Greetings as we wind down another week of the 2021 session before the Legislature takes a brief break to observe the Easter/Passover holiday. When we return to the Capitol, six full weeks and a whole lot of work will remain before the House is set to adjourn May 17.
The main focus during the final stretch will be to find agreement on a new state budget. The governor and the majorities in the House and Senate each have put forth proposals, with House Democrats unveiling at least part of theirs this week with a $52.5 billion spending plan. Details on their tax plan are expected early next month.
It remains a point of contention that two important issues related to taxes have not yet been addressed by the House. The inactivity means Minnesota remains the only state in the upper Midwest that has yet to exempt forgiven PPP loan payments. The Senate already passed a PPP tax relief bill with a veto-proof majority on a 55-12 vote but things remain at a standstill in the House and the majority has blocked minority efforts to bring this up for a vote on the floor.
Meanwhile, a bill exempting $10,200 in Unemployment Insurance income, the same exempted by the federal government, is needed to eliminate an unexpected tax bill for people who have been out of work.
Both of those issues have been put on the back burner and it appears they are destined to be part of an omnibus tax package at the end of the session. I would prefer these issues be taken care of sooner to spare unemployed workers and suffering business owners unnecessary headaches and added expenses.
In other news, legislation to help our students catch up after a year of distance learning did pass the House this week. The bill appropriates $104.5 million to provide additional summer programming to help students make up for learning loss during the coronavirus pandemic.
While this bill addresses an important subject, we could have done a better job of ensuring the dollars reach the classroom to help our kids. Only 27 percent of this bill’s funding goes toward summer programs for K-12 students to address learning loss, and only 36 percent goes directly to schools. It instead gives $1 million to the Department of Education, and millions more to grants to be distributed by MDE.
Again, those dollars should be going directly to the classroom to improve student learning. An amendment offered by House Republicans (and blocked by the majority) would have distributed funding on a per-pupil aid based on enrollment, rather than through grants to districts and charters distributed by the Department of Education, as is prescribed in the bill. This approach would have put more money in the hands of local districts so they could maximize the benefits in helping our children.
Also, if we are trying to help students get caught up after a year of distance learning, then it stands to reason kids need to be in the classroom. That is why the House Republican amendment put the dollars directly in the classroom, and directly toward in-person learning so students can make up lost ground. Instead, significant portions of the funding in the bill which passed have no in-person requirement.
Look for more news from the House soon and, as always, stay in touch.