By Barb Haley, Minnesota District 21A Representative
With less than one month remaining in the 2019 legislative session, lawmakers must soon agree upon our state's budget for the next two years. In the weeks ahead, many consequential decisions are set to be made by the Legislature.
The House Democrat majority has assembled its bills to fund state government, many of which have been debated at length and voted on this past week.
Although I'm hopeful we can improve these bills before they arrive at the governor's desk, I'm concerned with the state they're currently in. Atop my list of concerns are the excessive mandates and huge tax and government spending increases at these bills' core.
Democrats' budget bills include an eye-opening $12 billion in new taxes over the next four years. This massive tax hike is highlighted by a much-talked about 20 cent per gallon gas tax increase as well as a tax on nearly all healthcare services.
These taxes would make gas, health care, and everyday goods and services more expensive for Minnesota families. In fact, the Department of Revenue this week announced the governor's tax plan would hit low and middle-income Minnesotans the hardest, with those earning less than $45,000 experiencing double-digit percent increases.
As we're considering these hefty tax increases, it's important to keep in mind that Minnesota still has a $1 billion budget surplus, meaning taxpayers have already paid in more than they should. In a time of such a large surplus, $12 billion in new taxes should be off the table.
Democrats' Jobs and Energy bill would raise billions in new taxes on every Minnesota employer and employee, while creating 400 new government jobs to administer the new regulations they propose. It would also drive up energy costs and make our energy grid less reliable, while collecting $1.5 million in new annual fees.
I'm also very concerned with the nursing home cuts that are a part of the health and human services budget, which would result in funding cuts to about half of Minnesota's nursing facilities, including facilities in our area.
In regards to Democrats' education budget bill, I'm pleased by funding formula increases that support our teachers and school budgets, but I remain disappointed that this bill widens the unfair per pupil funding gap between rural and metro school districts. I'm also concerned that this bill takes money away from transportation, lowers teacher licensure standards, eliminates safeguards in teacher licensing designed to keep students safe in the classroom, and includes controversial sexual education requirements.
Finally, it's important to recognize that the main purpose of these bills should be to provide funding for the operations of state government. However, these bills contain controversial policy proposals that are completely unrelated to funding. In recent years, Democrats have consistently spoke out against contentious policy measures in budget bills, so it's now puzzling to see so many of these policies in their budget.
Controversial policies should be considered and voted on as individual bills. They should pass or fail based on their own content and merits. They shouldn't be hidden in lengthy budget bills that are designed to provide essential funding for state government.
Nonetheless, these budget bills contain some good measures that I'm proud to support, such as job training grants, broadband funding, mental health grant increases, and others. I'm hopeful each side can ensure these beneficial provisions are a part of the final, compromised agreement between the House, Senate, and governor. I know Republicans and Democrats ultimately share the goal of making Minnesota the best state it can be. We also all understand the issues - such as affordable healthcare, education funding, and transportation funding - that are important to Minnesotans.
Still, it's clear we have very different visions of how to get there. Reaching a final agreement with divided government certainly won't be easy. My goal the rest of this session is creating a responsibly-sized state budget without slapping huge tax increases on Minnesotans.