A brief special session took place Friday and early Saturday after proposals to raise taxes by $12 billion caused budget talks to stall and no deal was in place when the Legislature’s May 20 date for adjournment arrived. In the end, most of the tax increases proposed by Gov. Tim Walz and the House majority were abandoned before a new two-year state budget was approved and sent to the governor for enactment.
I am most pleased their proposal to raise the gas tax by 20 cents per gallon was dropped and, in fact, we achieved the first middle-class income tax reduction in decades. On the other hand, it is concerning the governor and House majority insisted in extending a tax on health care that will cost Minnesotans $2 billion at a time the state has a surplus.
A number of provisions I supported regarding agriculture were included in the final budget plan. One measure levels the playing field for farmers who have been subject to a disproportionately large liability on capital referendums for schools. Legislation also was passed providing $8 million to help dairy farmers cover the costs of a federal Margin Protection Plan insurance program. The funding is directed toward smaller, family-type operations with fewer than 750 cows. An appropriation to provide mental health support for farmers also was approved.
Another provision I worked to facilitate is the Kraft-Heinz plant’s acquisition of a small parcel of state land. That was successful, allowing expansion of its operation in Albany.
The subject of reinsurance was something of a political hot potato and I am glad to see that, in the end, the program is being extended to help keep health insurance premiums down for people on the individual market. And, along with that, it is good that we spared nursing homes from the $68 million cut that was proposed earlier this session. That would have been very problematic, especially in Greater Minnesota.
The special session was called by Walz after days of closed-door meetings, and a “tribunal” comprised of the governor, the House speaker, and the Senate majority leader. Some conference committees did not adopt a single provision in a public setting, resulting in entire bills being decided behind closed doors. The largest budget bill was not publicly released until several hours after the special session had begun.
House Republicans successfully negotiated changes that will enhance transparency next session, including a change to the House committee structure that will increase transparency and fix flaws in the structure Democrats implemented this year.
Things can get messy at the end of session and that probably will always be the case to a certain degree, but we owe it to the public to conduct business in a more transparent process. Taxpayers deserve to know what their government is doing and these changes we worked to achieve will be a step in the right direction.