The Senate inched closer to finalization of portions of the state’s next two-year budget by debating the merits of four of the agreed-upon finance and policy bills during the Thursday, June 17, floor session. All four bills were laid on the table, awaiting passage by the House of Representatives.
S.F. 21 allocates funding via the 2008 Legacy Amendment in support of Minnesota’s outdoor heritage, clean water, parks and trails, and arts and culture heritage. Senator Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, chair of the Senate Legacy Committee, said she was especially proud of the work to ensure inclusiveness for cultural heritage grants. “The Legacy is for all Minnesotans,” she said.
Senator David Tomassoni, I-Chisolm, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said that S.F. 18 provides a $3.5 billion investment in the state’s higher education system that will increase college affordability by providing stability and funding operations. In addition, more grant funding will be available for low and middle income families and the zero-textbook cost degrees (Z-degrees) will be expanded. The bill further provides support for hunger-free campuses and mental health services for students.
The funding package for agriculture, S.F. 25, sponsored by Senator Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, supports the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, which supervises animal health and ensures a safe and reliable food supply. The bill invests in home-grown fuels by expanding E-15 infrastructure for smaller fueling stations and encourages continued development of agriculture and renewable energy industries.
The omnibus commerce and energy policy and finance bill, S.F. 19, led by Senator Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, and Senator David Senjem, R-Rochester, provides funding for the Commerce Department and the Public Utilities Commission. Among the provisions, the bill creates an income tax subtraction for volunteer drivers and creates a toxic toy enforcement program. According to Senjem, the energy portion continues to make progress towards a clean energy future.
The Capital Investment Committee approved a bill Thursday, June 17, that would reignite several previously-approved capital projects that have been stalled due to technical authorization problems identified by Minnesota Management and Budget.
"The bonds won't be sold unless we make some corrections to the language," said bill sponsor Tom Bakk, I-Cook. "There is no new money in the bill we are about to consider." Projects impacted include several pubic infrastructure changes, road improvements; correctional facility system enhancements; floor hazard mitigation efforts and recreational accommodations.
The bill was sent to the Senate floor; however, the House of Representatives must first pass a bonding bill in order for the Senate to act on the measure. Senator Bakk explained that due to the approaching budget deadline, it would be prudent for the Senate to have a bill ready for floor action.
The Senate convened the first special session of 2021 by holding a brief floor session Monday, June 14. Governor Tim Walz extended his peacetime emergency powers, generating the requirement for the legislature to meet. Lawmakers face a much bigger task; however, and need to pass as many as 14 major funding bills by July 1 in order to keep state operations functioning and avoid a government shutdown.
"Not every single budget is completely agreed to, but most of them are, and all of them will be, and it is our intention, in both the Senate and the House, to get done in a timely fashion...we will not go to July 1," said Majority Leader Paul Gazelka as the Senate was concluding its floor session. In reference to a recent court ruling regarding state service shutdowns, Gazelka warned about the ramifications of failing to pass a budget. "The consequences are too great for Minnesota...whether it's corrections or nursing homes or highway patrol or things that need permits...think about all the things that the courts once figured out to pay that would not be paid this time around."
"Even if we get done by June 30th, the ramifications of ramping up to a shutdown are significant on people's lives who are affected by that, whether they work for the State of Minnesota...or whether they are people who are served by the work we do here in the State of Minnesota," said Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent. Kent said the work underway in agencies in preparation for a potential shutdown is "a waste of taxpayers dollars. That should inspire every single one of us to work thoughtfully and efficiently to get our budget done as quickly as possible so we don't waste money and resources..."
Following the floor session, the Senate leaders met with the media to provide an update on the budget discussions underway."
Several new agriculture policies were recently signed into law by Governor Walz. Senator Torrey Westrom, chair of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Finance and Policy Committee, talks with Capitol Report Moderator Shannon Loehrke about changes impacting the cottage food industry, "garage guys" and paramedics that treat injured K9 police dogs.
Paul Mandell has spent half of his life working for the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board and will be retiring from his role as Executive Secretary at the end of June. He joins Capitol Report Moderator Shannon Loehrke to reflect on his years of public service.
Also on program, the DFL pushes for an orderly end to the eviction moratorium and a look back at the 2021 session.
Governor Tim Walz held a brief media availability Thursday, June 10, to call attention to the higher-than-expected receipts in state revenue collections and to provide an update on the status of budget negotiations. According to a release from Minnesota Management and Budget, receipts from individual income, sales and corporate taxes for the month of May were $3.3 billion, nearly $1.8 billion more than had been anticipated.
“The economy’s fundamentals are strong and continuing to be that way,” said Walz. “It gives us the opportunity, looking to the future, to make those investments that make a difference in Minnesota.”
Governor Walz also said that he plans to extend the peacetime emergency for an additional thirty days in order to continue managing various aspects of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This action will prompt a special session next week in which lawmakers must also work to finish the state budget. According to Walz, meetings with legislative leaders and working group leads will begin Thursday afternoon to work through differences in the various budget areas.