On Monday, the legislature finished the 2015 session, passing a bipartisan $41.5 billion budget that works for the people and priorities of Greater Minnesota, invests in education and pre-k programs, and improves the quality of life and quality of care for our seniors. I am proud of the compromise and collaboration between the Republican-led House and DFL-led Senate this session, and that while no one received everything they wanted, we created a strong budget that invests in our shared priorities without tax increases.
First, for aging adults, our health and humans services bill included reimbursement reform, giving nursing homes an additional $138 million and stable, long-term funding going forward. Increasing these reimbursement rates is a big deal for Greater Minnesota care centers, which are often underfunded compared to the metro. What's more, this will help increase the wages of hardworking caregivers in this field.
Next, the House and Senate passed an education budget that puts $400 million more into K-12 schools, 72 percent of which goes directly onto the per pupil formula. We also targeted our littlest learners with $60 million more for early learning scholarships and school readiness aid. To help with a teacher shortage, we also streamlined the teacher licensure process which will make it easier for qualified educators to receive a license in our state. Finally, additional funding for facilities maintenance will save school districts money and help with the upkeep of school buildings for necessary repairs.
Third, for SCSU and other MnSCU college students, the legislature passed tuition relief. For MnSCU's two year colleges, there will be a tuition freeze in 2016 and a 1 percent reduction in 2017. Four year universities will see a tuition freeze in 2017 as well. Overall, this plan will benefit 410,000 students across the state.
What's also important to note is what was not in our budget this year. Republicans fought hard against a gas tax increase which would have cost folks hundreds of dollars more each year and hurt Minnesota families and people on fixed incomes. Because of the Senate DFL's insistence that we implement a gas tax, even with a $2 billion surplus, we did not pass a road and bridge package this year or a tax relief package. No new gas tax on Minnesota drivers is a big win, especially as this idea was quite unpopular in Central Minnesota, and I am hopeful that next year we can revisit both a transportation and tax relief bill.
As some of you may have heard, while we negotiated and passed our bipartisan budget on time, Governor Dayton has said he plans to veto our education bill because it does not fund universal pre-k, a proposal that never received a hearing in either body of the legislature. I am disappointed an 8 percent increase in education funding and a new $60 million investment in pre-k is not enough. I will keep you updated on this and other budget bills as they go to the governor for signature or a veto.
Overall, I am very pleased with the bipartisan budget we passed this session because I believe it is greatly beneficial to the people and priorities of our community!
As always, I welcome your input on legislation and want to hear more about issues important to you. Please don’t hesitate to schedule a meeting, call my office or send me an email. I am here to serve you!
It’s an honor to be your voice at the Capitol.