Dan Sparks: Wrapping up the Minnesota state budget
Senate Report by Dan Sparks
The major task of the 2019 legislative session was to create a two-year budget to fund the needs of Minnesota. With divided government, we knew getting to the finish line would take a strong effort. Though it required a one-day special session, the Senate, House and Gov. Tim Walz came together and reached a compromise budget agreement that will improve the lives of Minnesotans all across the state.
The major pieces of the new budget are a 2% increase on the basic funding formula for education, in addition to allocating money for special education and early childhood education. We have also increased the amount of funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband program from $30 million to $40 million. The budget agreement also now includes $52 million in aid to cities and counties through local government aid (LGA) and county program aid (CPA), which will help stabilize property taxes.
We also got new funding for an important local project, the Shell Rock Water Restoration Program. This program will receive approximately $2 million to acquire lands in fee, and to restore and enhance aquatic habitat in the Shell Rock River Watershed District.
While the overall budget agreement is a fair and responsible compromise, there are still areas of concern. We will be using some money from the state’s budget reserve, our “rainy day fund,” to pay for ongoing needs. Though this will give us flexibility to address needs right now, it sets a poor precedent to take money from this reserve. I hope that this is a one-time approach, and we should commit to using the budget reserve only when necessary.
Two big issues were also addressed in the final week of the regular legislative session. We passed major reforms to create new protections and regulations for elder care, and to prevent abuse. It is critical that we have strong protections in place for elders and vulnerable adults. This work began last year and it’s a positive step forward to get this done.
The House and Senate also came together in a bipartisan manner to address the state’s opioid crisis. We passed legislation that can serve as a national model to provide funding for treatment and addiction services, and to help first responders in handling this crisis. While it was at times difficult, these are just some of the examples of what we were able to accomplish when we overcame partisan differences and passed important legislation.
We were able to accomplish a lot of good work in the 2019 legislative session, but there is still much to do next year. Though we don’t return to session until February, I encourage you to reach out to my office with any questions or concerns. The biggest priorities for 2020 will be passing a capital investment (bonding) bill, and to address areas of policy concerns. While it will be another year of divided government, we have the opportunity to build on this year’s successes to keep Minnesota moving forward.
Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, is the District 27 senator.