The 2015 legislative session officially came to a close on Friday, June 12th, as lawmakers met in St. Paul for a special session to re-pass three vetoed budget bills as well as bills relating to capital investment and Legacy funding.
While I was disappointed that the governor vetoed these three budget bills—all three had originally passed with broad bipartisan support—I am happy that we were able to overcome our differences, come to an agreement, and finish the work that Minnesotans sent us to St. Paul to accomplish.
The bill that has received the most attention is the education bill. As you may have heard from various media reports or from my legislative updates, the governor vetoed this bill because it did not include funding for his universal pre-kindergarten proposal. This proposal had little to no legislative support and did not pass either the House or Senate. Nevertheless, the governor decided to veto the bill over his insistence that a final education budget must include funding for his universal pre-kindergarten proposal.
After a few weeks of negotiations between legislative leaders, a final bill was produced that could be agreed on by the House, Senate and governor. The renegotiated bill did not include the governor’s universal pre-k proposal, but does include $125 million more in spending than the vetoed bill, bringing an increase in total education spending for the next biennium to $525 million. These additional dollars will increase the per pupil funding formula by 2 percent in both 2016 and 2017. There is also an additional $95 million in funding for targeted early learning scholarships that will help families most in need.
Teacher licensure reforms to help address teaching shortages that are affecting many schools in Greater Minnesota, are also included in the bill.
Additionally, the education bill contains a provision I authored that provides funding to address necessary upgrades of hardware and software in classrooms, computer labs, and server rooms at the Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and Blind in Faribault.
Next, we re-passed the agriculture and environment omnibus bill. Included in this bill is $23 million in order to more quickly respond to the avian flu outbreak that has devastated so many turkey producers throughout the state. The bill also streamlines onerous permitting regulations while still respecting the need for proper environmental review.
The last vetoed bill that had to be re-passed was the Job Growth and Energy bill. This bill provides funding for broadband grants in Greater Minnesota, workforce housing, job training grants, as well as special unemployment assistance for farm workers impacted by the avian flu and steelworkers impacted by Iron Range layoffs.
In addition to these budget bills, we also passed a capital investment bill and a Legacy funding bill.
Our capital investment bill focuses on the most critical statewide construction needs for 2015. Notable provisions in this year’s bonding bill include funding for two facilities that will help Minnesota better address the avian flu outbreak, funding for State Capitol renovations, and funding for the Lewis and Clark Rural Water Project that will help deliver clean water to residents in the southwest corner of the state. The bill also includes funding for the Steele County Public Works Building in Owatonna that was damaged by flooding.
Finally, we passed a Legacy funding bill which allocates funds generated by the 3/8 of 1 percent statewide sales tax that was approved by Minnesota voters in 2008. This money is constitutionally dedicated to the Clean Water Fund, Outdoor Heritage Fund, Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, and Parks and Trails Fund. It is our responsibility as legislators to make sure the revenue from this tax is put to the best-possible use.
I am proud of the work we accomplished this session. We were able to defeat the highest proposed gas tax in state history and make significant investments in Minnesotans’ priorities without raising taxes all the while leaving money on the state’s bottom line for middle class tax relief and transportation funding next session.
It has been an honor serving as your representative this session. As always please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions regarding a piece of legislation or a state agency. I can be reached by phone at 651-296-5388 or via email at email@example.com.
Have a great summer,