The state legislature returns to session Tuesday in St. Paul.
On the Senate side, North Mankato DFL state Senator Nick Frentz said there are a few issues that will have to be addressed fairly quickly. He explained, “All legislators are wondering how Minnesota will adjust our tax law to react to the federal tax changes.” In addition, supplemental funding for the legislature will also have to be put in place after he noted, “The legislative funding was vetoed last session; we have money to get us started but I’m assuming both parties will want to see a bill passed – full, comprehensive legislative funding.”
The Minnesota Supreme Court upheld Governor Mark Dayton’s line-item veto of the Legislature’s $130 million operating budget in November. Dayton’s intent was to force lawmakers to scale back several expensive tax breaks.
It is a bonding year, and Frentz hopes that some of the local projects in Governor Mark Dayton’s $1.5 billion dollar proposal will be funded, “Including the Mankato State Clinical Sciences building, building infrastructure improvements for the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center and the sex offender program, and a statewide emphasis on housing — which I hope will be good for the Mankato area affordable housing needs.”
The University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State college system would receive a combined $542 million under Dayton’s bonding proposal, mostly to restore existing buildings. The governor also asked for $998 million for affordable housing construction, to fix state buildings, upgrade sewer and water systems and make other infrastructure improvements statewide.
When it comes to bonding – the very purpose of the shorter, even-year session – DFL State Representative Jack Considine of Mankato said lawmakers have to make an effort to pay for as many of the projects as is possible. “The asks are in the neighborhood of $3 billion dollars,” he explained, “We aren’t going to have that kind of money, but every time we don’t address our needs the bills just get bigger and bigger.”
He added that it should also be a priority to have the bonding bill put together far earlier in the session than it has been in years past because, “We’re spending taxpayer’s dollars, and taxpayers have a right to see what’s in the bill. When we do it at the end they don’t have a clue.”
Issues like tax conformity, legislative funding, settling contracts for state workers, and others are necessary, but have Considine concerned that attempts to address health care costs this session could be derailed. He said, “I believe that the Minnesota(Care) buy-in right now represents the best solution, in the short term; I’m hoping we can push forward on that. But all of a sudden you’re not hearing a lot about health care and that kind of…it bothers me”
Right now a family of four with an income above $49,000 cannot buy MinnesotaCare, but Governor Dayton has proposed a buy-in, which would allow all Minnesotans to buy coverage.
This is Frentz’s second legislative session as state Senator, and when asked if it feels a little different not to be walking in new and green, he responded, “Sure does. ‘Walking in new and green,’ hardly does it justice to some of the stuff they throw at you your first few weeks of your first term.” Frentz added that, with a session under his belt and having become acquainted with more of his Minnesota Senate colleagues, he’s hoping it will be even easier this year to talk about the needs of the people of District 19 and fight for some of those priorities.
Considine said he also intends to revive legislation he tried desperately to get passed last session. “I’m going to be championing a bill for the home health aides,” he explained, “I am just dismayed that we cannot pay people that are hard working people more than what is the poverty rate.” He has pre-filed a bill that would raise the pay rate of home health aides by 75 cents an hour.
These positions are paid through state human services reimbursements. Data from the Government Accountability Office shows that caregivers in Minnesota make between $11.50 and $12.22 per hour on average. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean wage for home health aides in Minnesota is just over $26,000 a year.
New House 23B Representative Jeremy Munson will be sworn in on Tuesday.
The 2018 Legislature is scheduled to begin at noon on Tuesday and must adjourn by May 21st.