The dust has settled and it's been nice being home to have a few days to recharge after a very long weekend at the legislature.
We passed our budget on time, sending a bipartisan budget agreement to the Governor, who has now threatened to veto one or more budget bills. It's hard to say what the next few days will bring but here are some highlights from the budget.
Health and Human Services
Our Health and Human Services bill works to bend the cost curve, reducing spending in some areas and working to root out waste, fraud, and abuse in our public programs. We made generational reforms to our nursing home reimbursement system, meaning significant new funding to balance funding for Greater Minnesota nursing homes. This will hopefully put a stop to Greater Minnesota nursing home closures, and help keep aging loved ones closer to their families.
The bill Governor Dayton vetoed yesterday received overwhelming bipartisan support from legislators on both sides in the House and Senate. It includes significant new funding for schools, and unprecedented investments in proven early-learning programs. The bill also helps streamline teacher licensure processes for out-of-state teachers which will help address the achievement gap.
Governor Dayton's stubborn insistence and veto threats over universal pre-kindergarten is not based on any sort of research demonstrating the unquestionable effectiveness of universal pre-K programs in closing the achievement gap. That's because that research does not exist. Research by education experts demonstrates that targeted, high-quality programs for at-risk kids are the best approach for closing the achievement gap. Putting children into a one-size-fits-all program at schools will do little to help the kids who need it most. The bipartisan education bill focuses our precious tax dollars on proven programs rather than expensive programs that schools simply don't have the funds or physical space for.
Democrats' stubborn insistence on a gas tax increase unfortunately prevented progress on a long-term transportation plan. Republicans stood strong against the gas tax increase, instead putting forward our 10 year, $7 billion plan that invests in our roads WITHOUT raising taxes.
Democrats refused to compromise, so we passed a transportation bill that continues current operations and includes $12.5 million in new funding for small cities with populations under 5,000 to fix their local roads. This will be a big help for local roads in small Greater Minnesota cities. The bill also doubles current funding for rail safety.
The Public Safety bill includes provisions that serve to protect our 2nd Amendment rights. All provisions received overwhelming bipartisan support from Democrats and Republicans.
2 year MNSCU schools, including Ridgewater in Hutchinson will see tuition relief for the first time in many years in 2017, as well as a mandated freeze in 2016. The University of Minnesota did not receive its full request to continue their tuition freeze, but I have been adamant that if we get our out-of-state tuition in line with other Big 10 schools that we can avoid any tuition increase, and possible reduce tuition for Minnesota students. Minnesota is 4th highest in the Big 10 for in-state tuition, and dead last for out-of-state tuition, meaning many our in-state students are subsidizing cheaper tuition for out-of-state students.
Our agriculture bill includes funding to help combat avian flu, which has continued to devastate turkey farmers in many parts of the state.
Overall, Republicans successfully fought against dramatic Democrat spending increases. While the budget increases spending a bit more than we would have liked, it's important to remember that compromise is necessary when the DFL holds the Senate and the Governor's office. We did what we could to keep spending in line and succeeded in passing major reforms in many areas.
I will continue to send along occasional updates as the summer continues. If you have questions on these or any of the other budget bills, please contact me any time at email@example.com or call 651-296-4229.
Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. Take time to pause and reflect on the service and sacrifices of those who fought and died for our freedoms that help make America the shining city on a hill. We owe all of our fallen heroes a debt that we can never repay.