Tricounty News

Week in Review: March 28-April 1



This week the Senate passed nine of the bills for financing state government and the programs it funds from the state General Fund. These bills fund agriculture, environment, energy, commerce and consumer protection, jobs and economic growth, judiciary and public safety, K-12 education, higher education, health and human services, transportation, and state government operations. Together, these bills create a budget that operates within our means, and invests our resources into the programs, groups and departments that are our core responsibilities.

We still have much work ahead to finalize the budget. However, it is significant to note that the passage of a full budget plan in committees by the end of March affords the Legislature ample time to continue its work in the open, rather than requiring last minute deals and late-night meetings as has happened in the past.

Health and Human Services

The Senate Republicans' health care proposal is actually a 6-percent increase from current Health and Human Services spending, while cutting $1.6 billion from projected increases for FY 2012-13. The measure is based on efforts to reform state-subsidized health-care delivery systems, and focuses on moving government regulation of the health-care industry to a more incentive-based approach by implementing consumer-friendly policies like tax deductions or health savings accounts.

The bill contains significant reform by including the reinstatement of General Assistance Medical Care, the development of a new health-care program called The Healthy Minnesota Defined Contribution Program, the development of a new grant program called the Adult Assistance program (merging GA, EMSA, and MSA special needs into one block grant program), and county streamlining and mandate relief.

Education

Following a long floor session late in the week, the Senate passed an omnibus education budget bill that increases funding for schools statewide while providing significant mandate relief to local school districts, reforming spending to target early literacy programs, and providing the necessary tools for classroom success.

A principal component of the bill is an additional increase of $50 each year in the per-pupil unit basic revenue formula allowance, an important change to provide even-handed treatment of all school districts and students. The Senate proposal also redirects existing state appropriations to literacy incentive aids that will recognize districts for both achieving third-grade reading proficiency and for growth compared to previous years. It also offers up to a $1,000 stipend for current teachers that pass the newly-approved Board of Teaching reading instruction assessment.

The bill proposes to triple funding for the Minnesota Reading Corps, a program which has shown significant measurable results in serving children from age 3 to grade three with supplemental and research-based tutoring. Other measures to improve efficiency and emphasize student achievement include a reform of teacher tenure; empowering superintendents to retain qualified teachers; and a temporary salary freeze for school employees to permit districts to save jobs and programs, prevent excessive fees, and restore reserves.

Higher Education

The higher education revised budget is based on zeroing out a funding increase that was projected to occur between FY 2010-2011 and FY 2012-2013. With these reduced projections, $2.5 billion is projected to be appropriated to higher education during

FY 2012-2013. This bill makes steps toward reducing administrative overhead and encouraging structural reforms in our higher education system. It includes tuition limitations that allow for reasonable increases in tuition, but also requires our schools to reform and become more efficient. It also increases the state grant program and maintains funding for the state work study and child care programs, both of which are in high demand.

Senator Michelle Fischbach encourages and appreciates constituent input and can be reached by phone at (651) 296-2084, by mail to 226 State Capitol / St. Paul, MN 55155, or via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Green Acres

Legislation intended to fix the problematic Green Acres program passed in the Senate with a wide bi-partisan vote of 53-8. The measure attempts to protect farmers from rising property taxes because of nearby commercial and residential development. By simplifying the application process, clarifying the enrollment requirements and lifting the eight0-year covenant in the Rural Preserve program, we make it easier for farmers and the agriculture community to remain protected from unnecessary property tax increases. The bill will be sent to the House, where members will choose whether or not to concur with Senate language. If not, differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill will be resolved in a conference committee, approved and sent to the governor for final consideration.