Over the last couple of weeks on the House Floor we have had lengthy sessions discussing legislation to craft a new state budget. We’re working to help ensure Minnesotans can not only recover from the pandemic, but succeed and thrive once we’ve put COVID-19 behind us. Passing a budget bill off the House floor isn’t the last step of the process though. For each budget bill, the next step is a joint House/Senate conference committee to discuss the differences between each chamber’s version and to reach a compromise before they are sent to the governor for his signature.
Last week, the House approved our E-12 Education and Higher Education budget. The E-12 bill makes the necessary investments to help students not only rebound from the past year, but sets the stage for ongoing, sustainable funding schools have been desperately counting on for long range planning and predictability. It stabilizes school investments with a 2 percent per pupil increase each of the next two years, with additional increases the following two years. Starting in fiscal year 2026, increases would be linked to inflation so schools can do long-term strategic planning and be confident that they will have the resources they need. Under the proposal, voluntary Pre-Kindergarten programming is protected for 4,000 of Minnesota’s youngest learners. House DFLers are also prioritizing the needs of students with funding for full-service community schools, and targeted aid for more rigorous coursework, individualized tutoring, mental health support and social and emotional learning. The bill also provides strong pathways to postsecondary opportunities.
Our Higher Education budget bill continues the House DFL’s commitment to students by proposing strong ongoing investments to Minnesota’s public colleges and universities. It holds tuition flat at Minnesota State campuses and increases funding to the State Grant Program, benefitting over 75,000 students and expanding access to over 3,000 grant applicants. It includes ongoing investments in the Z-Degree program to help reduce the cost of textbooks and course materials for students. The bill also creates a pilot project to develop more career and technical teachers to help high schools explore the skilled trades.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been incredibly difficult on all of us, but it hasn’t affected everyone equally. Over the past year, small businesses and working families have been struggling, while many of the wealthiest among us and large corporations are doing better than ever.
On Thursday, the House approved our 2021 Taxes Bill. The proposal expands the Working Family Tax Credit, establishes conformity on unemployment insurance and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans (exempting up to $350,000 per loan from state taxes), and provides aid for small businesses that did not receive a PPP loan or did not make a profit in 2020. To fund important investments in students, families, and small businesses, the bill creates a new 5th Tier income tax rate of on income above $1 million per year. To put this in even more focused perspective: those who make over $20,000 per week. It also prevents multinational corporations from sheltering profits in offshore tax havens like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. In turn, the bill provides direct property tax assistance to more than one million homeowners and renters, so qualified homeowners would receive bigger Homestead Credit refunds and qualified renters would receive bigger Renters Property Tax Refunds.
This is an excellent bill for main street businesses, workers, and families that will provide economic security, fairness in the tax code, and resources for ongoing investments in education, economic recovery, housing, and healthcare to build a stronger Minnesota.
Also Thursday on the House Floor, we passed our Agriculture and Rural Investment Budget. The last several years have been tumultuous for farmers – even before the pandemic – and this legislation includes important funding to support agriculture and food production. It also includes a significant investment of $30 million toward expanding high-speed broadband to help ensure everyone in rural communities can have the reliable internet access they deserve.
State officials are still working through the details, but there are significant resources potentially available from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan to help meet connectivity goals. COVID-19 has highlighted how much students, businesses, those seeking medical care, and everyone else in Minnesota depends on the ability to get online. I’m hopeful these important investments will move us toward our state’s connectivity and speed goals.
Following an incredibly difficult year for Minnesotans, there are reasons to be optimistic that our economy is turning the corner. Another budget bill I was excited to support was the House DFL Labor, Workforce, and Business Development Bill. The legislation will help workers have economic security, strengthen health and safety in the workplace, and help businesses recover from the adversity of the past year.
The bill includes Paid Family & Medical Leave and Earned Sick & Safe Time so all Minnesotans can care for themselves, their loved ones, or a new baby without forgoing a paycheck. It helps laid-off hospitality workers get back to work, protects meatpacking workers, updates our unemployment insurance system, and provides assistance to those small businesses most impacted by the pandemic. The bill delivers over $75 million in new investments to help struggling small businesses, including $50 million in emergency grants.
The economic difficulties of the last year have presented significant challenges regarding housing. While Minnesotans were displaced from their jobs, the eviction moratorium was an important step to ensure housing security and prevent homelessness. Now, it’s important to help low- and moderate-income renters catch up and keep landlords whole.
The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency has launched RentHelpMN. Download the Renter checklist to see if you’re eligible and find out what documents you’ll need in order to be ready to apply. Renters can apply directly or learn more about the application process by visiting renthelpmn.org. There are also resources available for landlords. Minnesota has received about $375 million for emergency rental assistance. I hope Minnesota renters struggling with their payments will take advantage of this critical resource.
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) has also announced the Small Cities Coronavirus Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act is now available. The program has $37.6 million available to address community needs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Funding is available for a variety of uses, and cities and counties are encouraged to apply. More information is available here from DEED.
Please continue to contact me with your input, ideas, or if I can ever be of assistance. It’s an honor to represent you.