Happy holidays! Today and Monday, I’ll be sending a brief year-end report on my work as your representative – a look back on a difficult year in state government and a look ahead at opportunities to build a better Minnesota in 2018 and beyond. Here’s part 1; look for part 2 on December 18.
Seeking a Fiscally Responsible Budget
As in every odd-numbered year, the legislative session focused on setting a state budget for the next two years. While there were some highlights (see “Investing in the Future” below), this process overall reflected misplaced priorities and missed opportunities. Whether in terms of the environment and energy, jobs, transportation, health, or education – from the earliest years to post-secondary – the short term was prioritized over the long term.
This could be seen most clearly in the tax bill, which contained a series of large giveaways to special interests – including premium tobacco products and the wealthiest estates in the state – which is already leading us back to the days of large budget deficits. As passed by the Republican majorities in the House and Senate, the budget contained a “poison pill” for Governor Dayton – automatic defunding of the state Department of Revenue if he failed to sign off on these tax provisions. Backed into a corner, the Governor signed the bill. But concerned about its fairness and long-term fiscal impact, he vetoed funding for the Legislature to encourage the Republican majorities to renegotiate.
A court case ensued, and the state Supreme Court recently upheld the Governor’s veto. Nevertheless, the Governor has said that he is willing to compromise with Republican leaders. When the legislative session resumes on February 20, I hope that they are prepared to respond in kind.
Investing in the Future
One positive outcome of the 2017 legislative session was passage of the first bill in several years to make long-term investments in infrastructure throughout the state. In St. Paul, the “bonding bill” is funding needed repairs to the Science Museum, a new seal& sea lion exhibit at the Como Zoo, and the expansion of the Dorothy Day Center, which provides housing and social services to those experiencing homelessness.
Early childhood development and education is another long-term investment, and there is a steadily-growing consensus on its importance. Ensuring that every child has a great start in life continues to be my top priority. The disparities that our state sees in education, employment, health, and criminal justice – some of the worst in the nation – are paralleled by disparities that begin with prenatal care and continue from birth and beyond.
The consensus on this issue is beginning to be accompanied by policy change and funding, but there is so much more to do. For this reason, I founded the Prenatal to Three Policy Forums, a quarterly series held at the University of St. Thomas and cohosted by a Republican state senator. It brings together 200+ advocates, policymakers, and community members to learn and build a shared agenda in this critical area. Six sessions have been held already, with a seventh coming up on January 23. Given time, every other challenge that we face can be met if we get this one right.
Thanks for reading the first portion of my 2018 year-end report. More to come Monday…