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Viewpoint: An inglorious end to session

Karla Bigham

The primary focus of the 2019 legislative session was to set a two-year budget for the state of Minnesota. Minnesota has a divided government, and the new state budget reflects that. After five months of hard work, compromise was reached, and a bipartisan budget deal was agreed to by leadership. Now after the special session, we can take stock of the results.

Despite the divided government, we accomplished a lot of work together. We passed bipartisan legislation to address the state's opioid crisis, passed new hands-free driving laws, created new protections and regulations for elder care to prevent elder abuse, and repealed archaic laws like the marital rape exception. The budget agreement also includes federal conformity on taxes and middle-class tax relief.

Provisions that I fought for from the beginning of session and into conference committees have now passed. Three provisions of mine addressing chronic waste disease were included in the environment budget bill. Industrial hemp language was included in the agriculture budget. Truth in labeling information for CBD, a product derived from industrial hemp, was included in the Health and Human Services budget as well. I'm also proud to see the agricultural preserve tax provision included in the tax budget.

The starting point for the overall budget agreement was hurt by the lack of good faith negotiations from the Senate. The Senate majority proposed drastic cuts across the entire state budget. In their budget bills they proposed only a 0.5% increase on the basic funding formula for our schools, no money for special education, repealing the 2% provider tax (and then raiding the health care access fund), and gutting departments and programs that protect and support Minnesota's environment and natural resources. They also did not include one dollar in local government aid or county program aid in their budgets.

Thanks to Gov. Tim Walz and Democrats, there will be a 2% increase on the basic funding formula for education, better than the 0.5% from the Senate majority, but not enough to prevent our school districts from making staff and program cuts. We will now have continued stability for health care funding because the provider tax will continue at a negotiated rate of 1.8%. This deal ensures stable funding for health care for thousands of Minnesotans. The budget also includes $52 million in aid to cities and counties through local government aid and county program aid, which will help stabilize property taxes.

There are still some major areas of concern with this compromise budget. The biggest issue is the decision to take money from the state's budget reserve, our "rainy-day" fund, to pay for ongoing needs. Senate Republicans were committed to not increasing any revenue, instead choosing to use funds put away for times of crisis and one-time money. This is budgeting on a credit card and is an irresponsible way to approach addressing our needs. This can threaten the fiscal stability and health of our state long-term. We should commit to using the budget reserve only when necessary. Now is not that time.

We are also continuing to fail to address the needs of our transportation network. Our funding for roads, bridges and growing transit demands are not keeping up with inflation or crumbling roads. While we were able to stop major cuts, we were unable to find a compromise that brought in new funding that would address this persistent need.

Democrats know the values of Minnesotans and want a budget that reflects those core beliefs. We want a budget that keeps us financially solvent, maintains the rainy-day fund for emergencies, and protect and support Minnesotans and their families. We will continue to stand firm and work across the aisle for our state.

Though the legislative session is now over, we will be busy between now and the 2020 legislative session. Don't hesitate to call my office at 651-297-8060 with any questions or concerns.