By Rep. Paul Anderson
Another chunk of Minnesota’s projected surplus was spent last week when the House passed a $323 million supplemental budget bill. There were several good aspects to the bill, including the five-percent pay increase for those who work with the disabled, but overall, it sets in place massive spending increases down the road. This comes on top of last year’s budget, which contained one of the largest spending increases in state history. The bill also illustrates the problem with large, omnibus bills where, in this case, all areas of state government spending were rolled together and legislators had to give an up-or-down vote on the entire package.
I mentioned the initial cost of this bill for spending in this year, $323 million, which is large but still manageable. The real concern comes in the next two-year biennium when the cost of these measures balloons up to $892 million. The biggest increase comes in the area of Health and Human Services, which accounts for nearly three-fourths of the spending in the “tails” of the budget. In fiscal year 2016-17 this bill shifts $442 million from the General Fund to the Health Care Access Fund (HCAF).The shift fills a hole created because of the increased cost of ObamaCare mandates like the eligibility reassignment and expansion of MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance, along with lower-than-anticipated reimbursements from the federal government to fund those programs. In less than a year, the projected balance in the HCAF at the end of the 2017 fiscal year went from a positive $79 million to a deficit of $647 million.
As if all this spending wasn’t enough, the House Rules Committee voted April 4 to approve the new Senate Office Building. Originally slated to cost $90 million, the project was scaled back somewhat by removing one of the parking facilities that had been included. This latest version contains offices for all 67 senators but does not feature a “reflecting pool” or workout gymnasium as previous blueprints included. This was the last hurdle to be passed in the approval process for the building although, because of the changes made, it will need to go back to the Senate again. It may be just coincidence, but the House finally acting on this project came during the same week the Senate passed the school-bullying bill and also finally agreed to language contained in the minimum-wage bill, which had been stuck in conference committee for nearly a year.
The pace of this year’s session has been fast. It seems as if the schedule is just as full, and the number of new bill introductions is over 3,000 once again, but we didn’t start until a month later. Thursday, April 10, our Easter and Passover break begins at 4 p.m. We aren’t due back in St. Paul for official business until April 22.