By Rep. Joe McDonald
The House can be both proud of some key things it accomplished in 2015 - and disappointed in some good legislation that stalled in the process.
House Republicans brought balance to the Capitol. A top priority was to put a new state budget in place for the 2016-17 biennium and that job is complete. The budget total is higher than I would have liked, but it still is lower than Gov. Mark Dayton and other Democrats proposed. It is the third-lowest increase in the last 50 years and represents growth of roughly half of the governor's proposal for a double-digit increase.
It was important to lower the trajectory of spending growth. Minnesota families’ budgets have increased just 12 percent from 2000 to 2013. Meanwhile, the governor and Senate Democrats proposed budgets that would have increased government spending 75 percent since 2000.
As vice chairman of the Health and Human Services Finance Committee, I am proud of the historic $138 million increase we provided for nursing homes. In District 29A, this translates to increases for Good Samaritan Society in Howard Lake (29 percent), Annandale Care Center (21 percent) and Golden LivingCenter in Delano (10 percent). We also passed good reform that will make Greater Minnesota facilities more equitable compared with the metro area. This will help keep nursing homes open Greater Minnesota so seniors can stay closer to families, while also boosting the local economy.
One of the last budget bills we passed in the House relates to K-12 education. It was part of the recent brief special session that was prompted by the governor vetoing three bills after the regular session adjourned in May. The final K-12 package includes a $525 million increase for the upcoming biennium, 2 percent more in each 2016 and 2017.
What is not included in the K-12 bill is the governor's push for universal pre-Kindergarten. His proposal, which failed to pass either the Republican House or the DFL Senate, was the subject of bipartisan objection. Yet, the governor still vetoed the first K-12 bill we passed in an attempt to have universal pre-K added. Instead of a universal approach, the enacted bill includes $95 million in targeted funding for pre-K scholarships and school readiness aid so we can direct support where it is needed the most. Other important measures in the bill provide additional funding for school districts to maintain their facilities and reform to address teacher shortages throughout the state.
Despite those successes, it is disappointing the House's comprehensive package to direct $7 billion toward roads and bridges over the next decade was derailed by Democrats' insistence on raising the gas tax by at least 16 cents per gallon. The public and House members overwhelmingly rejected that gas-tax proposal, so it was something of a victory we prevented it from passing.
A long-term transportation plan likely will be a headline item in 2016. So could a tax bill with significant tax relief and reductions. House proposals this year would have provided relief by phasing out the state’s tax on Social Security. We also offered tax relief for families, veterans, farmers and to incentivize job growth. I personally authored numerous bills to provide tax reductions for families and businesses, and look forward to bringing them to passage next year.
Another topic to revisit is increasing broadband access for cities with in Greater Minnesota that have insufficient online service. There was $10 million provided for this purpose this year and towns such as Annandale may receive grants to improve their capabilities.
Thank you to all the citizens who provided me with input through the 2015 session and I welcome continued correspondence in the interim as we prepare for 2016. The best way to reach me is by emailing email@example.com.