We have now entered the final 2 weeks of the traditional legislative session. I am working hard to ensure we remain focused on health and business as we all move forward. This week a new budget forecast was released and a bill to end child marriage in Minnesota was passed off the Senate floor.
I also want to take a moment and thank all of the nurses and educators serving our community, it is with your dedication to service that our communities remain healthy and strong. As always, I have included resources you may find useful during this time.
State’s budget health takes a $4 billion swing
Minnesota officials received an interim budget projection this week from economic experts that provides a glimpse into the sustained effects the coronavirus pandemic has had on state finances. As a reminder, the February economic forecast projected about a $1.5 billion budget surplus for the Fiscal Year 2020-2021 period. This week’s numbers now project a deficit of $2.426 billion for the same period. That is a nearly $4 billion change in a matter of weeks.
Most of the dip is attributable to a $3.611 billion reduction in expected revenues coming into the state. Spending also is projected to be $391 million higher as the state responds to the pandemic. The state’s budget reserve account remains at $2.359 billion, largely because lawmakers insisted on an automatic savings tool in 2014 that directed up to one-third of each budget surplus to the state’s savings account. Although lawmakers will use caution in dipping into the reserve account, it is a welcome resource that may prevent some harmful budget reductions.
The state’s budget office typically provides a budget forecast in February and November of each year, and those numbers guide the legislature’s funding decisions for the approaching fiscal years. This year, Governor Walz wisely urged the finance agency to produce an interim projection so lawmakers could make better informed decisions. While it is helpful information, finance experts warn that the economic outlook will remain volatile for some time and prolonged budget effects are expected to continue changing.
The legislature is constitutionally mandated to adjourn by May 18. Governor Walz acknowledged that every budget decision cannot responsibly be made in the next 10 days, and that lawmakers should expect to return for special session if needed to address ongoing issues. Lawmakers must find bipartisan agreement on specific issues by Saturday, May 9, and larger bills, such as the bonding bill and tax decisions, will be negotiated in the coming days with a goal of passing larger bills before the May 18 adjournment.
Jobs Bill to put People Back to Work
Senate DFLers introduced a 2020 jobs bill this week at a Capitol press conference. With less than two weeks left of session and no bonding hearings scheduled in the Senate, they expressed an urgency in getting a bonding bill passed. Minnesota has more than $5 billion in requests to improve our crumbling public buildings and infrastructure across our state, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made the urgency for the jobs these investments will create even greater.
If there was ever a time to pass a robust bonding bill, it’s now. The $2.3 billion capital improvements bill will ensure access to safe drinking water, affordable housing, public safety, and upkeep for the higher education institutions that prepare our future workforce in all four corners of the state. Passing a bonding bill will help address the need for infrastructure improvements and create the local jobs and economic stimulus our state needs during this public health crisis.
Jobs are needed now more than ever to help the economy recover from the impacts of COVID. We at the Senate are working to ensure the safety and security of our communities.
Equity in bonding is crucial in passing a robust bonding bill that benefits Minnesotans in every corner of the state. We are actively working with the governor and House leaders to lead the charge on passing a robust bonding bill that is good for all Minnesota communities. Their prudent and fiscally sound investments will address our backlog of needs, is regionally balanced, will create local jobs, and provide our communities sorely needed economic stimulus during and beyond this public health crisis. (SF 4573)
COVID-19 relief funds protected from debt collectors
Governor Walz signed Executive Order 20-50 this week, which exempts federal, tribal, state, and local COVID-19 relief funds from being intercepted and withheld by creditors and debt collectors. Minnesotans all across the state are facing unprecedented challenges and added obstacles to simply placing food on the table and keeping a roof over their heads.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was specifically allocated to assist families and individuals with income and family sized based funds to help relieve some of the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Governor Walz wants to ensure that this funding is used for what it was intended for and cannot be seized by debt collection or other means of interception.