2009 Legislative Session summary

Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
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Now that the 2009 legislative session has come to an end and some of the political dust has had a chance to settle, I want to present you with a brief summary of some of the highlights of the past session.

This year's session of the legislature will long be remembered for the battle over the budget in the face of our state's declining revenues. The projected spending for the coming two-year budget cycle was expected to be about $34 billion. Our state's forecasted revenue is only going to be about $31 billion. To fund the government functions on their current trajectory, we would need

$3 billion in new revenue.

The Governor has always said he would not accept any new tax increases. His first budget proposal released in February included a $200 million tax cut, $40 million fee increase, $1 billion revenue increase from the sale of bonds, $1.3 billion accounting shift (primarily by withholding partial payments to K-12 schools and local units of government until the next biennium), and a $1.9 billion spending cut. He also proposed that we service our debt over twenty years using tobacco revenue (this option was rejected later by the Minnesota House on a vote of 120-2) and that we use

$8 million from the Health Care Access Fund which was intending to pay for health care for the poor.

The Governor's spending-cut proposal was higher than the Minnesota House proposal of $1.5 billion in cuts and lower than the Senate proposal of $2.1 billion.

The House and Senate Democrats, who hold sixty-six percent of the 201 seats in the legislature, proposed a temporary tax increase of $1.6 billion in the House and

$2.5 billion in the Senate to solve the budget problem. The final DFL tax bill passed on May 18, the last day of session, to balance the budget included $1.8 billion in accounting shifts and $1 billion in increased taxes. The tax increases included increased income taxes on married couples earning over $250,000 per year, increased alcoholic beverage tax, and a surtax on interest-rate income over 15 percent.

Governor Pawlenty vetoed the tax bill and signed the spending bills with some line-item vetoes. He will make further adjustments in the budget by using his power of unallotment and will most likely also make a few accounting shifts. This will be the first time in our state's history a Minnesota governor has used his unallotment power to balance a budget at the beginning of a biennium.

Having a state budget of $31 billion takes us back to roughly the level of spending we were at about three years ago.

New laws and changes:

The Green Acres laws, which were changed in 2008, were addressed this session to rectify problems and unintended consequences from the previous year. While Green Acres laws did not entirely revert to the previous language, changes were made to fix the majority of problems that were seen.

In the Agriculture and Veterans bill there is a mix of veterans' programs including an appropriation for the G.I. Bill, additional funding to update technology needs, maintenance, and overall upgrades in veterans homes, and enlistment incentives for new recruits. Two new veterans' cemeteries are to be funded in northeastern and southwestern Minnesota. June 13, 2009, was designated "Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day."

In agriculture, there is continued funding to eliminate Bovine TB, as well as funding for Johne's disease testing and the study of the avian pneumovirus and identification of infected flocks. There is also an appropriation for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities for mental health counseling support for farm families and business operators, almost $1 million for county and district agricultural society associations, and about $1.4 million for Dairy Development and Profitability Enhancement and Dairy business Planning grant programs. The Livestock Development Grant Program will receive $1 million as well.

In Higher Education, the University of Minnesota and the MnSCU system will see budget reductions of about 2 percent. An agreement with the university system on a "soft cap" will help prevent tuition costs from rising more than 3 percent a year. In the past, student tuition generally paid for one-third of the cost of education. Over the past decade, it has gradually gone up so now tuition pays for half of the cost. The bill also includes a prohibition of state funding for human cloning research at the University of Minnesota.

In the K-12 Education Finance bill, there were no cuts in education spending. Although the Governor signed the bill, he expressed disappointment that it does not spend as much on K-12 as he had originally recommended. He was also upset that it does not contain collective bargaining reform or early childhood scholarships, and it takes away the right of citizens to petition for a reverse referendum on school levy property tax increases. Fortunately, the bill includes a provision that allows high school students to graduate even if they fail to meet current academic standards in mathematics.

Health and Human Services again has the distinction to be the biggest piece of our state budget pie, taking up 40 percent of the overall state's general fund budget. Although many other areas of state spending are being reduced, this part of the state budget grew just over half of a billion dollars from the previous two-year budget. This growth is partially because of the recession, high unemployment rates, employers dropping health-care coverage for their employees, and the rapidly rising cost of health care.

This is just a very brief snapshot of some of the outcomes from the 2009 legislative session. In future columns, I would like to expound in more detail about the changes that took place in health and human services, education, agriculture, game and fish bill, and environment and natural resources.

We are all glad that the legislature is adjourned and that we won't have to subject Minnesota to a long, drawn-out and costly special session.

Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve you again in the Minnesota Senate. If you would like to contact me, you can do so by calling (651) 296-4131, by sending an e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or by sending mail to my Senate office at 103 State Office Building, 100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul MN 55155.