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Dan Sparks: Wrapping up the state budget

By Dan Sparks

State Senator, District 27

Prior to the May 20, adjournment of the regular 2019 Legislative Session, the Senate, House, and Governor Tim Walz came together and reached a budget agreement. While I am disappointed that we did not pass a budget before our constitutionally mandated adjournment date, I am glad that the governor called a special session to pass the agreement into law.

The major pieces of the new budget will be a 2 percent 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 funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband program from $30 million up to $40 million this year. 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.

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.

Minnesota is one of only two divided legislatures in the county, so we knew it would be difficult to find agreement. Though the budget compromise came late, we were able to come together and put the priorities of Minnesotans first. Additionally, we made a lot of progress in addressing urgent issues facing the state.

Two big issues were 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 be 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 when we were able to overcome partisan differences and pass important legislation.

We are also finally addressing the issue involved with Austin’s firefighters and their pension fund. It permits Austin to allocate a portion of fire state aid to pay employer contributions on behalf of firefighters covered by the Public Employee Retirement Association Police & Fire Plan rather than pay the full amount to the Volunteer Fire Relief Association (VFRA) as required under current statute. Thankfully, we have a permanent solution that will secure the state funding required for the pension, without forcing the city to find the money.