This week at the Capitol there was significant movement on a number of fronts. Governor Mark Dayton released his revised budget proposal in response to the state’s most recent budget forecast. That forecast, which showed the state’s economy growing at a modest rate, showed an improved budget picture for the state going forward.
The governor’s revised budget proposal mirrors much of his original proposal with a few prominent differences, most strikingly the removal of the expansion of the sales tax on to services and clothing. The new plan also drops the governor’s original proposal to provide a property tax rebate of $500 to each homeowner. As was the case in his first budget proposal, the governor increases income taxes on the state’s top income bracket as well as proposes a $.94 per pack increase in the cigarette tax.
The governor’s proposal continues to call for an increase in state spending of approximately 8 percent for the next biennium. This would increase the overall General Fund budget for the state to just under $38 billion for a two-year budget cycle.
Other Happenings: The Jobs, Agriculture, and Rural Economies Committee passed two bills that would both increase the minimum wage. One proposal would simply increase Minnesota’s minimum wage to match that of the federal rate of $7.50 per hour. Under current law, most Minnesota workers already make this amount, but it would provide an increase for some employees in the state. The other proposal, SF 3 (Eaton) would apply only to large employers and would increase the overall wage to $7.75 over a three-year span. Both bills were sent to the Senate Floor for possible action there. The Conference Committee on H.F.5, the Minnesota Health Care Exchange met and passed a final compromise. Some provisions were stripped out, including a provision to require Legislators to receive their health insurance through the exchange as well as a prohibition on providing abortion coverage in plans that are sold as a part of the exchange. The House passed the amended conference committee report early Friday morning. Final consideration in the Senate is scheduled for next week.
I was honored to have two bills heard in the Senate Environment Committee this week which were aimed at helping homeowners and others impacted by the CapX 2020 energy project. Both the proposals, S.F.455 and S.F.674 were passed on to the Senate Floor where they await final action. This week in the Senate Higher Education Committee, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler presented a report which looked in great detail at administrative costs within the University. The report showed a few areas of concerns with staffing ratios in certain departments and the president committed to further study on those identified areas. Also this week, I had the privilege of presenting S.F.940, which would create a veterans preference for admissions into graduate programs. The requirement would apply to institutions with in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. Because of the University of Minnesota’s Constitutional autonomy, the bill requests that the University also institute the preference for admission into their programs.