This week at the Capitol, several omnibus budget bills were brought before the full Senate for debate and a final vote. On Thursday of this week the Omnibus E-12 Education bill was considered. This bill in its current form will spend $15.7 billion over the next two years on education. This amounts to 41 percent of the state general fund budget.
The bill also includes an optional expansion of all-day kindergarten and eliminates any parental fee for use of the program. This proposal also makes numerous policy changes to teacher licensure requirements and testing for students. Also included is an increase in the current school shift which has been discussed widely over the past few years and no funding is included to pay back the remaining portion of the existing shift.
Also on Thursday, the Senate considered the Omnibus Health and Human Services bill which proposes to spend $11.17 billion over the next two years. Once all the fund transfers and surcharges are taken into account, the bill increases total HHS spending by
3.5 percent from forecast.
One major provision included in the bill is a 2-percent rebasing increase to most long-term care facilities which is significantly less than what was requested for this purpose. There are changes to numerous health care programs, including MFIP, which is Minnesota’s welfare program.
Now that these bills have passed the Senate, conference committee meetings between the House and Senate will be held in order to iron out differences between the different versions of the bill. Once the differences are worked out, the bills will be sent back to the full House and Senate for a final vote.
The mandatory adjournment date for this legislative session is quickly approaching. Early next week, the tax bill will be debated on the Senate floor. This proposal includes a variety of tax increases and the revenue from those would be used to fund the new spending proposals that have passed in each of the omnibus budget bills. Under the Senate tax proposal, the overall sales tax rate would drop, but the new rate would be extended to all clothing purchases as well as many personal services. This plan also includes an income tax increase that would impact married filers at just over $140,000 and single filers at about $79,000 of taxable income.
Once passed by the full Senate, the tax bill will also head to a conference committee with the House. A tax proposal in that chamber includes several different income tax increases and also an increase in alcohol taxes. Both the House and Senate proposals would increase the cigarette tax.
Other Happenings: On Tuesday, the Senate passed the Omnibus Transportation Policy Bill (SF 1270), which includes numerous changes to traffic regulations. This would increase the default speed limit on two-lane state highways from 55 to 60 miles per hour, require MnDOT to sell unused parcels of real estate, and creates a MnDOT office to coordinate public-private partnerships. The Capital Investment Committee met for the first time in weeks to discuss the St. Peter Security Hospital and to receive an update on the Minnesota Sex Offenders Program Task Force. The Senate Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Finance Division was active in passing or debating a number of high profile bills this week. After passing the Environment Finance Bill off the Senate floor last week, the committee approved the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund Appropriation Bill (SF987 Dziedzic) which will authorize $38 million for a variety of air, water or land conservation or protection projects.