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

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Legislative Weekly Recap- March 28-April 3, 2017

Monday, April 3, 2017

Dear Neighbors,

The plan for this week is to take up the remaining omnibus bills before the legislative recess on April 8th through 18th. Once we get back from break, conference committees will be meeting to match up the House and Senate language in the Omnibus bills and set joint spending targets for these bills. Then, the bills will move back to both floors as conference committee reports are accepted or rejected for final passage. It could be possible to find middle ground for some bills, but for many, much more work will need to be done. After break, we will also be taking up individual bills that have made their way through the committee process and on to the House General Register. There are just over 130 bills waiting to be calendared for a House floor vote. Some of them may already be tucked into omnibus bills while others will await a vote.

House Tax Omnibus Bill

Last Thursday, we took up the House Omnibus Tax bill on the floor. Many provisions are leftovers from the 2016 Tax bill that was vetoed by the Governor. I voted yes on the 2016 Tax bill because it was less than half the size of the current proposal and benefited many more groups of folks. The majority of the House’s bill this year is being spent on property tax breaks for corporations and tax breaks for millionaires. One of those provisions raises the current tax exemption on estates to $5.49 million dollars.  Also troubling, this bill gives tax credits to individuals and corporations for donations to foundations that provide private school scholarships and expands tax credits for private school tuition –benefiting the wealthy and incentivizing shifting resources from our public schools.

The bill does include a small tax break on agricultural property, minor tax relief for small businesses, a slight increase in the market homestead credit and some local options sales tax as well as tax increment finance (TIF) provisions for individual cities. I have a provision in the bill regarding a TIF district that will benefit St. Louis Park.

What is even more concerning is what was not included in the tax bill. It does not include any increase for local government aid or county improvement aid. This is the aid given to the cities to help them provide core services like police, fire, sewer, water, etc. It is distributed through a formula to cities based on need versus their city’s taxable value as well as other indicators. County aid has a similar formula. But counties can have many more unfunded mandates placed onto them from the state. Counties are required to implement many of the safety net and health and human service programs, for example child protection, county hospitals as well as other service programs. No increase is included in the final Tax Omnibus bill for either of these programs.  Additionally, the bill includes no new money to expand the Working Family Tax Credit – used by over 370,000 Minnesotans with over half in rural Minnesota. It is important to remember that that you have to be working to claim this tax credit.

There are also bad policy provisions included in the bill that take local government and school board authority away. These provisions range from removing the ability for a city to put a fee or tax on plastic or paper bags, to provisions removing local government aid if money is donated to Minnesota’s World’s Fair bid. There is also a provision that allows 10% of those voting in a city’s last election to halt the city from budgeting for their general operating level if they raise it one penny more than the previous year. This operating levy is what cities use to plow streets, provide police and fire protection maintain sewer and water service as well as their parks.

Overall, I do not think the House Tax Omnibus bill was balanced well enough so I voted against it. It is my hope that it will come back from conference committee in much better shape. If the progress made last year is any indication, there could be hope.

House Environment Omnibus Bill

Last Thursday we also heard the House Environment Omnibus Bill on the floor. It is a $94 million dollar cut to the current base budget. It eliminates $22 million of grants to soil and water conservation district and shifts millions of dollars from the Environmental Fund, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Forest Management Investment Account to the general fund. The only financial request from the Governor that was included is the slight increase in the State Park fees by $2 a day and by $10 annually. My family and I visit our beautiful State Parks often and still think that the fees are a bargain for what they provide.

The bill also included numerous controversial policy items such as the Chamber of Commerce’s permitting changes, changes to the buffer law and requiring a judicial review of MPCA decisions. In all, there were 22 policy provisions included in the bill that did not receive a committee hearing in the House this session. Needless to say, the Governor and the environmental groups are very concerned about the contents of the bill. I voted no and hope that the conference committee compromise will be an improvement.

House Transportation Omnibus Bill

Last Friday, we heard the House Transportation Omnibus bill that shifts $450 million dollars annually from the general fund and borrows over one billion dollars through both trunk highway and general obligation bonds. I am very concerned about the hole left in the general fund as that leaves a gap in funding for schools, nursing homes, health and human services and the general running of our state. I am also very concerned about the increase to our debt service. Numbers show that even if there was a modest gas tax increase of a dime, it still wouldn’t cover payment on the debt that this bill proposes.

The biggest concern of this bill is that it dramatically cuts the Metropolitan Council. The Met Council is charged with funding and running metro buses and the light rail system. With the current proposal, Met Council will have to cut their budget by 40%. That could lead to four out of ten buses being taken off the road. In the metro area 80% of people who ride transit are going to work or school and 40% of people traveling to downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul for work ride transit. These cuts will also harm folks who are transit dependent to get to their jobs, school and doctor’s appointments. I spoke on the House floor against the cuts that 83 metro cities will see to their bus services and compared that to the increase in bus service only 12 cities, who provide express suburban bus service, will see. Met Council provides 66% of the transit rides in the metro area while the suburban providers only provide 5.5% of the rides.

The Republicans’ proposed bill also removes all authority for cities, counties or Met Council from studying, planning or building any future light rail lines including the SWLRT and the Bottineau lines. In additions, it requires the Counties Transit Investment Board to cover 100% of the operating cost of all light rail and bus rapid transit lines, removing the 50% state share. Needless to say, I voted against the House Transportation Omnibus bill and I do not have a lot of hope that it will come back from conference committee in any better shape.

House Education Omnibus Bill

Last Friday we closed out the week by debating the House Education Omnibus bill. The bill proposes a $259 million increase of the base funding while the Governor’s recommendation was $709 million over the base. The Republican budget target is frustrating in light of the budget surplus we have to work with. It only increases the general education formula 1.25% each year for two years which is under inflation.  Minnesota school districts are requesting a 2.5% increase to the formula. It is important to note that House Republicans have proposed over five times the amount in tax cuts/spending as they have for education investments. Between tax cuts and the giveaways to the insurance companies, the Republicans have already spent the surplus two times over.

While the Education omnibus bill does slightly increase funding for early childhood education, it removes Early Childhood and Family Education (ECFE) from the general education formula. By doing this, their funding will remain flat and will not increase without a vote from the Legislature. I spoke out against this provision on the House floor. Studies have shown that children who have parents engaged in their education do much better. For many, ECFE is the first time parents make that connection and once they do, they are hooked. The bill also removes the funding for early childhood Pathway Two dollars. These dollars are given directly to a school district to fund programming for our most at-risk children from birth to five. Quality early childhood programming in our districts is critical to getting students ready for kindergarten.

The Compensatory Revenue program is also an area that has significant changes. Compensatory aid is given to schools that have a high population of students who receive free or reduced-price lunches. Instead of these funds given out through a formula, it gives a set amount to all schools that then decreases based on the percentage of their students who opt-out of taking the MCA tests. This aid has never before been linked to taking the MCAs.

The bill also has some policy provisions that are controversial. It requires the State Legislature to approve any plans prior to implementing the Federal Every Student Succeeds Act, removes the default process for teacher layoffs and gets rid of the requirement for high schools to administer the ACT or SAT on-site during the school day as well as how schools are reimbursed for it. 

Needless to say I believe that the bill falls very short of what our students and schools need. My hope is that when the joint targets between the House and Senate are set, there is less money spent on tax cuts and more money spent on investing in the students who are our future workforce.

Budget Survey

As the committees move the budget omnibus bills into conference committees, new joint House/Senate spending targets will be set.  I would love to hear about your priorities for the state budget and will be leaving open my survey for two more weeks. Please take a moment to fill it out by ranking the items listed. There is also an open comment box for you to add additional thoughts.

Constituent and Organization Visits

Visits with organizations and constituents have begun to slow down. I met with constituents that were at the Capitol with the American Cancer Society, AIDS day, AFSCME, Pro-Choice Lobby Day, the Leading Age Advocacy Group, the Naturopathic Doctors and had a chance to meet one of the owners of the newly opened Copperwing Distillery in St. Louis Park.  I had a very nice informational interview with an intern from Secretary of State Steve Simon’s Office. I was also interviewed by the House Information Service regarding my bill to grant high school and college students more journalistic freedom.

As always, please feel free to contact me with questions and issues. E-mail at is the best way to get in touch. If it is urgent, or you would like to schedule a meeting, please contact my office by phone at 651-296-9889.

Have a great week!