I hope you all had a relaxing Memorial Day weekend. We can be grateful for the opportunity to reflect on and recognize the sacrifices made by brave Americans in our military and enjoy the time with family and friends.
The 2017 Minnesota Legislative Session ended last week. Because a full 70% of the state budget had not been passed before the constitutional deadline of midnight Monday, Governor Dayton called for a special session to finish the remaining work. Now that the dust has largely settled, I’d like to point out some of the highlights as well as lowlights.
It took a special session to get it done, but I’m pleased that our public schools will see a 2% funding increase on the per pupil formula each of the next two years. The Republican majority initially put forth an increase of 1.25 percent – which wouldn’t even cover inflationary costs. It took some intense negotiations to ensure that our state’s students receive the resources they deserve. Additional investments in education as well include a $2.45 million grant program to improve mental health services for at risk youth. Early learners also got a boost with $50 million for districts to use for the Governor’s voluntary pre-K program or for School Readiness Plus, and $20.6 million more in early learning scholarships.
We were able to pass important legislation to make our communities safer. With new funding for the Predatory Offender Registry, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension will be better able to track sex offenders. Additional training for peace officers will be required that covers crisis intervention and mental illness crisis response, conflict management and mediation, and recognizing and valuing community diversity and cultural awareness. We will be making additional investments in the “Safe Harbor” program to provide housing and other support services for youths who have been victims of sex-trafficking, with a directive to develop a statewide strategic plan to combat sex trafficking throughout the state. Additional funding was included too for treatment courts, which have been proven to be successful in reducing recidivism.
The tax bill contains some excellent bipartisan provisions that will benefit many Minnesotans. Seniors will have more of their social security income exempt from state income taxes, college students will see relief from student debt with a tax credit toward those payments, parents will see child care expenses offset with an expansion of the Child and Dependent Care Credit, and small businesses will see their commercial/industrial property taxes cut. That being said, the size of tax bill has many, myself included, concerned about structurally balanced budgets in future years.
The very last item considered during the special session was the bonding bill, which will fund $988 million in public infrastructure improvements throughout the state. Because no bonding bill passed last year and interest rates are very likely to rise, it was crucial that we made progress this session. Notable projects include: safety improvements to some of the most dangerous rail crossings in the state including one in Eden Prairie, the U of M’s Health Science Building, and the truss bridge at the Minneapolis Veterans Home.
With the good news comes some bad news (some of which could have been worse)…
While the Legislature did not put a halt to the South West LRT project, tremendous hurdles were put in the way of its success. Specifically, language was included in the transportation bill to remove the state’s 50% share of operating costs. This leaves Hennepin County on the hook for these costs. Since the entire region will see benefits from this new corridor, this is fundamentally inequitable.
Despite a $1.65 billion surplus the legislature failed to come close to meeting the need for additional funding for public higher education. Both the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State systems are funded at levels millions of dollars short of their requests to the Legislature and amounts recommended by Gov. Dayton. I expect that this will result in increased tuition, cuts in class offerings, and less support for students. It’s irresponsible to further saddle students with debt and deliver lower quality.
The U.S. Congress and President recently sold out the privacy of Americans who use the internet by allowing tech companies to sell private data, such as browsing history, to other corporations. In response, amendments were added on both the Minnesota House and Senate floors to the Jobs and Energy Bill requiring consumers to explicitly consent to the sale of such data. In fact, these votes were nearly unanimous, with only a single senator in opposition.
Subsequently, we saw what can occur when bills are finalized in back rooms at the last minute. With the internet providers opposed to this provision, it was dropped during House and Senate negotiations of the final version of the bill. To me, it’s unconscionable that such a pro-consumer measure, with broad, bipartisan support throughout the Legislature, could be left on the cutting room floor. This again signals the need to increase, either in the Legislature’s own rules or in law, openness, transparency, and accountability when these topics are discussed.
Clean water and a healthy environment are important to all Minnesotans. Fewer opportunities for citizens to protect the environment and advantages given to big corporations in permitting, took Minnesota a giant step backwards.
Protecting Our Budget Reserves
There are real concerns with fiscal stability going forward. The long term implications of the tax bill, and the borrowing and expanded use of the general fund for roads, put Minnesota at risk of depleting reserves in the next biennium. I’ll be monitoring future budget forecasts very closely.
Town Hall Meeting
I’d like to remind you about the Town Hall Meeting on Saturday, June 3. I hope you can come with your questions and input as we recap the concluded session. Please join us if you are able to.
WHAT: Legislative Town Hall Meeting
WHO: State Rep. Laurie Pryor, interested members of the community
WHEN: Saturday, June 3 from 10:00 – 11:30 a.m.
WHERE: Eden Prairie High School, East Commons, Room 212, 17185 Valley View Rd, Eden Prairie, MN 55346
I remain committed to work that improves the lives of those in our community. While this certainly requires compromise, it’s important that we deliver on the values that we all prioritize, including great schools, quality health care, a clean environment, and the opportunity for everyone to prosper in our economy. It’s also important that we deliver these in an effective, accountable way. Having bills thrown together behind closed doors conflicts with this value.
The 2018 session starts February 20 at noon. Please stay in touch with me between now and then with your feedback, and don’t hesitate to contact me if I can ever be of assistance.