I hope you and your family have a blessed Easter/Passover. Winter won’t seem to loosen its grip on us, so please be careful on the roads.
The Legislature is not in session this week in order to observe the holidays. It has been nice to have extra time in the district to talk with people about legislative issues.
We had a nice discussion during the town hall meeting I hosted last Saturday in LaGrand Township. Thanks to all of those who attended! People were interested in providing input on recent developments from the Capitol. This includes enactment of a minimum-wage increase. Attendees also were interested in talking about the timing of approval on that bill and how it seemed linked to the House signing off on a new Senate office complex.
The 2014 session is now past its midway point. A column I submitted to newspapers throughout District 12B this week recaps some headline items from the first half. I encourage you to look for that article in our local newspapers. You also can click here to read it online.
Have a blessed Easter/Passover and I’ll be back in touch after we return to the Capitol this Tuesday.
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.
Rep. Paul Anderson has a townhall meeting planned for this coming Saturday, April 12, at the La Grande townhall. It will start at 9 a.m. with coffee. We’ll discuss the legislative session and what’s happened so far, as well as what to expect going forward.
Rep. Anderson was recently endorsed, for another term, at the House District 12B endorsing convention held on April 4th in Sauk Centre.
On Thursday, House Democrats voted to pass an Obamacare bailout bill. Because of the projected state budget surplus, Democrat legislators have been salivating to spend even MORE of the money taken from you by St. Paul – as if $2.1 billion in new tax increases, $4 billion more in state spending, and a $90 million office building for state senators from the 2013 Session weren’t enough! Specifically, the Obamacare bailout bill authorizes taking $442 million from the General Fund in fiscal year 2016-2017 to refill the Healthcare Access Fund, a fund created to increase access to health care for the uninsured, because of a hole created by increased costs of Obamacare.
Democrats attempted to hide this provision by inserting it in a 436-page omnibus bill and tying it to a multitude of unrelated policy and funding provisions. A few of those individual provisions were worthy of support. Unfortunately, Democrats played political games by lumping the good with the bad. In an attempt to remove the bad items from this bill, I supported efforts put forward by my Republican colleagues that would have put $65 per-pupil on the basic formula for K-12 Education, fully funded the 5% rate increase for disability care workers, and increased penalties even stronger for sex offenders than what the Democrats proposed to do. Unfortunately, the Democrats didn’t take those amendments.
The silver lining about this legislation is that it contains an amendment I authored that provides a 5% rate increase in funding for nursing homes. The bill also provides for a 5% rate increase for those who work with the disability community. Make sure that our most vulnerable citizens have the care and support they need is a priority for me.
With a projected state budget surplus, we should focus our time and energy on funding a few key priorities. Then we should return the remaining dollars to those who paid the money in – the taxpayers of Minnesota – instead of rushing to spend more.
If you have any questions or concerns relating to any state legislative issue, please feel free to contact me by e-mail at Rep.Mary.Franson@House.MN or call my office at 651-296-3201. You can also send mail to my office address: 211 State Office Building, 100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155.