Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The regular legislative session adjourned on Monday, May 20th, and the one-day special session ended in the early hours of Saturday, May 25. Every legislative session is different and this year we had a new Governor, a new House majority, and a divided government with conflicting budget priorities.
When my kids were growing up, we had a dinnertime conversation starter we called “highs and lows”. It was a way to encourage our kids to share interesting or meaningful things that happened in their days, allowing us to have a discussion without grilling them with questions. When looking back on the 2019 legislative session, I recall both highs and lows.
I’m ultimately glad both sides came together to compromise on a state budget. We were able to fund our priorities – education, public safety, and road and bridge infrastructure – without tax increases. I’m especially pleased that a 20-cent per gallon gas tax increase, more expensive license tab fees, nursing home cuts, and numerous highly controversial policies were defeated and will not become law this year.
We also made significant progress in passing legislation to address the opioid crisis, implement reforms to ensure safety for our aging loved ones, and regulate the pharmaceutical industry. In addition, we continued to build on our progress to lower health insurance premiums by extending our reinsurance program, which has proven effective each of the last two years.
My biggest disappointment from this session is the continuation of the sick tax, which will raise the cost of Minnesotans’ healthcare, make every visit to the doctor more expensive, and disproportionately hurt those who require the most medical treatment. I believe we missed an opportunity to allow this tax – also called the provider tax – to sunset, as was agreed to in 2011 by then Governor Dayton and legislators from both parties. Revenue from this tax goes into a special fund that has been raided for purposes outside of its’ original intention. This ultimately means this tax revenue (which is paid by Minnesotans going to the doctor) isn’t going entirely for healthcare programs, but rather to further grow government spending in a number of other areas.
Although the outcomes – or products – of session were good overall, the process that played out at the end of session was very concerning to me. The governor and legislative leaders waited too long to agree on budget targets, resulting in a breakdown of the committee process. There simply wasn’t enough time for conference committees to hold public meetings and review all the proposals, meaning the public never had the opportunity to weigh in on the state’s final budget.
After days of closed-door meetings with legislative leaders, the governor called a one day special session to complete the budget. Again, in order to quickly complete the budget and fund state government, the entire legislative process was circumvented. The governor and House and Senate leaders – three people – decided almost everything that would comprise the budget bills. The result of such a process is that the other 199 legislators, and the millions of Minnesotans they represent, were left completely out of the picture with no voice on the issues. In fact, some conference committees did not adopt a single provision in a public setting as entire bills were decided privately.
In addition, there wasn’t time for legislators or the public to review the final bills before they were debated and voted on. For example, the largest budget bill, Health and Human Services, was not publicly released until after 4PM on the day of special session—several hours after the special session had begun. Senators and Representatives from both parties have called this lack of transparency “the worst they’ve ever seen”, with many concerned that the governor usurped the legislature’s authority in making laws and deciding what legislation was sent to his desk for action. It’s important we seriously consider reforms to this process so this doesn’t become the new norm for legislative sessions to come.
Look for another email from me in the coming days detailing each area of the final product. In a two-year state budget totaling $48 billion dollars (a 6% increase in state spending) there are plenty of details to discuss. I’ll provide a more in depth summary of each major spending area and the impact of various reforms that were passed.
Staying in Touch
If you ever have questions or concerns regarding any issue, please contact me. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-296-8635.
Talk to you soon,