It’s hard to believe that little over a week remains until our constitutionally required session adjournment date of May 21. We started session with two clear priorities: addressing tax conformity and vetting various bonding projects to address critical infrastructure needs. When we convened in February, we were met with additional, more urgent challenges. The state’s vehicle licensing system, MNLARS, was still not working; state oversight of assisted living centers was failing to protect our loved ones; preventing school violence was on everyone’s mind; we needed to rectify a pending 7 percent wage cut for those who work with the disabled; and the mental health and opioid crisis continued to escalate. As session’s finish line nears, important work has been done in these areas. I want to report to you on the significant provisions in the omnibus bills the House has passed with bipartisan support.
The tax bill. The tax bill addresses federal tax conformity by aligning Minnesota’s tax code with the new federal code, so the majority of Minnesotans can benefit from the federal tax reforms. Our bill provides middle-class tax relief, allowing Minnesotans to keep more of their hard-earned money and marks our state’s first income tax rate cut in nearly two decades! It is imperative that the governor signs this legislation because, without these reforms, nearly 1 million tax filers will find themselves paying more in taxes. If passed, 2.1 million Minnesotans will get a tax cut.
The education omnibus bill. The education bill focuses primarily on ensuring school and student safety. Our school safety package is a multifaceted approach that gives school districts the resources and local flexibility to best protect our students. The bill expands the use of long-term facilities maintenance revenue for facility security upgrades, addresses student mental health, supports suicide prevention training for teachers, and increases and equalizes funding for Safe Schools Revenue. I was proud to chief author this provision that gives a base level of funding for rural school districts like ours so that they can hire School Resource Officers or other student support personnel.
The health and humans services bill. This package focuses on reducing health care costs by cutting the MNsure tax on health plans, saving Minnesotans $20 million, and by implementing policies to prevent fraud and abuse of public programs. Additionally, the legislation tackles those pressing problems that we were met with back in February. We provide monies for new mental health facilities and combat the growing opioid crisis by limiting prescription lengths, creating pilot projects, and requiring physicians to undergo training on opioid prescribing best practices. We also prevent the 7 percent wage cut for those caring for our disabled community. Lastly, we endorse a comprehensive reform package to better protect vulnerable adults.
Transportation, Jobs & Energy, and Agriculture. Concerning transportation, our plan uses surplus funds leveraged with trunk highway bonds to invest $385 million in our state’s transportation needs. This legislation is again heavily focused on rural communities and roads and bridges. Included is $25 million for county roads, $6.6 million for city roads, $2 million for township roads, and $7 million for cities under 5,000.
In regards to job growth and energy affordability, our legislation includes a nation-leading proposal supporting the Prairie Island Indian Community’s efforts to become a net-zero energy community. The plan also includes $15 million for rural broadband development; initiatives to lower energy costs for ratepayers; job training grants; and other programs to encourage innovation and small-business startups.
Finally, this omnibus bill addresses farmers’ needs. The legislation provides $35 million for farmer loans through the Rural Finance Authority, and requires legislative approval of nitrogen fertilizer rules proposed by the Department of Agriculture. Additionally, the tax bill supports farmers by reinvesting extra revenue from corporate tax changes into Section 179 conformity and overall rate reductions. This changes permits farmers to depreciate qualified equipment purchases in their year of purchase.
Now we begin our conference committee work. This is the process of legislators from the House and the Senate working together to reconcile differences between bill versions that have been passed in their respective bodies.
Following conference committee and passage of the final product, the bills will head to the governor’s desk to ultimately be signed into law. I look forward to working with the Senate and Governor Dayton to find compromise on these issues, and in doing so will continue working to protect taxpayers and focus on the issues that matter most to Minnesotans.