The 2015 legislative session is nearing an end. Our state constitution requires that the Legislature adjourn for the year on Monday, May 18th.
After two weeks of long floor sessions, the Minnesota House and Senate have each passed their separate proposed budget bills. Now conference committees are meeting – most are made up of five House members and five Senators. Conference committees must reconcile the differences between the House and Senate bills, and agree on one version that will pass in both the House and Senate. The Republican-led House and the Democratic-led Senate are far apart on their proposed budgets for the state, and each of them differ significantly from what Governor Dayton has proposed. The Conference Committees must craft bills that not only can pass both the House and Senate, but those bills also must meet the Governor’s approval to get his signature and become law.
K-12 and Higher Education
The biggest difference between the Republican House budget and Governor Dayton’s proposed budget is in education. Governor Dayton proposes to make investments that would prevent teacher layoffs and larger class sizes in our K-12 schools. Governor Dayton also proposes that Minnesota take major strides forward in meeting the needs of our preschoolers. Republicans propose less than a 1% increase for K-12 schools – an amount that is inadequate to keep up with inflation and which fails to move the state forward in any area.
In higher education, Governor Dayton proposes to continue the tuition freeze for 317,000 students at our state colleges and universities. He also proposes to expand the availability of the state grant. In contrast, the Republican budget guarantees tuition increases.
Ghosts of budgets past
The Health and Human Services (HHS) bill passed off the House floor with no bipartisan support. The reason? The extreme right wing Republicans who control the Minnesota House propose to balance the state’s budget by using imaginary savings and by making cuts that will raise the cost of health care for all Minnesotans. The kind of imaginary savings these right wing Republicans propose to use are fake, just like the fake numbers they used in 2011, when their reluctance to accept reality in the budget led to the longest state government shutdown in U.S. history.
The proposed Republican plan cuts the health and human services budget by $1.152 billion. First, they eliminate MinnesotaCare, our state’s innovative health care program for working Minnesotans for whom private insurance is out of reach, but who make too much money to qualify for Medical Assistance. A moderate Republican, Gov. Arne Carlson, put MinnesotaCare in place in 1992. Since then, it has helped make sure that Minnesota has a low rate of uninsured people. MinnesotaCare also has brought stability to the health care marketplace. Under the Republican health care budget, more than 100,000 working Minnesotans would lose their health insurance.
In addition to raising the rates of uninsured, the Republican plan also relies on imaginary savings. They project $300 million of “savings” that will likely never materialize. In fact, nonpartisan House research staff has advised that the claimed $300 million in savings in the bill would only really be about $17 million. MPR fact-checked the Republican health and human services bill and determined that the Republican plan leaves a $283 million hole in the budget. You can read more here.
By once again relying on shifts and gimmicks to “balance a budget,” the Republican House Majority puts the entire state budget on very shaky ground. Minnesotans have learned that budgets built on false savings lead to special sessions, or worse, government shutdowns. Despite a nearly $2 billion projected surplus, the Republican HHS proposal would put people with disabilities and people in nursing homes at risk. I am hopeful that the final HHS bill includes more balance and sound budgeting and will garner bipartisan support.
The hardworking women and men who care for our parents and grandparents in nursing homes and those who care for people with disabilities should not have to worry about losing their jobs, their health care, or not getting a raise when the state has a large surplus.
Wholesale gas tax amendment
Last week, I voted against an amendment that would increase Minnesota’s wholesale gas tax. While I agree that there is a growing need for dedicated, long-term funding for roads and bridges, I do not support the wholesale gas tax because I am concerned about the unreliability of this tax mechanism. Every single member of the House voted against the proposed wholesale gas tax. The legislature will continue to debate alternative solutions for state’s transportation funding needs.
As always, feel free to contact me. If you have questions you would like a response to, please feel free to call me at 651-296-4280 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. For updates, you can follow me on twitter at @melissahortman or “like” my facebook page www.facebook.com/MelissaHortman. It is an honor to serve you in the Minnesota House of Representatives.