cut that disappears in two years.
The centerpiece of the Republican tax cut package is a gift to big businesses. Their tax bill permanently eliminates the business property tax, which gives corporations and businesses a $5 billion tax cut over the next eight years. Owners of skyscrapers in Minneapolis and businesses like Wal-Mart and Home Depot are the biggest benefactors from this tax bill. If this plan goes into effect, it will cost our state now and in the future. The tax bill will most likely be taken up on Wednesday.
E-12 Education Finance
The Republican’s education finance bill increases school funding by only .6% and doesn’t keep pace with the rate of inflation. Not only does this proposal waste a golden opportunity to support Minnesota’s children, it actually moves us backwards by forcing local school districts around the state to make significant cuts to teacher and staff budgets, increase class sizes, and decrease access to early childhood education. It’s inexcusable that they are deserting education in favor of corporate special interests, when we can afford to invest in our future.
On Tuesday the omnibus transportation finance bill was passed. The bill funds $5 million for rail grade crossing safety improvements, but there is a need for $243 million for high priority grade separations and $85 million for high priority at-grade crossings to protect the 326,000 Minnesotans who currently live within the one-half mile danger zone. That lack of funding for rail crossing improvements is a major problem with the bill.
This was supposed to be a preventative measure. Just in our district alone, many major intersections that have heavy traffic also include railroad crossings. I want to see us do something about this before there is a tragic event. The concern about preventing a tragedy before it happens should be on all of our minds. In all Minnesota communities, especially in the metro, these rail crossings are near major hospitals, schools, and thousands of homes. The amount of rail safety funding in this bill is a token amount, and does nothing to address the problem. I’m also frustrated by drastic cuts to funding for transit throughout the metro area in the bill.
Jobs and Energy
On Thursday the House passed the omnibus jobs and energy bill. It reverses course on decades of progress made on job creation, economic development, workforce housing, and clean and renewable energy. It also repeals or weakens a number of provisions beneficial to workers and consumers in Minnesota.
Provisions within the bill curtail the development of broadband in Minnesota, slash job creation programs, shutter offices used to increase Minnesota’s foreign trade, reduce job retraining funds, cuts programs that help reduce homelessness, eliminate funding to protect seniors from scams, cut the wages of tipped employees, raid the unemployment insurance fund, and stop repayment of loans we were forced to take out under Governor Pawlenty.
In addition, the jobs and energy bill guts clean and renewable energy standards. It paves the way for more coal fired power plants in Minnesota, and removes net metering rules which encourage homeowners and farmers to invest in clean energy. The bill doesn’t just double down on dirty energy, but jeopardizes thousands of good paying jobs in manufacturing and installation of wind and solar across Minnesota. During the debate, 71 of the 72 Republican members of the House voted for an amendment that stated they don't believe humans have any impact on global climate change.
Environment and State Government
On Friday two bills, the environment and state government bills, were passed through the House. Both continue drastic cuts to vital areas of state government. The environment bill shifts nearly $60 million out of the fund we use to clean up closed landfills, takes money from the school lands trust, and gives up on fighting Aquatic Invasive Species by cutting millions from prevention efforts. The bill also significantly overhauls the Pollution Control Agency’s Citizen Board, essentially halting the public’s ability to have a say in the state’s permitting process and allowing corporate special interests to have more say. The minority offered several amendments to strip out provisions that benefit special interests—all of those amendments failed.
The state government bill shifts millions out of state pension funds, creates unfunded burdens and eliminates spending limits on campaign spending and contributions from PACs and lobbyists. These bills pave the way for government by and for the highest bidder and they ignore the good that government does for all of us.
The Week Ahead
This week we will continue debating several important bills. As with all of the bills we heard last week, DFLer’s will continue to propose amendments to improve legislation. Today the debate will begin on the House higher education bill that will raise tuition and lead to more student debt. On Tuesday, the omnibus health and human services bill which eliminates MinnesotaCare is scheduled to be heard. It would eliminate health insurance for thousands of hardworking Minnesotans, when our state has a $2 billion surplus. The rest of the week’s calendar will include the omnibus public safety, omnibus tax, and omnibus liquor bills. I’ll continue to update you as we debate and vote on these bills.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me with your questions and concerns.