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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Cheryl Youakim (DFL)

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Legislative Weekly Recap - April 20-26, 2015

Monday, April 27, 2015

Dear Neighbor,

We’ve reached the point in the legislative session where committee work has wrapped up and the majority of our time is being spent on the House Floor debating legislation. Over the past week on the floor we have heard major finance bills regarding transportation, jobs and energy, environment, state government, and E-12 education.

As with the education bill we debated on Saturday, there’s a common theme with all of these bills: a lack of significant investments accompanied by major cuts and budget gimmicks.

With a $2 billion surplus, these misplaced priorities, cuts and budget tricks all have their roots in the tax bill that Republican leadership in the House has proposed. We will be hearing the Omnibus Tax bill on the House floor on Wednesday, April 29.

Tax Bill (HF 848)

The tax bill that we will hear on the House floor this Wednesday contains $2 billion in tax cuts targeted at the wealthy, instead of benefiting average Minnesotans. There has been loud talk about the “middle-class tax cuts” found in the bill, but those cuts only total about $70 a year for a single filer making $70,000. It’s a tax cut that lacks any significant impact, and even worse, it’s only a temporary cut that disappears in two years.

The centerpiece of the new majority’s tax cut package is a gift to big businesses. Their tax bill permanently eliminates the business property tax, which gives corporations and businesses a $5 billion tax cut over the next eight years. Owners of skyscrapers in Minneapolis and businesses like Walmart and Home Depot are the biggest benefactors from this tax bill. If this plan goes into effect, it will cost our state now and far into the future.

E-12 Education Finance (HF 844)

I was disappointed that the majority picked last Saturday to debate their education finance bill which increases school funding by only .6% and doesn’t keep pace with the rate of inflation. I don’t think it got the attention it should have. Not only does this proposal waste a golden opportunity to support Minnesota’s children, it actually moves us backward by forcing local school districts to make significant cuts to teacher and staff budgets. It will increase class sizes and does not do enough to increase access to early childhood education. It is embarrassing that at a time when we have such a large surplus we cannot afford to invest in our future. I attended a rally on Saturday morning with parents, superintendents and teachers who oppose the bill. I opposed the bill because it does not give either of our local school districts what they need to serve all of our students.

Transportation (HF 4)

Last Tuesday the House transportation plan was passed. The plan doesn’t include the dedicated funding increase requested by the Governor. Instead Republicans in the House took $3 billion from the state general fund, which we use to pay for education, health care, and other state needs. Nearly three quarters of the general fund in a normal budget is used for educating our kids and making sure people have health care. This transportation bill also adds billions in debt to the state’s credit card. We’ve never borrowed as much money as they’re proposing to for roads and bridges. The bill also guts the transportation system in the metro area to the tune of a 27% cut.

In the Minnesota Constitution, there are two areas that the State is required to fund and those are the transportation system and an equitable education system. By using general fund money, the Republican plan pits those two areas against each other for funding to the disadvantage of both. The lack of stable funding for our transportation and transit system in the bill is why I voted against it.

Jobs and Energy (HF 843)

Last Thursday, the House passed the omnibus jobs and energy bill. The bill reverses course on decades of progress on job creation, economic development, workforce housing, and clean and renewable energy.

Provisions within the bill curtail the development of broadband in Minnesota, slash job creation programs, shutter offices used to increase Minnesota’s foreign trade, reduce job retraining funds, cut programs that help reduce homelessness, eliminate funding to protect seniors from scams, cut the wages of tipped employees, raid the unemployment insurance fund and stop repayment of loans we were forced to take out under Governor Pawlenty.

In addition, the jobs and energy bill guts clean and renewable energy standards. It paves the way for more coal fired power plants in Minnesota, and removes net metering rules which encourage homeowners and farmers to invest in clean energy. The bill doesn’t just double down on dirty energy, but jeopardizes thousands of good paying jobs in manufacturing and installation of wind and solar across Minnesota. I opposed this bill as well.

Environment and State Government (HF 846& HF 495)

Last Friday we heard two omnibus bills on the House floor. The environment and state government bills, were both passed by the House. Both continue drastic cuts to vital areas of state government. The environment bill shifts nearly $60 million out of the fund we use to clean up closed landfills, takes money from the school lands trust, and gives up on fighting Aquatic Invasive Species by cutting millions from prevention efforts. The bill also significantly overhauls the Pollution Control Agency’s Citizen Board, essentially halting the public’s ability to have a say in the state’s permitting process and allowing corporate special interests to have more say. The DFL offered several amendments to strip out provisions that benefit special interests—all of those amendments failed.

The state government bill shifts millions out of state pension funds and creates unfunded burdens on the state agencies. Hidden in the bill was a provision that eliminates spending limits on campaign spending and contributions from PACs and lobbyists. It literally says that both candidates can spend as much as they want on their campaigns with no spending restraints. I was also very disappointed that it included a 5% cut to all non-partisan and partisan House employees. The reason given by the author was that employee cuts are paying for the Senate Office Building. I did vote for an amendment that Rep. Ryan Winkler proposed to require any of the cuts to be shared equally by the legislators, which failed. All of the staff at the House, Republican and Democrat, work hard and put in long hours. During a surplus, we shouldn’t cut salaries for hardworking employees who improve our work as legislators.

Both of these bills pave the way for government by and for the highest bidder and they ignore the good that government does for all of us. I opposed both of them.

The Week Ahead

This week, we will continue to debate several important bills. DFLer’s will continue to propose amendments to improve these bills, but the majority continues to reject our good amendments. Today we debated the Higher Education Omnibus bill that will raise tuition and lead to more student debt. I will give you more details in next week’s update. On Tuesday, the omnibus health and human services bill, which eliminates MinnesotaCare, is scheduled to be heard. It would eliminate health insurance for thousands of hardworking Minnesotans, when our state has a $2 billion surplus. We will also be hearing the Public Safety Omnibus bill and the Liquor Omnibus bill. Later in the week we will be tackling the Agriculture Omnibus bill and funding for the Lessard-Sams and Legacy bills.

If you would like to see details of any of the bills mentioned above, please visit the House Session Daily website and consider signing up for their e-mails. I’ll continue to update you as we debate and vote on these bills and I would love to hear what your thoughts are on them.

Community Events

I regret having to cancel my Coffee& Conversation that was slated for April 25th, especially since the Sun Sailor mentioned it in an article they had printed about my work at the Capitol. I will be rescheduling it at a later date. I would like to wait until conference committees are done with their work so that I have more accurate information to give to you on the final budget bills.

I was also disappointed that I was unable to attend the St. Louis Park Empty Bowls event on April 23 because of a family commitment. If there are other community events you would like to draw my attention to, please let me know. I greatly appreciate it!


Have a great week!

Cheryl Youakim

State Representative (46B)