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Minnesota political news from an insider’s perspective.
The Minnesota Legislature is on “Spring Break” this week, taking some time off from all the hard work they’ve done passing bills and coming up with a plan to return the $9.3 billion surplus to taxpayers. Actually, only a handful of bills have made it to the governor’s desk for signature, and the House and Senate can’t even agree on the easy stuff like replenishing the Unemployment Insurance fund.
Spring break at the legislature is a relatively new tradition, starting around 2007. Before that, the legislature simply wrapped up official business on the Thursday of Holy Week, to allow members and staff the opportunity to observe Easter and Passover. Committee work always started again on Monday afternoon with session on Tuesday. These days they plan a whole week off every session, requiring a resolution in each body to suspend the constitutional requirement that “neither house during a session of the legislature shall adjourn for more than three days.”
Needless to say, a lot of work remains for the legislature when they return from their mid-session vacation. Here’s a rundown of where we stand on the top issues.
The Senate passed a bill to fully replenish the state’s unemployment insurance fund using federal COVID money. The fund was depleted when Gov. Walz ordered the state to shut down and thousands of Minnesotans began collecting unemployment. The House has not passed a bill yet, missing a March 15th deadline for the state to begin taxing businesses to replenish the fund. Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman is connecting the UI issue to the Hero Pay issue, using one as leverage to achieve the other.
In the 2021 session, the House and Senate agreed to create a $250 million hero pay fund to send checks to Minnesotans on the “front line” of the COVID struggle. The legislation set up a committee to decide who would receive checks and how big the checks would be. Unfortunately, the committee failed to agree and missed their Fall 2021 deadline.
When the budget surplus grew to $9.3 billion, the House proposed increasing the Hero Pay appropriation to $1 billion. The Senate is sticking at the previously agreed to amount of $250 million.
The Senate passed a tax bill this week that lowers the bottom tier income tax rate from 5.35% to 2.8% and eliminated taxation of Social Security income in Minnesota. The plan accounts for a big portion of the ongoing budget surplus with senators saying it will cut taxes by $8.4 billion over the next three years.
The House tax plan is a lot smaller and targeted to different types of taxpayers. There is a $325 one-time rebate for each child under 17 years old, but only if you make less than $70,000. They also propose to raise the dependent care tax credit to $3,000 a year, but only if you make less than $125,000. The House plan also increases the tax credit for student loans and makes the renter’s credit refundable, meaning people will get money back even if they don’t have a state tax liability.
House leaders marketed the plan by claiming some families could receive up to $8,000 per year in tax breaks. In reality, very few would be able to take advantage of their targeted tax cuts and most Minnesota families would see no tax relief at all.
There are great differences between the House and Senate when it comes to spending. The Senate is treating 2022 like a non-budget year while the House and Gov. Tim Walz are proposing additions to the entire state budget. Remember, the legislature passed a $51 billion two-year budget last May.
The House spending includes over $1 billion a year for K-12 schools, responding to the demands of the Minneapolis teacher’s union during their recent strike. They spend money on mental health services, special education, and English language learners. The House also spends hundreds of millions of dollars for human services, childcare subsidies and housing.
Page Amendment dead for the session
The Page Amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment that would guarantee every student the right to a “quality” education, has been declared dead for the 2022 session. A reporter asked the Chair of the House Education Committee if she planned to give the bill a hearing and she replied “no.”
The vague language creating this new “right” will result in lawyers and judges deciding education policy instead of legislators and school boards. Passage of the amendment will take away the voice of parents in their children’s education and take away the voice of the legislature in deciding school policy and budgets.
Good Bill: Senate tries to fix mistake of funding the I-94 land bridge
Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson) inserted language into the Transportation Bill that would nullify a deal made last session to study the construction of a land bridge over Highway 94 in St. Paul. As Chair of the Transportation Committee, Newman was rightfully upset about not being part of this end-of-session deal in 2021. His language to remove the study survived a committee vote this week. Readers may remember this project was nominated for a Golden Turkey Award last November.
Bad Bill: House trying to make it really easy to change the sex on a birth certificate
In an effort to keep up with leftists around the country, House Democrats on the Health and Human Services Committee are dropping the requirement that a physician sign off on changing the sex on birth certificates. Most states (including Minnesota) require a letter from a licensed physician in order to change the sex on a birth certificate. Many states also require proof of a surgical procedure. If DFL lawmakers have their way, the sex on birth certificates can be changed with:
…a sworn statement provided by the person who is the subject of the birth certificate, or by the parent or guardian of the minor who is the subject of the birth certificate, that the request is not based upon an intent to defraud or mislead and is made in good faith and, if the subject is a minor, that the change is in the minor’s best interest.
Republicans on the committee who tried to remove the language were of course chastised for lacking empathy.
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Minnesota political news from an insider’s perspective.
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The legislature appropriates more money, the unions grab it for salaries, the school board cuts middle school band, and everyone blames the legislature for underfunding. Rinse and repeat.