By Rep. Bud Nornes
The dust is settling on the 2015 session after the Minnesota Legislature passed a new two-year state budget and adjourned just before midnight Monday.
A historic increase in funding for nursing homes is a huge positive from this session. We also were successful in holding the overall budget to around $41.5 billion, lower and more sustainable than the governor's $43 billion proposal. On the other hand $2 billion in tax relief and a long-term transportation package are items which fell victim to the insistence of Gov. Mark Dayton and the Senate to pass a historic gas-tax increase.
It really seems like that gas-tax proposal held up a lot of other good proposals from the House. That is too bad, because the public widely opposes raising the gas tax, especially at a time we have a $2 billion surplus. The House voted 132-0 against it. That was an achievement in itself, preventing at least another 16 cents per gallon from being added at the pump.
The Senate and Dayton refused to accept the House's alternative to a gas-tax increase, a package that would have put $7 billion toward roads and bridges over the next 10 years without a tax increase. In the end, it is good we passed a scaled-down two-year plan which includes $12.5 million in new road funding for towns with populations under 5,000 residents, along with $5 million more for transit in Greater Minnesota.
As for the nursing home increase, $138 million more in funding we are providing to nursing homes is a highlight of the 2015 session and has been enacted by the governor. That will be a great benefit to not only aging citizens, but also to care workers and the economy in general in Greater Minnesota.
The K-12 bill we passed this year went to the governor with widespread, bipartisan support. Combined, both bodies of the Legislature passed the K-12 package by a 123-73 margin, but the governor has vetoed it.
With his veto, the governor put some very good legislation and much-needed funding on hold. The bipartisan bill we approved provides K-12 school districts with $400 million in new funding, 72 percent of which goes directly onto the per pupil formula. With increases of 1.5 percent in 2016 and 2 percent in 2017, the education budget we sent the governor provides more per pupil than Dayton himself proposed this year.
The House and the Senate did not include universal pre-Kindergarten funding in their bill, which appears to be the reason the governor vetoed it. It should be noted, however, that Gov. Dayton's universal pre-K proposal never passed the House or the Senate and many members of his party actively opposed it.
Instead of taking the universal approach, the House-Senate agreement provides more than $60 million in pre-K programs based on targeting the neediest students rather than having a universal program available for all students.
On a different education note, the higher education bill I authored as chairman of the Higher Education Committee also has been enacted by the governor. It has $3 billion in General Fund appropriations – a $166 million increase – for colleges and universities. This includes $1.3 billion to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, an increase of $101 million over the latest forecast in February. In the package is 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. Our focus was on the students throughout the process of bringing this bill to enactment.
Thank you to all the citizens who provided me with input throughout the session and your continued correspondence is welcome during the interim. Look for more news as word on an upcoming special session becomes available. Until then, have a safe Memorial Day holiday as we honor our proud nation's service men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for us.