Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We returned from Easter break this week and began the push to pass all budget bills off the floor by May 1st. That has meant long days and nights discussing, debating and voting on these large budget omnibus bills to meet that deadline.
While there are many provisions in these bills that I can support, the major theme of Democrats’ budget bills so far has been taxing and spending, with their budget proposals including over $12 billion in new taxes.
Although I remain concerned with the current bills, I’m optimistic we can still work in conference committees to improve them before they go to the Governor. Here’s a rundown of the important pieces of each bill passed off the floor this week.
On Tuesday, the House approved the education omnibus bill. Education spending is the largest portion of the state budget and has been steadily growing for years. This bill seeks to spend an additional $900 million; most of that funding would come from taking more than $400 million from road and bridge funding and a 70% gas tax increase. Despite the large increase, the bill widens the unfair funding gap between metro and rural Minnesota schools.
The bill also contains numerous controversial policy provisions. Most alarming are the measures that include controversial sexual education requirements from Planned Parenthood. It also lowers teacher licensing standards and eliminates teacher licensing safeguards designed to keep our students safe.
Wednesday the House passed the jobs and energy omnibus bill. This bill raises taxes by over $2 billion by taking money from the paychecks of every Minnesotan and includes extreme energy mandates that will drive up families’ electric bills and reduce our energy grid’s reliability. Further, the bill doesn’t do enough to help promote jobs and economic development in greater Minnesota.
Nonetheless, I’m pleased this legislation includes the $70 million for rural Minnesota broadband expansion that I’m championing. While other areas certainly need improvement, I’m hopeful this crucial broadband funding is a part of the final agreement.
Health and Human Services
On Thursday, the House approved Democrats’ 1,100-page health and human services omnibus bill. This legislation raises healthcare costs by reinstating the provider tax, adding $2.5 billion to the cost of healthcare.
It also includes changes to nursing home reimbursement rates, which would result in cuts to about half of Minnesota's nursing facilities. I’ve personally heard from local nursing homes about the harmful effect this would have for seniors in our area.
In addition, the bill fails to address widespread fraud in Minnesota’s Child Care Assistance Program and doesn’t extend Minnesota's reinsurance program, which could cause premium rates to skyrocket next year.
On Thursday, the House also approved the tax bill, which included several measures I support but also raises about $3 billion in new taxes over the next four years. The positive features include tax conformity but – unlike our Republican bill two years ago – uses resulting surpluses for new spending rather than reducing tax burdens. The bill also includes an increase in Local Government Aid and County Aid, increases the school building Agriculture credit and increases the Social Security subtraction.
Today (Friday) we are taking up the Agriculture and Housing bill and will begin hearing the Transportation bill.
IRRR Hiring Controversy
Last week during our Easter break, a report from the Timberjay newspaper revealed questionable hiring moves by the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation in hiring former legislator and Congressional candidate Joe Radinovich to a top position. I was deeply troubled to learn of an expedited hiring process that lacked transparency and fairness. As former IRRRB Commissioner and a current member of the board as a legislator, I’ve spent years working to depoliticize the economic development work of the agency and this kind of political maneuvering now undermines public confidence in the agency.
Yesterday, we learned that Mr. Radinovich resigned from the position. I believe this is an appropriate step towards restoring credibility. The IRRR has the resources to do important work on behalf of Iron Range residents. As a legislator and a board member, I care about improving and maintaining its integrity and reputation. This was an embarrassing incident for the agency, and I still have many questions that need to be answered surrounding the process and the governor’s involvement.
Labor Day – School Calendars
On Tuesday evening, I spoke on the House floor in support of an amendment to ensure school districts begin the school year after Labor Day. A school start date before Labor Day would be devastating to the resort and tourism industry in our area. This is a very important issue for the economies of our area and northern Minnesota and I was happy to see the amendment pass.
Mobile Office Hours
On Saturday, May 4, I’ll be hosting mobile office hours in Grand Rapids from 1:00pm-3:00pm at Caribou Coffee (2020 S Pokegama Ave, Grand Rapids, MN 55744) along with Senator Justin Eichorn. In order to schedule a time to stop by during mobile office hours, please contact my legislative assistant, Betsy Ritzer, at 651-296-5489 or Betsy.Ritzer@house.mn.
From healthcare costs to transportation funding to taxes, a lot of consequential decisions will be made at the legislature in the coming weeks. That’s why I want to hear from our community on how these decisions and policies will impact your everyday lives. I always appreciate the input I receive from our community and I find face-to-face conversations especially helpful.
At the Capitol
The Frozen Four NCAA Hockey championship trophy – won this year by the UMD Bulldogs – visited the Capitol on Wednesday.
On Thursday, I stepped off the House floor for an impromptu meeting with Rich Johnson from Nevis, Kristi Pink from Kelliher, Carol Procopio from Northland Remer, Noelle Johnson from Pine River-Backus, Tonia Henry from Bemidji and Jason Koester (in back) from Bemidji about education issues. It was great to meet with this group of teachers from northern Minnesota.
Please Contact Me
As always, please contact me if you have any questions or concerns. I value your input and enjoy hearing from you.
Have a great weekend,