Time to invest in jobs, health care, educationPublished 7:30am Sunday, April 6, 2014
Column: Senate Report, by Dan Sparks
With Minnesota’s budget on solid footing, the first action of this session was the passage of $434 million in tax relief for Minnesota families and businesses. Through that legislation we also took the prudent fiscal step of re-enforcing our budget reserves.
The Legislature is now working on the supplemental budget to address current needs and encourage continued economic growth. The bill currently includes funding for business and economic development, improving services for Minnesota’s most vulnerable citizens, educating our children and fixing roads.
The business and economic development and economic development portion invests in grant programs for businesses, neighborhood development, workforce development and a certification program for veteran-owned small businesses. The state’s economy is continuing to trend in the right direction and we believe these investments will help spur new growth.
Through investments in the Health and Human Services section of the bill, 6,600 people with disabilities, 24,900 older adults and 90,000 caregivers in Minnesota will be positively affected by a 5 percent rate increase for Home and Community Based Services and intermediate care facilities for those with developmental disabilities.
These facilities and providers, which serve our vulnerable adults, are experiencing difficulties retaining and hiring quality staff for their clients. This 5 percent rate increase (80 percent of the funding will be used for compensation for workers) will help to retain consistent staff, which is crucial to quality care.
The Senate education proposal focuses on our youngest learners. Through a series of investments in early education funding, our legislation focuses on closing the education gap by working to ensure that every child is ready for kindergarten.
Nearly 50 percent of kids in Minnesota are not prepared to enter kindergarten and statistics show that kids who are not fully prepared are twenty-five percent more likely to drop out of school and sixty percent more likely to never attend college. By focusing on the earliest stages of education, we can help ensure that all children have a chance for success.
As you all know, this winter has been especially hard on our roads. To help combat the destruction of our roads and highways, the finance bill includes a section designated to winter road repair. This funding will help cities and counties repair the severe winter road damage scattered throughout the state.
In addition to the supplemental budget, the outdoor heritage fund bill for 2014 is advancing through Senate committees. These projects were carefully vetted by the 12-member Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council during several meetings last year.
The current legislation appropriates $109 million for 44 projects which includes $37.4 million for prairies, $31 million for habitat, $24 million for wetlands, and $16 million for forest projects. In the legislations last stop before the Senate’s full Finance Committee, the bill was amended to provide $700,000 for the Shell Rock River Watershed District.
This funding will be used for the Albert Lea Lake management and invasive species control structure. The benefits of this project will include improved aquatic and waterfowl habitat, invasive species management, and improved desirable fish population.
Over the next couple of weeks, the Senate, House or Representatives and Gov. Mark Dayton will work to find agreement on one supplemental budget. This discussion will be done through a conference committee process that is open to the public. Stay tuned as we work toward a budget agreement and the end of the 2014 session.
Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, is the state senator for District 27. His column appears every other Sunday during the legislative session.