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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (DFL)

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Legislative Update - May 24, 2018

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Dear Neighbors,

My goal as your state legislator is to make good, fact-based decisions with the intent of supporting a Minnesota that works better for everyone. Unfortunately, the 2018 Legislative Session centered on Republican priorities with little bipartisan collaboration. At the end, the giant omnibus bill was packed with legislation that failed to act on the issues most important to families while putting corporations and the wealthy ahead of everyday Minnesotans. Republicans worked to divide and distract, instead of building a better future for all of us.

Minnesotans care deeply about our state and want to see each other succeed. Working together, we can strengthen our communities by improving education opportunities, making affordable health care a reality, and increasing economic prosperity for all Minnesotans. We should be focused on these areas and on building on our strengths as a state.

Special interests and Republicans joined together to fail Minnesotans by refusing to compromise on meaningful solutions.

We started out session with bipartisan agreement to act on many issues important to Minnesotans: the opioid crisis, elder abuse, tax conformity, sexual harassment, hands-free driving and more. Despite numerous bills presented by Democrats, Republican leadership refused to address these issues, instead catering to powerful special interests.

With a GOP majority, this year’s legislature failed to act on elder care abuse recommendations from AARP to protect seniors. Coincidentally, special interests in the senior care industry have spent record amounts at the Capitol lobbying the Republican majority in the last couple of years. Minnesota seniors deserve immediate, meaningful reform, not more task forces.

Republicans absolutely failed to act to address the opioid epidemic affecting Minnesota families. This issue had strong bipartisan concern and Democrats worked hard to pass laws to address addiction. I worked hard in addressing this heartbreaking epidemic with total support for my bill, Jakes’s Law, which allowed for addiction prevention curriculum in schools, from fifth grade through high school. The For Jake’s sake Foundation is ready and waiting to implement training and curriculum as soon as school year 2018-19. Instead of passing this no-brainer bill as a stand-alone bill weeks ago, it was bundled into the omnibus bill with funding tied to unrelated litigation funds within the Minnesota Department of Education. Playing “steal from Peter to pay Paul” is a losing game for our kids and all of Minnesota.  Instead of addressing the opioid epidemic, Republicans asked Minnesotans to pay for a fix without the help of the pharmaceutical companies who are profiting off of this crisis.

Republicans failed to adequately fund schools. The Republican education bill included next-to-no new funding for our schools, despite many districts facing operating deficits. Robbinsdale, the school district I teach in, is facing a $10.6 million shortage. I appreciate Governor Dayton’s education plan and call for emergency funding to ease the deficit too many school districts are facing. Locally, Columbia Heights would receive $622,000, Mounds View, $1.71 million and St. Anthony-New Brighton, $256,000. While it is one-time aid, it would save necessary teachers, specialists and resources, keeping class sizes down and providing relief from the special education cross-subsidy burden.  

Bundling the tax bill with the education bill complicated both efforts, holding teachers, schools, and Minnesotans hostage to creating conformity between the Federal and state tax reform. While the legislature passed the Tax Conference Committee report (HF4385), I voted NO on the bill because it prioritized tax giveaways for corporations over the needs of our children and working families. Governor Dayton vetoed the tax bill for the reasons below:

About the Republican Tax Bill Vetoed by Governor Dayton

The Republican Tax Bill vetoed by Governor Dayton would have spent $136 million in the first year alone, and protected multinational corporations from paying nearly $200 million in state taxes on profits they have sheltered overseas. Corporate tax benefits and protections in the legislation would have unsustainably grown to more than $280 million in this biennium and $482 million in the next biennium. And the bill overwhelmingly favored rich Minnesotans, over low- and middle-income Minnesota families. To learn more, read Governor Dayton’s veto letter by CLICKING HERE.

About the Republican Legislature’s Fake Plan to Address School Deficits

Unfortunately, the Republican Legislature refused to provide$137.9 million in one-time Emergency School Aid for Minnesota schools. Instead, they proposed a fake plan to address school deficits, claiming they were giving schools $225 million. The truth is, nearly 80 percent of that funding was existing money that had already been allocated to school districts. The other 20 percent (roughly $50 million) would have been transferred to schools from the State Budget Reserve. In fact, their proposal would have:

·        Taken $50 million from the State Budget Reserve in 2019, and distributed it to schools by making a one-time increase of $57.73 per pupil. By simply increasing the per pupil allocation, and not using the general education formula, there were no equity components to their school aid plan.

·        Allowed schools to use existing funds, which were already appropriated for teacher development or other purposes in Fiscal Year 2019 only.

·        Allowed schools to use existing fund balances, dedicated for community education or other purposes, in Fiscal Years 2019 and 2020.

Republicans put this fake education funding in their Tax Bill, which the Governor said repeatedly he would veto because it sheltered multinational corporations from paying their fair share of taxes on profits they sheltered overseas, unfairly favored the wealthy, and risked our state’s fiscal stability.

The GOP majority let Minnesotans who support ahands-free cell phone bill down when they refused to hear the bill in committees or on the House floor. Eighty percent of us supported this legislation in order to make our roads safer and reduce preventable injuries and deaths, and it didn’t get done.

This legislative session began with the devastating school shooting in Parkland, FL, and it ended with another horrific tragedy in Santa Fe, TX. House DFLers tried repeatedly to advance common-sense gun safety legislation, including criminal background checks on all gun purchases and red flag laws. Despite strong grassroots organizing and 90 percent support among Minnesotans, Republicans refused to take action to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and keep people safe.

Despite an increase in our uninsured rate, Republicans failed Minnesotans by refusing to consider a MinnesotaCare Buy-In proposal, which would let Minnesotans take advantage of affordable, high-quality health care that is currently unavailable in the private market. Instead, Republicans stood with health insurance companies and passed legislation that prohibits the state from even planning for the program.

There are two victories this session: funding public pensions and investing in a statewide bonding bill.

DFLers are proud that our efforts to support working families were successful in these areas, despite a Republican majority that consistently put corporations and the wealthy ahead of Minnesotans.

While I am glad the bonding bill included some important efforts, such as flood mitigation funding that will help communities like St. Anthony, I remain disappointed that some important issues were not addressed. Among other things, notably left out of the bill were transit and passenger rail investments – putting us behind nearly every other nearby state, and damaging our economic competitiveness.

Serving as state representatives or senators is a privilege that we all work hard for, and a job that is an absolute honor to perform – although it sometimes means long hours and sleepless nights. This year, 14 House Members retired as session closed, and I want to thank them for all their work.


Mary KP

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