First off, here’s a shout-out to the River Lakes Stars girls hockey team, which will be making its FIRST state tournament appearance this weekend! The Stars play Gentry Academy 6 p.m. today (Friday) at the Xcel Energy Center. Good luck, girls!
As for news from the Capitol, here are this week’s jottings:
House majority’s budget
This week, the House majority unveiled the spending portion of its budget plan for the new two-year cycle. At $52.5 billion, it comes with a higher price tag than what either the governor or the Senate Republican majority propose.
The House majority has not made public the taxes side of its budget, indicating it will do so in early April. The House Speaker herself has gone on record as saying the state’s significantly improved bottom line will not change the fact the majority is seeking tax increases, so the only question is just how far they want to go.
In principle, I do not favor raising taxes on Minnesotans at a time the state has a $1.6 billion surplus, billions more in reserve and $8 billion more coming to the state from the federal government. Tax increases are unnecessary, and it is time to let people get to work on rebuilding their own finances after the setbacks incurred over the last year.
The House Tax Committee chair also confirmed the majority plans to only release one tax bill this session, which means important fixes for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and Unemployment Insurance (UI) relief will be tied up in end-of-session budget negotiations. That is a risky move to put provisions with such broad, bipartisan support on the back burner until the very end. Also, waiting almost another full two months in itself does a disservice to Minnesotans who are counting on tax relief.
Helping students catch up
It is clear we need to address the learning loss which occurred with distance models in place much of the last year. Legislation on this matter – using funds the federal government is issuing our state – came to the floor this week. There were significant differences between the House Democrat bill (which passed, mainly on party lines) and the plan House Republicans offered on the floor.
In the approved bill, only 27 percent of the funds goes toward summer programs for K-12 students to address learning loss, and only 36 percent goes directly to schools. Overall, this plan gives $1 million to the Department of Education, and millions more to grants to be distributed by MDE. Significant portions of the funding in this bill have no in-person requirement, which contradicts the main point of funding summer school programming to help our students catch up after a year of distance learning.
Meanwhile, the alternative put forward by the House minority puts the dollars directly in the classroom, and directly to in-person learning to help students catch up. That version also gives more money per-pupil throughout the state and allows more local control with these dollars so our districts can use them in a way we know will best serve our students and communities.
Watch for more news on these and other issues. There is a lot of work to do in setting a new state budget and less than two months to go before the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn May 17. As always, your input is welcome.