Gov. Mark Dayton and fellow Democrats in the House and Senate announced last Sunday they had reached agreement on a new state budget for the next two years.
Only 80-some hours remain before we are scheduled to adjourn and we are still waiting to see the most important pieces of their budget. Time is running short and, even though we plan on working through the weekend, a top concern is these important bills will be rushed through in the final minutes without receiving their due discussion.
Big portions of today and Saturday apparently will be spent reviewing bills that are not directly related to the budget. One of those bill borrows hundreds of millions of dollars to fund construction projects. It is disappointing the majorities would entertain the idea of borrowing more money before a single budget bill has been passed AND approved by the governor. We already have nearly $3 billion worth of projects in the pipeline.
DAY CARE UNIONIZATION BILL
A bill we anticipate discussing on the House floor Saturday pertains to the unionization of day care providers and personal care attendants. This is a highly controversial issue which led to a 17-hour debate on the Senate floor this week. It has gained practically zero public support and is a top-down initiative led by union heads, the governor and Democrats in the Legislature.
A KSTP survey shows 86 percent of licensed providers themselves don’t want to unionize. Editorial boards from both the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press recently wrote editorials criticizing this initiative.
HIGHER EDUCATION UPDATE
I have been working on the joint House-Senate conference committee in charge of putting the higher education finance bill into final form. We have resolved differences between House and Senate versions and could bring the bill to the House floor for final passage as soon as today. It includes a funding increase to higher education and also freezes tuition for the next two years. I'll pass along more about this topic in an upcoming email.
We received word last night that the governor and Democrats in the Legislature have reached an agreement on how much to raise our taxes. Their $2 billion plan includes making Minnesota’s top income tax bracket the fourth-highest in the country. Cigarettes would be taxed another $1.60 per pack.
I will pass along more details after we have a look at the full bill. Keep in mind this a $2 billion tax increase to fix a $627 million budget shortfall.
The thing is, revenue continues to rise. Minnesota Management & Budget announced our state received $145 million more in April revenue than previously expected. This is on top of the four combined $2.8 billion in more-than-expected revenue since November of 2011, just after Republicans enacted the budget for the current biennium.
It is possible to erase the shortfall without raising taxes. Reports are calling for an $856 million surplus for 2016-17 if we just leave things as-is.
I encourage the governor and majority leaders to acknowledge this progress as they put the finishing touches on plans regarding our budget and taxes. The last thing we should want to do is set back our resurgence from the Great Recession and it concerns me the policies they are considering would do just that.
It will be an interesting next few days in St. Paul. I will follow up with more details later. Until then, please continue providing me with input on these and other issues.