Construction continues in St. Paul – both to restore the Capitol itself (above) and to build a new two-year state budget.
The Legislature is set to adjourn May 18 and we still are working diligently and earnestly to find a budget solution the House, the Senate and Gov. Mark Dayton can agree upon.
One of the big items to resolve is the Senate and Dayton continue pushing for a gas-tax increase. I do not support raising the gas tax, especially at a time the state has a $2 billion surplus and people finally are seeing some relief through lower prices at the pump. This is relief that provides people with more disposable income, which is evident in our latest budget forecast that shows continued growth. State revenue has come in $260 million over the latest projection in February.
Lower gas prices certainly are helpful to a lot of people and have had an effect very similar to a tax cut. It has stimulated our economy and also provides an opportunity for people to stretch their paychecks further, pay down debt and/or save for the future or an emergency (which a recent Pew study indicates we are not doing enough of).
Polls show Minnesotans overwhelmingly oppose a gas-tax increase and correspondence I receive on this issue indicates the same message. Also, the House voted 132-0 against a gas-tax increase earlier this session.
The thought that the governor and the Senate Democrats want to raise our gas tax again now is ludicrous and stands to hurt lower- and middle-income earners in our state the most.
As for other areas of the budget, I continue working as a conferee on the Health and Human Services portion. We are working to resolve differences between what the House and Senate propose.
The House's focus is on seniors and increasing funding for nursing homes and workers in the care industry. Care facilities throughout the state – including in District 29A – would receive substantial funding increases through the House's proposal. We are offering a new statewide reimbursement system that will result in a funding increase for nursing homes, particularly in Greater Minnesota, totaling more than $138 million. In addition the House's plan includes $90 million for a one-time, 5-percent cost-of-living adjustment for home and community-based care workers.
Our care facilities and the workers who care for our state’s most vulnerable residents have been left behind in terms of funding. Other parts of the budget have snowballed in growth over the years, to the detriment of our care industry.
The bottom line is we should be caring for the elderly, the disabled and other citizens who need it most, while implementing safeguards to ensure taxpayer dollars are being delivered to the right places. I will continue advocating these points as a member of the HHS conference committee.
Things are very fluid at this point in the session as we seek a budget agreement. All indications are the House will be meeting through the weekend to get its work done and I will keep you in the loop.