Senate prepares to wrap up 2015 session

Published 3:00 pm Saturday, May 16, 2015

For most of this last week of session, Senate and House leaders have been in budget negotiations with Gov. Dayton. As these negotiations work to reach agreement on a budget number for each division, conference committees have focused on reviewing language and in some cases adopted similar provisions. The biggest roadblocks appear to be the House’s vote to end MinnesotaCare, which would cause 90,000 low-wage workers to lose their current health insurance. At this point, Senate leaders have agreed to back off a proposal to increase the gas tax to pay for a multi-billion dollar transportation package over the next decade in an effort to finalize the budget.

Dan Sparks

Dan Sparks

Legislative leaders have reached an agreement for a handful of budget divisions, including higher education, agreeing on a budget target of $166 million. That new funding will be directed to tuition relief (through institutional support and the state grant program) and invests $30 million in the University of Minnesota Medical School. This money will mean that our state’s 317,000 higher education students’ tuition costs will remain in check. Overall, keeping costs down for those seeking higher education and investing in our state’s premier medical research facility are important to the economic success of our state.

One of the other major budgets left to be addressed is E-12 education, which represents 40 percent of the state budget. The Senate’s E-12 proposals will help all 850,000 Minnesota K-12 students by putting significant investments into the state’s per pupil funding formula. The Senate is also hoping to expand its early education offerings to 4-year-olds through an investment in school readiness. The Senate has also prioritized increasing facilities funding. This money is critical for small and medium-sized school districts across the state who struggle to fix and maintain their school buildings.

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There are many important provisions relating to workforce development and workforce housing that are still being discussed in conference committee. The Housing Job Growth Initiative is a new program that received $8 million to help communities across the state experiencing low vacancy rates and anticipated job expansions. A new workforce housing grants program was also created this year to provide grants to local units of government for market value workforce housing needs outside the metropolitan area. The money would be available to cities hoping to kickstart building projects. These proposals will work in conjunction with the workforce housing tax credit, which will incentivize individuals and businesses to invest in needed housing in communities experiencing low vacancy rates.

Programs like these strengthen and improve our communities. This week it was announced that Albert Lea is receiving $483,640 through the Small Cities Development Program for housing rehabilitation. This program provides financial support for housing, public infrastructure and commercial rehabilitation projects in cities and counties statewide to address issues of health and safety and/or improve blighted neighborhoods in their communities.

As we move toward finalizing the budget for the next two years, we should see solid investments in the state’s E-12 system and pre-k to help ensure Minnesota 4-year-olds are ready for kindergarten. We can be proud of our investments in proven job creation funds and in our work to help communities across the state with workforce housing issues. Our state’s colleges and universities will also receive needed funding to provide tuition relief and new money for research.

If there are any other issues you’d like to see addressed, please feel free to contact my office at (651) 296-9248.


Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, is the state senator for District 27.