By Marie Huey, Public Policy and Advocacy Coordinator

Facts and speculation both made appearances at February’s Ann Kaner-Roth Policy Hour at Think Small in Minneapolis, and Sara(h)s abounded.

Sara Benzkofer, Sarah Orange, Sarah Clarke, and Jessica Anderson presented during the February Ann Kaner-Roth Policy Hour at Think Small.

Sarah Orange, Policy Advocate for the Minnesota budget Project, talked about the state budget forecast. The 2018 legislative session begins on February 20 and is the second year of the state’s two year budget cycle. The legislature sets the budget in odd-numbered years and often prioritizes bonding in even-numbered years. They don’t necessarily have to pass legislation in the even-numbered (or “off”) years, but they often do.

The November budget forecast predicted an upcoming deficit of $188 million for the current biennium, growing to $586 million in the next biennium. However, there have been several changes since November that will be reflected in the February forecast, which comes out at the end of this month.

First, Congress reauthorized the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). This means the state will not have to provide $178 million because federal funds will once again cover the cost. Additionally, the state legislature borrowed money from the Legislative Coordination Commission because Governor Dayton line-item vetoed their funding. That will have to be resolved. The other large financial factor is the new federal tax bill. The February forecast will reflect the potential impact, but how it will actually play out in Minnesota is still uncertain.

Taking into account these factors and changes, Orange predicts the February budget forecast will likely reflect a net positive balance, which would set up a different tone than the November deficit projections.

For more information about the budget, refer to these resources:

Minnesota Budget Project website

Minnesota Budget Bites blog

Minnesota Management and Budget

House Fiscal Analysis

Senate Research and Analysis

With the financial basics covered, lobbyists Sarah Clarke, with Hylden Advocacy and Law, and Jessica Anderson of Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota, joined Orange to discuss the session, with Sara Benzkofer acting as moderator.

Notable factors for the 2018 session:

  • Ongoing disagreement over legislative funding due to the governor’s line-item veto. This issue is still unresolved after several court dates and attempts at mediation.
  • Ongoing lawsuit and disagreement over the lieutenant governor’s role. There is currently no timeline for the resolution of this issue, and it is unclear exactly what Senator Fishbach’s role and influence will be.
  • Two legislators resigned over sexual harassment allegations. Republican House leaders just announced a House Subcommittee on Workplace Safety and Respect to look into the issue.
  • Special elections on February 12. Two new members, one representative and one senator, will join the legislature for the upcoming session, replacing those who left because of sexual harassment allegations.
  • November 2018 elections. Governor, all state representative seats, all state constitutional offices, and the entire federal delegation will be on the Minnesota ballot. Many candidates will be thinking strategically about how to use session as a way to deliver for constituents and win elections.
  • Federal tax bill implications. Minnesota will likely look at how to address the federal changes.
  • Governor Dayton’s legacy. He won’t be running for re-election in November so this is Dayton’s last session to solidify his legacy and leave the office in a good financial position, as well as helping set the DFL up for future success.
  • Bonding? Off years often include a bonding bill which allows the state to pay for infrastructure projects. The governor proposed a $1.5 billion bonding plan. House and Senate leaders have indicated they don’t have the appetite for such a large price tag, but some kind of a deal may be reached.

All these considerations mean lawmakers will have a lot on their mind when February 20th arrives. What does that mean for early learning, and where do children and families rank on the list of priorities? The answers remain a mystery for the moment, but our guests weighed in with their thoughts.

Anderson works mostly with the Health and Human Services (HHS) committees. She’s part of the Kids Can’t Wait coalition, which aims to fully fund the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). She’ll also be working to pass remaining family-friendly provisions to CCAP. In addition, she is part of the Minnesotans for Paid Leave coalition. Priorities she’s hearing about from HHS members include elder care abuse, MinnesotaCare funding, and mental health.

Another issue likely up for discussion is the troubled Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS). Lawmakers may spend time discussing possible fixes to that program.

Clarke is lobbying for MinneMinds which means she interacts frequently with Education Committee members. She’s hearing similar talk to Anderson about health-related priorities. There’s a sense that much has been done for education and legislators may want to focus on other areas this session.

Both Anderson and Clarke expressed cautious optimism that there may be a chance to advance their organizations priorities, even though lawmakers aren’t enthusiastic about spending money.

Policy Hour attendees brought up a couple of potential policy changes that legislators could take on without spending anything. One suggestion was to make Early Learning Scholarships available to all children birth to age five. Another was to eliminate the requirement that children receiving scholarships attend the same program.

Follow along to see how the session actually plays out. New issues may arise, and constituent concerns matter! If you want to influence what legislators are working on, you can find out who represents you and share your thoughts.

You can watch the entire January Ann Kaner-Roth Policy Hour on Minnesota’s Future Facebook page.