Last week we spent many hours on the House floor, with a few nights past midnight, considering more "omnibus" bills - the large bills containing a variety of policy and provisions on a single topic. These omnibus bills now head to conference committees where differences with the Senate are negotiated. I hope that many of the most concerning features of these bills - discussed below and in past e-updates - may be addressed in the course of these negotiations.
We considered a number of these bills this past week; three of the biggest related to higher education, health & human services, and taxes. For my e-update on several other omnibus bills (transportation, jobs & energy, state government finance, the environment, and education), click here.
Higher Education Omnibus Bill
The Higher Education omnibus bill passed early last week on a nearly party-line vote, with my DFL colleagues and I voting against. In our view, the bill shortchanges higher education students and institutions. It provides for a short-term tuition freeze at MnSCU schools. But it pays for this by taking funds from the State Grant program for low-income students. And in contrast to MnSCU, the bill would increase tuition at the University of Minnesota while failing to invest in the University of Minnesota Medical School, a driver for our state's health and economy.
Health & Human Services Omnibus Bill
The Health & Human Services (HHS) omnibus bill passed last Tuesday, again on a party-line vote. This bill would cut $1 billion from state support for the most needy - particularly disturbing at a time of surplus. Among other things, it would eliminate MinnesotaCare, our state's health care program for working low-income families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford coverage on MNsure. In addition, the bill contains significant budget gimmicks, including nearly $300 million in purported savings that MPR fact-checkers have confirmed is nonexistent “funny money.”
Tax Omnibus Bill
As discussed in my most recent e-update, many of the structural problems in these omnibus finance bills come from the majority’s desire to prioritize billions in permanent tax cuts for businesses over the needs of Minnesota communities and families. Last Wednesday, the omnibus tax bill embodying this choice was passed, once again on a nearly party-line vote.
To confirm, the bill offers permanent tax relief for corporate real estate owners and individuals with multimillion dollar estates, while offering temporary and relatively small tax relief for other individuals. In addition, the bill slashes Local Government Aid - a program to ensure sufficient services throughout the state - to St. Paul and several other large cities. If this were to become law, it would cause our city to experience significant property tax increases, service cuts, or both. The Star Tribune had an excellent editorial on the broader implications of this issue which you can read here. I will continue to fight both these LGA cuts and the broader choices contained in the majority's tax bill.
Constituent Luncheon - and Poet Laureate Carol Connelly
Heartfelt thanks to the many constituents who attended last week's District 64 luncheon with Senator Cohen, Representative Murphy, and me. (And there were many - we overflowed the meeting room!) It was a boost to see all of you.
The luncheon started with a treat: the reading of a poem written for the day by St. Paul's poet laureate - and District 64B constituent - Carol Connelly, who had opened the House session that morning with a reading of the same poem. It was an honor to hear her both times. Below is a picture of the two of us just outside the House chamber.
Keep in Touch
The 2015 legislative session is constitutionally mandated to end on Monday, May 18. Things will be moving very quickly in these final days! I'll work to keep you updated, and feel free to let me know your thoughts along the way. Thank you for the honor of serving our community.
State Representative, District 64B
321 State Office Building