The Legislature conducted a one-day special session Friday to re-pass three finance bills Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed after the regular session ended in May and to address a couple of other items.
With enactment of these bills, a complete budget will be in place for the next two-year cycle. Below is a summary of the three budget bills the Legislature approved Friday and early Saturday:
The final K-12 package includes $525 million in additional funding, a 2-percent increase in each 2016 and 2017. There also is $95 million in targeted funding for pre-K scholarships and school readiness aid to place that money where it is needed most. Additional funding also is provided to help school districts maintain their facilities.
AGRICULTURE AND ENVIRONMENT
A bill I authored to provide municipalities more voice in Met Council's water planning was included in the final version of this bill. The package also provides nearly $23 million to combat the avian influenza outbreak that has caused devastation to Minnesota's turkey industry. The Legislature also reached a compromise with Gov. Mark Dayton on his 50-foot buffer strip proposal and passed a much more reasonable requirement of 16.5-foot buffers on all public ditches.
JOBS AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
The primary focuses of this bill are to improve job growth statewide and advance us toward cleaner and cheaper energy. Funding is provided to address a shortage of workforce housing, conduct STEM internships and make job training grants available. Unemployment assistance also is available to those impacted by the avian influenza outbreak and to laid-off workers on the Iron Range.
In addition to those three budget packages, the House passed two other bills Friday, a $180 million capital investment bill to pay for projects throughout the state and a bill which appropriates funding derived from the Legacy Amendment voters approved in 2008. Here is a rundown of those:
Notable provisions fund state Capitol renovations ($33 million), transportation ($32 million), two facilities related to animal diseases ($27 million), and flood prevention/disaster relief ($23 million).
The Legacy bill appropriates $540 million in revenue derived from the Legacy Amendment voters approved in 2008 to support Minnesota's water, outdoors, arts, and parks and trails. Funding was appropriated in these amounts: Clean Water Fund ($228.3 million), Outdoor Heritage Fund ($97.8 million), Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund ($124.8 million), and Parks and Trails Fund ($89.4 million).
It is good the new budget's overall spending trajectory is lower than what the governor and the Senate wanted. It also is good the House was successful in blocking a proposal to raise the gas tax by at least 16 cents per gallon.
Disappointingly, the House's plan to direct $7 billion toward roads and bridges over the next decade without raising taxes fell victim to the insistence by some to raise the gas tax.
Very helpful tax increases also were blocked. For example, the House proposed stopping the state's tax on Social Security benefits. Minnesota is one of only six states to fully tax Social Security, and it is time we join the vast majority of other states in how we treat our elderly. Their budgets are often very tight, and not taxing their Social Security benefits would be a huge help.
Thank you for all the input throughout the 2015 session and I welcome continued correspondence as we make our way through the interim and ramp up to the 2016 session.