Significant progress

Published 6:48 am Monday, April 5, 2010

By Jeanne Poppe

Minnesota House

When the 2010 legislative session convened on Feb. 4, we identified the top priorities we wanted to focus on: balancing the state budget, creating jobs and restoring General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC). Less than two months later, we have made good progress on all of these challenges and have moved forward much more quickly than in previous sessions.

As a first step toward creating jobs, we put together a comprehensive Capital Investment bill, targeted at shovel-ready projects across the state. Although the bill was signed into law by the governor, that signature brought with it some difficult vetoes for our district and our state. There is some speculation a second bonding bill will be considered, and if it is, I will work to restore funding for Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM), which pays for conservation efforts that protect water quality and help with flood control, as well as funding for the Shooting Star and Blazing Star trails.

This week, we passed another Jobs Bill, putting in place private investment incentives that will help create over 10,000 Minnesota jobs and spur new economic activity.  It is our hope that the Angel Investor Credit, Historic Credit and Research and Development Credit will help new businesses get started, and as a result, create jobs. We also expanded the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) capability, prompting local jobs across the state.

We passed legislation this week that fills one third of our budget deficit through a cuts-alone approach. We worked hard to make these cuts fair and responsible, but there is no doubt they will be difficult. An ongoing debate with the governor was over aid to cities and counties, which he proposed cutting by $250 million, on top of $200 million in unallotments. Our budget cuts this aid by $105 million, which will still be problematic for local governments. I have long thought we need to find another way to balance our state budget without increasing the burden on property owners or cutting services our residents depend on.

We agree with Gov. Pawlenty in awaiting a federal jobs bill that would further reduce Minnesota’s deficit by $408 million (by helping sustain medical assistance payments).  Being so far ahead of schedule (normally, the legislature passes budget cuts in May, not March), the legislature can continue examining all of our options when we return after Easter.

We also expect significant federal funding as a result of the national health care reform bill. While many of the details are not yet known, it is anticipated to be as much as $300 million, and will pay either a 50 percent or 90 percent match. This federal funding will greatly decrease the amount of cuts we need to make to the Health and Human Services budget.

Finally, a plan was passed to provide basic care for ‘the poorest and sickest Minnesotans,’ as the DHS Commissioner described GAMC recipients.  I preferred the first GAMC plan we passed—it provided better support for rural hospitals—but the governor vetoed it.  After significant negotiations, the legislature and governor agreed to a smaller plan that retains important pieces of this safety net.

As each of these bills was crafted, it was always with an eye to the goal of passing legislation the governor will sign. As a result, there are provisions in each of them I do not approve of, and many things left out I was hoping for. However, as we have experienced many times in recent years, the governor holds the veto pen and as a result, has the last word.