Friday marks the end of the biggest week at the legislature thus far. Over the past five days, the House passed billions of dollars in spending bills, including the largest portion of the state budget, the Health and Human Services Omnibus bill, which spends approximately $11 billion dollars over the next two years.
More importantly, the majority passed -- with no bipartisan support -- one of the largest tax increase proposals this state has ever seen, raising $2.6 billion dollars in taxes in order to pay for their increased spending in nearly every budget area.
With double-digit percent increases in many budget areas that pay for more government employees and wasteful spending programs, I believe it shows a shocking lack of focus on priorities when the majority chooses to cut the Health and Human Services budget by $150 million dollars, including $26 million dollars from nursing homes and senior care centers. With a rapidly aging population, nursing homes and senior care centers continue to face severe funding cuts to provider reimbursement rates. This failure threatens to suspend any further expansion of senior services, for which demand continues to grow daily.
There's no doubt that we must start to bend the cost curve, and get Health and Human Services spending under control. At approximately 42% of the budget, it is one of the fastest-growing areas of the budget, and if we do nothing, it will continue to consume more and more of the state budget, threatening other legitimate and needed functions of government.
Should we be cutting resources from the most vulnerable in our society? Under current law, the budget passed by the Republican majorities in 2011, nursing homes would have received $26 million dollars more than under the Democrats' budget plan. These cuts have far reaching impacts; there are over 100 nursing homes and senior care centers around the state that are at risk of closure due to net operating margins of -5% or worse. The previous legislature made a commitment to the Greatest Generation, and the budget that was passed on Monday goes back on that promise.
With tens of millions of dollars in wasteful spending throughout many of the budget bills, I will continue to work with legislators, Republican or Democrat, to find the funding needed to fully fund our nursing homes and senior care centers.
Budgets should be about priorities, and there is perhaps no more important priority than taking care of our senior citizens. They are our grandparents, parents, sisters, and brothers. Rather than investing more money in increased bureaucracy, questionable programs, more government employees, and budget increases to agencies that did not even request them, we should be following through on our past commitments first.
There is simply no excuse why with $3 billion dollars in higher taxes and fees that we can't find the $26 million dollars in the budget for our seniors. I hope the majority will reconsider and re-evaluate their priorities before this bill comes back to the House for final passage. Seniors, and the citizens of Minnesota expect and deserve better than failing to live up to our promises.
You can view my floor speech from the debate on the Tax Omnibus Bill by clicking here.
Lastly, a Higher Education funding bill was passed by the House also. College tuition has risen in Minnesota at an unprecedented rate. During the debate, information was provided which indicates that salaries and administration in our higher education system has become very top heavy when compared to other states, while students and students’ families have been burdened with this extraordinary growth in higher education tuition costs.
Young college graduates are entering the work force with substantial debt which is threatening many aspects of our local economy. The long term debt accumulated while attending college significantly diminishes a young couple’s ability to qualify for mortgage loans to purchase a home or other large purchases such as a car.
Although the bill provides for a two year freeze on college tuition, this bill does not go far enough to eliminate waste and provide affordable options to students pursuing a college education.
Have a great weekend!
Rep. Jerry Hertaus