Legislative session heading into overtime

After blowing past their own self-imposed deadlines, Governor Walz and legislative leaders House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka finally reached an agreement on the state budget Sunday evening. See their signed agreement.

Although Monday was the final day of the regular session — per the State Constitution — a special session will be required for the Legislature to complete its work and pass bills. Governor Walz and legislative leaders have indicated preference for a one-day special session to be held this Thursday, but the exact timing and duration of the special session are still up in the air.

As all three stated during their joint press conference Sunday evening, the agreement reflects a compromise on all sides with no clear “winner.” The two major sticking points in negotiations were the gas tax (Governor and House wanted a 20 cent increase; Senate wanted no increase) and health care provider tax (Governor and House wanted to extend the 2% provider tax set to sunset this year; Senate wanted to eliminate it). Ultimately, the final agreement included no gas tax increase and a 1.8% provider tax with no sunset.

While there is an agreement on the broad budget numbers, the various conference committees were tasked with hammering out the details by 5 p.m. Monday. Reportedly most of them failed to meet that deadline. There is talk that now the bills will be pulled out of conference committee and the final details will be decided between Governor Walz, legislative leaders and the respective committee chairs.

What does it all mean for Local Government Aid (LGA)?

The prospects for an LGA increase — which, if there is one, will be included in the tax bill — are still up in the air.

The tax bill agreement includes only three specific items: a reduction in the second-tier individual income tax rate from 7.2 percent to 6.8 percent, $20 million for the Minneapolis Employees Retirement Fund and a $50 million reduction in the state general levy, which is a statewide property tax that primarily applies to commercial-industrial property. All other issues were left up the conference committee to decide.

The tax bill was given a $0 target, which means that any increase in tax revenues must be matched by an equivalent reduction in revenues or increase in tax aids and credits (e.g. LGA). Federal conformity, Minnesota’s response to the 2017 federal tax overhaul, will play a significant role in shaping what a final tax bill looks like as the plans put forth by Governor Walz, the House DFL and the Senate GOP all generate additional revenue that could be used to pay for other priorities within the tax bill, such as increases to LGA or an expansion of the Working Family Credit.

After the budget agreement was announced Sunday night, we quickly sent out a news release from CGMC President Ron Johnson reiterating that Greater Minnesota communities are counting on the Legislature to pass a $30.5 million LGA increase this year. The CGMC also sent a letter from Ron to all Greater Minnesota legislators arguing that an LGA increase is necessary to provide balance to the tax bill, because 73 percent of the property tax relief provided by cutting the state general levy will go to property located in the metro.

What about a bonding bill?

Governor Walz and the legislative leaders have agreed to a $500 million bonding bill, which includes $440 million in general obligation bonds and $60 million in housing infrastructure bonds. However, the details of what will actually be included in said bonding bill have yet to be determined. From the CGMC perspective, we are hopeful for dollars for clean water infrastructure (PFA $$$), the Greater Minnesota Business Development Infrastructure grant program and child care facilities grants. Several of our member cities also have important projects vying for funding.

It is important to note that unlike other bills, the bonding bill requires a supermajority to pass. That means that it will not pass in either the House or Senate unless some legislators in both chambers vote across party lines. In comments made to reporters following announcement of the budget deal, House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt threw some cold water on the idea of any House Republicans voting for a bonding bill. However, it is quite possible that some House Republicans may choose to break from their party in order to get funding for important projects in their districts.

And CGMC’s child care proposals?

At this point there is no news to report on our two child care priorities: funding for the Minnesota Initiative Foundations (MIFs) for provider training & business assistance and bonding money to build or expand child care facilities. The MIFs proposal is still being considered as part of the omnibus jobs bill, and child care facilities grants are part of the ongoing bonding bill discussions.

Any hope for transportation?

The gas tax was one of Governor Walz’s highest profile proposals this session. He talked about the need for new transportation revenues on the campaign trail and reiterated that commitment the day after his election as governor. This session’s House transportation bill was particularly promising for CGMC priorities. It included new funding for Corridors of Commerce, significant new funding for MSA cities, and a permanent, dedicated funding stream for small cities. When the final budget deal was reached, however, all of those priorities ended up on the cutting room floor.

For cities with populations greater than 5,000, the status quo will hold. With no additional funding coming into the transportation formula, larger cities will not see increases through the municipal state aid formula.

For small cities, the jury is still out, but the path forward is difficult. Without significant new funding for transportation and a relatively small general fund target for transportation, it is difficult to see how the House and Senate come up with a compromise plan that isn’t an abject failure for small-city street funding.

Further, without new funding in the transportation system, significant investments in Corridors of Commerce may not be possible this session. Since it appears that a comprehensive transportation package is now off the table for this year, the CGMC will shift in its focus in the upcoming special session to maintaining the $25 million/year base appropriation for Corridors of Commerce, which the Senate has proposed eliminating. While the Corridors of Commerce program is not perfect and could use some tweaks in the way it scores projects for funding consideration, it remains one of the few mechanisms for funding critical highway projects in Greater Minnesota.

How will the special session play out?

The legislative leaders have hinted at holding a one-day special session on Thursday. Accomplishing that in one day would require suspending the normal procedural rules in each chamber which require action on a bill take place over multiple days. A vote to suspend the rules requires a three-fifths majority, which would require six GOP votes in the House. The House GOP caucus has threatened to vote against such a motion. Failure to suspend the rules means a special session could take several days to finish.

It’s important to note that while there is a global agreement between the Governor, Speaker Hortman and Sen. Gazelka, there are still 199 other legislators to consider — some of whom may not be happy with the terms that were agreed upon or the “cone of silence” that surrounded the negotiations. So while there are just hours until today’s midnight deadline for the regular legislative session, the Legislature’s work remains far from over.

As the special session plays out, CGMC staff will be busy following all the action at the Capitol and continuing to advocate for Greater Minnesota priorities.

Questions?

If you have any questions, please contact CGMC Executive Director Bradley Peterson at bmpeterson@flaherty-hood.com or 651-225-8840.