Government & Politics

April Fools Mn House Week in Review

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2011 Week in Review Vol. 3 No. 5 March 31, 2011 Senate Republican Budget Doesn’t Add Up Senate Republicans pushed nearly every budget-balancing bill through the committee process and the full Senate during the past two weeks. Only two bills – the tax bill and transportation budget – remain to be voted upon before negotiations can begin with the House. While the details of each budget proposal are very disturbing, Senate Democrats expressed the most frustration over the fact that the budget p
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  March 31, 2011 2011 Week in Review Vol. 3 No. 5Senate DFL Research 85 State Ofce Building 296-4113 Senate Republican Budget Doesn’t Add Up Senate Republicans pushed near-ly every budget-balancing billthrough the committee processand the full Senate during thepast two weeks. Only two bills– the tax bill and transportationbudget – remain to be voted uponbefore negotiations can beginwith the House.While the details of each budgetproposal are very disturbing,Senate Democrats expressed themost frustration over the fact thatthe budget proposals do not comeclose to solving the state’s $5 bil-lion budget decit, a goal Repub-lican leaders have vowed to maketheir top priority in 2011.Rather than making the toughchoices necessary to eliminatethe $5 billion with budget cutsalone, the Republicans’ budgetrelies on unsubstantiated, unreal-istic savings estimates to “solve”about $1 billion of the decit.In the Health and Human Ser-vices budget, $603 million isestimated to be saved by ask-ing the federal government for a waiver on Medicaid coveragerequirements. In addition toeliminating health coverage for atleast 100,000 adults and children,Experts at the state and federallevel have said this waiver is notlegal, yet the savings are countedin this bill.The State Government Bud-get Bill includes $217 millionin invented money, estimatingcost-savings for improving theway the state purchases goodsand tracks tax compliance. Stateagencies, however, said it’s unre-alistic to believe the state couldsave anywhere near $217 millionbecause Minnesota already isa national leader in these typesof efciencies. In addition, thesame bill cuts the state workforceby 15%, eliminating the supportstaff that would be needed toactually increase tax audits andcompliance efforts.Republicans ignored the adviceof scal experts and, insteadrelied on third-party savingsestimates that were provided bycorporations such as IBM andAccenture. Senate Democratsstrongly objected to privatecompanies being allowed to pushtheir own agendas by shaping thestate’s nances. Governor Mark Dayton admonished the scalreporting used for this budget andinsisted he will not negotiate on abill that doesn’t even balance.   Senate DFL Research 85 State Ofce Building 296-4113 Working Minnesotans asked to balance $475 million of state budget The state government budget took one of the biggest hits in the Re-publicans’ budget: 53.3%. Rather than focusing on reforms andefciency, as promised, the budgetthat passed with full support of Republicans on Thursday achievesthese spending reductions by raid-ing the pockets of tens of thou-sands of working Minnesotans.The bill eliminates health insur-ance for state employees and,instead, offers high-deductibleHealth Savings Accounts thatwould cost each employee at mini-mum of $2,800 to $6,200 everyyear. The budget also imposes atwo-year salary freeze on stateemployees, something that mostpublic employee groups have ac-cepted during collective bargainingnegotiations. This bill ignores thatimportant process. Finally, the bud-get imposes a 15% state workforcereduction that would eliminate oneof every six workers in the state.With Minnesota already boastingthe 10th-leanest public workforcein the nation, these types of deepcuts will have a noticeable effecton the ability of state agenciesto provide every-day needs suchas snow-plowing, ood control,tax-return processing, nursing care,public safety, etc.Senate Democrats offered amend-ments to exempt the followingemployees from the workforcereduction, arguing they repre-sent some of the most criticalstaff that support the health andsafety of Minnesota: Nurses, Mn/DOT transportation generalists(including snow-plow drivers,bridge inspectors and employeesbeing asked to respond to currentood emergencies), correctionsstaff with high levels of offender contact, and military and veterans’affairs staff.The amendment to exempt militaryand veterans’ affairs staff prevailedunanimously. The exemption for corrections ofcers prevailed, eventhough 20 Republicans voted,‘no.’ Nurses and Mn/DOT criticalemployees are still subject to thecuts because Republicans stoodtogether to reject protections for those staff.Senate Democrats also offered anamendment to remove the high-de-ductible HSA and retain the currentstate employee health plan, avoid-ing a massive pay cut for workerswho would be paying outrageouspremiums. The change wouldhave been paid for by closing taxloopholes for corporations, ensur-ing businesses aren’t ducking outof tax responsibilities. This amend-ment was illogically ruled out of order, a ruling supported by everyRepublican Senator.Besides the middle-class attacksincluded in this bill, Senate Demo-crats also objected to the fact that itfalls $217 million short of the sav-ings needed to balance the budget.Republicans ignored testimony of multiple non-partisan scal expertsand agencies and, instead, reliedupon third-party savings estimatesthat were provided by corporationssuch as IBM and Accenture. OneDFL Senator said this is like tellingthe state to set up lemonade standsto raise money having Liptonreport how much money could beraised – It’s unrealistic, lackingin detail and unlikely to captureenough money to solve the state’sproblems.Governor Mark Dayton admon-ished the scal reporting used for this budget and insisted he willnot negotiate on a bill that doesn’teven balance. GOP Cuts to Jobs and Economic Development The Jobs and Economic Growth bill was heard on the Senate oor this week. Much of the conversation was focused on raiding $45 mil-lion from the IRRRB Doug Johnson Fund. This fund is paid for by ataconite production tax in lieu of property taxes. Before this session,the legislature and Governor have never used local property taxes tobalance the budget.The raiding of $45 million from this dedicated fund represents 70%of the total $65 million cut to the Department of Employment andEconomic Development (DEED), Department of Labor and Industry(DOLI), Housing Finance Agency and Explore Minnesota which allare under the purview of the Jobs and Economic Growth Committee.The bill also changes how DEED awards grants. In previous yearssome programs (Boys and Girls Club, Deaf and Hard of Hearing In-terpreters, Youthbuild, Lifetrack Resources, etc.) have had line itemsfor funding but this legislation would lump them all into block grants.Additionally, these newly formed block grants these groups are com-peting for will be cut by $2.616 million.  Senate DFL Research 85 State Ofce Building 296-4113 HigherEducation Cuts In a Republican-led party-linevote, the Senate voted to ap-prove a higher education budgetbill that slashes funding for thestate’s colleges and universities.The GOP budget reduces theUniversity of Minnesota fundingby $243 million (19%) and cuts$167 million (13%) from theMinnesota State Colleges andUniversities (MnSCU) system.This approach will set the fund-ing level for higher educationback more than a decade. Thesedeep cuts come at a time thehigher education system hasboosted its enrollment by morethan 70,000 students.It is too early to know the exactimpact of a reduction of thismagnitude, but as the U of Mand MnSCU work to soften theimpact on tuition, universitiesand colleges will likely see fac-ulty and staff reductions, enroll-ment caps, reductions in the sizeand scope of course and programofferings and reductions in stu-dent services.Beyond the impacts on cam-puses, Minnesotans will also feelthese cuts statewide. In order to attract new businesses to thestate, Minnesota needs to offer highly trained and skilled work-ers. As U of M President RobertBruininks told the Senate Higher Education Committee earlier this year, “If Minnesota wants tocontinue to be a state with lowunemployment, a state with vi-brant industries that can competein the 21st century; we are goingto have to take a hard look atthis. Higher education is goingto have to be a priority. It can’tbe in the back room. It can’t beway down the list of priorities.”The next step for this legislationwill be conference committee. Republicans Pass Deep Cut to Schools Republicans in the Minnesota Senate today approved a bill that cuts fund-ing for Minnesota schools by $35 million, including deep cuts to specialeducation and integration aid. The bill will force Minnesota schools toteach 15,000 additional students while burdened with increasing costs andtesting requirements. The bill passed on a party line vote after DFL sena-tors tried to amend the bill to safeguard educational quality in MinnesotaThe proposal would cut special education funding by approximately $118million over the next two years. Minnesota school districts are already fac-ing a $647 million ‘cross-subsidy,’ the gap between the cost of providingfederally-mandated special education services and the amount they receivefrom the state to fund them. This cut would substantially add to district’sspecial education decit.Additionally, the bill eliminated integration aid, a move that will slashfunding for the state’s most disadvantaged students and funnels this moneyto schools that are already making the grade. The bill also repeals the de-segregation rule.Also included in the GOP’s school funding cut bill are provisions to limitthe collective bargaining rights of teachers and other public employees.The bill imposes a pay freeze on every school district employee in thestate, without any input from workers or local school districts.With these sweeping legislative changes, Republicans are giving Minne-sotans the wrong impression that the salaries of teachers, special educa-tion professionals, janitors, and lunch ladies are responsible for the budgetproblems facing our schools. In reality, salaries for Minnesota teachers arealready 2% below the national average and low starting teacher salariescreate a disincentive for our best and brightest students to enter the class-room. The salary freeze is a simplistic approach to the complex budgetcrisis. Simply freezing the salaries of teachers, janitors, and lunch ladiesdoes nothing to address the true challenges facing our schools, does noth-ing to alleviate our budget decit, and handcuffs Minnesota’s local schooldistricts. Special Funds and Workers’ Compensation Risk Plan Prots Backlls the Commerce Budget The Commerce Committee arrived at their $31 target by taking fundbalances from special revenue accounts such as License TechnologySurcharge, Insurance Fraud Prevention Account, Auto Theft PreventionAccount and a real estate account to protect consumers from fraudulentreal estate transactions.In addition to raiding special fund balances, there is criticism surroundingtaking prot funds from the Workers’ Compensation Assigned Risk Planbalance. These budget funds capture $26.18 million, the bulk of their $31million target.The largest actual cut to the budget is to Administrative Services of $1.5million which is about 1/3 of their budget. The cut represents a reductionof approximately 12 full time employees out of a staff of 37 employees.  Senate DFL Research 85 State Ofce Building 296-4113 Agriculture Bill on its Way to Governor The Omnibus Agriculture and Rural Development Finance Bill is onits way to the governor. The bill passed 104-20 by the House, twodays after it was passed 39-25 by the Senate.In total, the bill would appropriate nearly $79 million over the nextbiennium, with $76.6 million coming from the General Fund. Manyof the funding proposals include the same appropriations recom-mended by Gov. Mark Dayton, such as completing more than $13million in delinquent ethanol payments to qualied producers.The majority of the $12 million reduction from the Departmentof Agriculture is a cut to the appropriation for ethanol producer payments and to the AGRI Program. The remaining and ongoingfunding in the AGRI Program for ethanol payments is dedicatedand includes grants, loans or other forms of nancial assistance tolivestock producers, bio-energy awards and other nancial assistanceto support other rural economic infrastructure activities.The bill includes funds for the Agriculture Utilization ResearchInstitute and allows the department to inspect responsible users of anhydrous ammonia less frequently so inspectors can concentrate onrepeat offenders more diligently.Finally, the bill increases funding to hire additional retail food han-dler inspectors to deal with a 40% backlog of inspections. A progressreport would be due to the Legislature by Feb. 1, 2013. Senate GOP Health Care Cuts Hit Seniors, Disabled, Vulnerable Kids Senate Republicans approved a billthis week that makes deep cuts tothe state’s health care safety net,jeopardizing care for more than100,000 Minnesotans and slash-ing funding for the state’s nursinghomes and in-home care programs.A few of the bill’s provisionsinclude:· Repealing the early expan-sion of Medicaid signed byGov. Dayton earlier this year, amove that jeopardizes care for 95,000 poor and sick Minneso-tans along with 20,000 relatedhealth care sector jobs.· Putting thousands of low-income Minnesotans intounrealistic and unaffordablehigh-premium, high deductibleprivate insurance plans.· Forcing 200 “frail elderly”from the community into moreexpensive nursing homes, andmore than 800 Minnesotansinto institutionalized care.· Eliminating optional servicesfor Medical Assistance andMinnesotaCare recipients,including chiropractic, podia-try, therapies, eyeglasses, andprosthetics.· Cutting funding for child careand adoption grants, prescrip-tion drug assistance, mentalhealth crisis grants, develop-mental disability family sup-ports, children’s mental healthscreening, family planning andmore.· Eliminating state loan forgive-ness programs for medicaltraining that ensures Min-nesota’s ability to recruit andtrain doctors and dentists ingeographically underservedparts of the state.Senate Democrats strongly op-posed the bill, arguing that thebill’s plan to put low-income peo-ple into high-deductible plans isnot realistic: on their incomes theycannot afford the high premiumsand deductibles offered under pri-vate health insurance plans. Morelikely they will opt for no coverageat all – and end up in expensivehospital emergency rooms, withall Minnesotans footing the bill.Senate Democrats believe the billunfairly targets the poor, the sick,the elderly and the disabled.The bill also contains a contro-versial ban on human cloning thatcriminalizes cutting-edge, celllevel research that seeks cures for devastating diseases. Putting thisprovision into law will place achilling effect on Minnesota’s bio-science industry and jobs. Changesto the state’s newborn screeningprogram will remove parental con-trol of their children’s records, andinhibit Minnesota’s ability to makesure parents of children with seri-ous health conditions are linked tonecessary treatment options.The bill was approved along aparty-line vote, and faces a likelyveto. Governor Dayton has prom-ised he will veto any bill thatincludes the repeal of Early Medic-aid enrollment.
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