Hello from the Capitol. We are wrapping up another week after spending many hours on the floor to discuss House finance bills as part of the process for setting a new two-year budget for our state. Bills related to higher education, health and human services and taxes were top items this week. Each passed the House and here is an overview of them:
The House tax bill includes $2 billion in tax relief over the next biennium, investing in our priorities like education, roads and bridges, putting money away in the rainy day fund and still providing significant tax relief to hardworking Minnesotans. Middle-class families, college students, aging adults and veterans, farmers and job creators and innovators are among those who would benefit.
The most important part of the package is a new Minnesota personal or dependent tax exemption that could save a middle-class family of four more than $500 over the next two years.
We’ve also directed dollars toward families with pre-kindergarteners to high school seniors through expanded education deductions, while allowing families saving for higher education costs to deduct their contributions.
The HHS bill implements a statewide reimbursement system that will result in a funding increase for nursing homes, particularly in Greater Minnesota, totaling more than $138 million. In addition, the bill includes $90 million for a one-time, 5-percent cost-of-living adjustment for home and community-based care workers.
According to non-partisan House Research, nursing home facilities in District 8A will receive substantial increases in 2016 under the House Republican proposal, including:
Perham Living, Perham: $1.9 million increase (38.5 percent)
Pioneer Care Center, Fergus Falls: $1.6 million (33.3 percent)
Good Samaritan Society, Battle Lake: $640,804 (26.5 percent)
Broen Memorial Home, Fergus Falls: $1.7 million (36.4 percent)
Pelican Valley Health Center, Pelican Rapids: 445,772 (25.7 percent)
The House also has approved a partial tuition freeze for state colleges and universities as part of a higher education funding bill.
I chair of the House Higher Education Policy and Finance Committee and authored this bill. It provides $2.95 billion in General Fund appropriations, with $1.3 billion to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, an increase of $105 million over the latest forecast in February. This includes a tuition freeze in 2016 and a 1-percent reduction in 2017 for two-year schools. The bill also provides a tuition freeze in 2017 for four-year schools and limits 2016 increases to 3 percent.
Students are the focus of the package we formulated in our committee and brought to the floor. This is the first tuition reduction in recent memory for two-year students.
In addition to the MnSCU, the bill also funds:
U of M: $1.2 billion (even with Feb. forecast)
OHE: $39.6 million ($51.8 million below Feb. forecast)
Mayo: $2.7 million (even with Feb. forecast)
Policy items in the package are designed to lower student debt, improve student safety and more, including:
Conducting year-long student teaching preparation programs.
Providing a loan forgiveness program for teachers who work in areas deemed to have a shortage of instructors.
Facilitating the transfer of students between associate and bachelor's degree programs. Developing a plan to encourage students to complete work in their field of study.
Revamping requirements pertaining to remedial or non-credit courses.
Implementing new measures to respond to sexual harassment, sexual violence and sexual assault on campuses.
These bills now join others in the conference-committee stage where members of the House and Senate will work out differences between what the respective bodies propose in their finance bills and prepare them for final passage.
The session is set to adjourn May 18, so there will be a lot of moving parts between now and then so we can gain agreement on a new two-year budget.