A weekly message from your Senator

Dear Constituents and Friends,

With just three weeks left in the 2017 Session, Senate and House Republicans released budget numbers on April 28 that move more than $200 million further away from Governor Dayton’s budget. Instead of using the current budget forecast, they use budget numbers from last year and argue their numbers are budget increases. This type of accounting does not add up and is a step backwards in reaching an honest conclusion to the legislative session.

These budget targets and tax cut spending proposals are extremely disappointing. This budget takes us dangerously close to bringing the state back into decades of budget deficits. In light of the $1.6 billion surplus (less if you count inflation), the proposed cuts to many state budgets will affect the ability to care for vulnerable Minnesotans and supporting our schools.

The $300 million education bill proposal has already prompted some schools to begin laying off teachers. At a time when our state is experiencing economic prosperity – it is inexcusable to be making inadequate investments in our public schools. In addition, the budget defies Gov. Dayton’s top priority by not including any new funding for early education and continues on a path for private school vouchers, which I cannot support. The proposed funding levels for the education bill will force schools to make the unenviable decision: seek to increase local levies (which translates to higher property taxes) or cut programs.

By proposing $1.15 billion in tax spending for business property taxes (I support a more modest amount), without giving relief to middle income Minnesotans we are putting our state’s budget and future economic prosperity in jeopardy.

After giving insurance companies more than $900 million earlier this session with no strings attached, the budget targets advocate for more than $500 million in cuts to our state’s most vulnerable, once again masking the severity of this cut through dishonest math, shifts, and gimmicks in a time of surplus. By using one-time money for ongoing programs and shifting payments out into the future, these irresponsible budget decisions will make these cuts even more expensive in the future.

After being criticized by Minnesota’s Chief Justice, the judiciary budget is more of the same. Underfunding a branch of government during a time of state prosperity is unconscionable. The higher education budget moves further way from the Governor and short-changes students by not adequately funding core academic programs to maintain educational quality at campuses across the state. Under this budget students will be paying more for college and amass more debt that they cannot afford.

I am very disturbed with the unsustainable budget targets announced today and I will work with the Governor to make sure government will work for all Minnesotans. Please continue to share your thoughts and concerns with me as we get closer to wrapping up the 2017 legislative session.



Elections bill would suppress Minnesotans’ right to vote

A partisan Omnibus Elections Bill has passed a fifth committee and is on to the Senate Floor. The bill would impose provisional ballots in Minnesota for anyone with a challenged status at the polls. Sometimes a voter’s information can be incorrect at the polls or a voter can be mistaken for another person who is ineligible to vote. In these cases, a voter is allowed to testify under oath that they are eligible, and then cast their vote. The proposed bill would repeal this ability and require challenged voters to cast a provisional ballot. While most states have provisional ballots, Minnesota does not because same-day voter registration is available. In the 2012 Presidential Election, more than a quarter of the provisional votes cast nationwide were never counted. (S.F. 514)

Will the Real ID conference committee pass a clean bill?

It’s coming down to crunch time. Starting January 2018, Minnesotans will need Real ID licenses to get on an aircraft, otherwise they'll need to show a passport to board. Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses are already required to gain access to certain federal facilities, military bases, and nuclear power plants.

Both the House and the Senate have passed their versions of the Real ID bill and the joint conference committee is working on what path Minnesota will take to comply with the federal rules.

The Senate bill does not contain unnecessary and duplicative language regarding non-compliant licenses for undocumented immigrants. In contrast, the House bill requires applicants to demonstrate lawful status even to obtain a non-compliant license. This language is unnecessary to implement Real ID. Undocumented immigrants are already unable to receive driver’s licenses in Minnesota due to a 2003 administrative rule. The intent and the direction of the Senate is to send a neutral bill to the Governor and not mix immigration and the issuance of Real ID together. (SF 166HF 3)

Omnibus Legacy bill passes Senate, moves next to conference committee

The omnibus legacy bill was approved Monday by the full Senate on a vote of 52-12. The bill appropriates biennial funding of $529 million from the four legacy funds established by the “Legacy Amendment” that was approved by Minnesota’s voters in 2008.

The bill maintains the recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council for appropriations from the outdoor heritage fund, retains the current 40:40:20 distribution for parks and trails (40% to the DNR for state parks and trails, 40% to the Metropolitan Council for metro area parks and trails, and 20% to greater Minnesota parks and trails), and establishes an ongoing 5% fund balance in each of the four funds.

The bill faces strong opposition from a number of environmental groups and clean water advocates, who are concerned about the clean water fund portion of the bill that shifts $22 million in grants to the state’s 90 soil and water conservation districts to help with buffer compliance. In 2015, legislators funded this work with clean water fund money, but said future funding, beginning in 2017, would come from the state’s general fund. An amendment to reverse that position and instead fully fund the recommendations of the state’s Clean Water Council failed on a vote of 30-35, largely along partisan lines. 

The Senate bill continues to fund buffer compliance work from the clean water fund, which critics say violates the spirit of the Legacy Amendment and means deep cuts to several clean water programs that would otherwise be funded, including drinking water and groundwater protections. The bill moves next to a joint Senate and House conference committee to work out differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill. (H.F. 707

Chief Supreme Court Justice testifies against judiciary budget

In a rare appearance by a chief justice, Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea testified against the House and Senate judiciary budget bills in conference committee. She asked the members to reconsider their budget target to provide adequate funding for the state court system to provide Minnesotans with fair access to the state’s courts.

Gildea reminded committee members that the courts are a vital part of the government’s basic functions. She also testified that the judicial branch is not a mere state agency, but a vital branch of state government. She stressed that public safety is jeopardized when we do not have a fully-funded, functioning judiciary system.