ST. PAUL - Ideological differences in Minnesota’s divided government proved a high hurdle to jump Monday, as the House and the Senate failed to agree on most of the budget bills in time for the constitutional midnight deadline.
Worthington City Administrator Steve Robinson explained that since Gov. Tim Walz, House Speaker Melissa Hortman Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka didn’t agree on the overall budget until Sunday night, committees did not have ample time to finalize details of each bill.
To ensure final decisions are made, the governor will call a special session later this week, during which legislators will hopefully reach a compromise.
A number of the bills still on the table have been watched closely by the Worthington community throughout the 2019 legislative session.
The omnibus tax bill includes Worthington’s local-option sales tax proposal, which voters approved in November. If passed, the half-cent sales tax would raise funds for several city amenities.
Robinson went to St. Paul Monday “hoping to see some finality” to the tax bill.
“We are waiting and still hoping that everything stays intact,” he said.
So far, Robinson added, it looks like Worthington’s local-option sales tax will pass, although he said “everything is still up in the air” until a final vote.
Also of significant local concern is the omnibus education finance bill, which includes two Independent School District 518 funding requests - one for a $15 million matching grant to build an intermediate school or community education facility, and one for $300,000 in 2020 and in 2021 to fund the teacher pathway program.
District 22 Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, was appointed to the conference committee that will reconcile the omnibus education finance bill. Each conference committee consists of five senators and five representatives who compare the differences in the Senate and House versions of the bill and work to reach a compromise.
Another bill that would affect the Worthington community is the omnibus transportation finance bill, which includes the Freedom to Drive Act. Worthington residents have rallied in support of the Freedom to Drive Act on several occasions throughout this legislative session. The legislation was co-authored by District 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, who has advocated for driver’s licenses for all Minnesotans for several years.
Although many major bills are still up for discussion, two notable measures were passed Monday.
The omnibus higher education finance and policy bill was passed by both bodies. The bill establishes funding and policy changes for the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.
Included in policy changes are rules about how institutions of higher education protect and validate victims of sexual assault; establishment of a student loan debt counseling program; and data privacy clarifications.
District 22A Rep. Joe Schomacker, R-Luverne, voted in favor of the omnibus bill, while Hamilton voted against it.
Schomacker said he voted yes because the bill garnered bipartisan support while sticking to a balanced budget.
“It seemed to address all the issues without including anything controversial,” he explained.
Although not an omnibus bill, a bill addressing the opioid crisis was also passed in both chambers Monday. House File 400 establishes an Opioid Epidemic Response Advisory Council and an opiate product registration fee, in addition to several policy adjustments that would attempt to protect against opioid addiction.
Schomacker has opposed the bill since its introduction because he believes the method of funding will increase health care costs for Minnesotans. Hamilton was a co-author of the bill.
As the session draws to a close, Schomacker said he’s most concerned about budget bills passing, as the rest can wait until next year. He added that’s more focused about the quality of the legislation that passes than about how quickly it’s approved.
“I would prefer to make sure that we get it done right, even if it goes into next week,” he said.