Good morning, and welcome to Tuesday. It’s a big one for Gov. Tim Walz, and that’s where we’ll start the Digest.
1. Two-year state budget is expected to add up to around $50 billion. Gov. Tim Walz said his budget will be a moral document that reflects his values. During an event at the University of Minnesota last week, the former high school teacher emphasized that funding for public education, from pre-school through college will be a top priority. “The way that we can be competitive and ensure quality of life for all of our citizens is first and foremost focus on education. We can’t afford to let a single person drop through.” The statewide teachers’ union Education Minnesota is pressuring Walz to follow through. The union’s president Denise Specht said last week they expect a big investment in schools. “The money is there. I believe scarcity is a myth, and I believe the public is behind us.” Walz has also dropped hints about other budget initiatives. He said he will propose new money for rural broadband expansion, local government aid, affordable housing and mental health assistance for farmers. Walz is also expected to propose a gas tax increase to pay for highway projects and recommend that a health care provider tax remain in place rather than expire as scheduled at the end of the year. “I am not willing to drop off 35,000 people off Medical Assistance or MinnesotaCare, and I am not willing to send us back in health outcomes that in the long run cost us more,” he said. “So, I will make that case.” Republicans oppose keeping the provider tax. They also oppose an increase in the gas tax. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said Senate Republicans will work this session to protect taxpayers. He said spending cuts in health and human services could help replace the provider tax revenue and keep MinnesotaCare funded. (MPR News)
2. A deeper dive into where the money goes. Minnesota government spending has increased by about $6 billion over the past decade. That’s after inflation is taken into account and represents a 15 percent increase in the two-year general fund budget. In order to keep up with rising expenses, revenues also have grown. Minnesota now collects about 21 percent more in taxes and other revenues than it did a decade ago. State spending doesn’t just grow because of inflation and more people — Minnesota added about 400,000 residents in the past decade. It also grows when those people want or need more government services, like medical assistance or special-education instruction. Broken down, state government now raises and spends about $8,000 per resident, every two years. That’s up from about $7,500 in spending and $7,100 in revenues a decade ago. The state budget is separated into about a dozen different spending areas, focused on everything from education to services for veterans to transportation. Two areas, public schools and health and human services, account for 70 percent of the state budget. Those also are the fastest-growing areas, accounting for the vast majority of the spending increases over the past decade. The money has largely gone to a mix of new and existing programs as well to serve the state’s growing population. Government is a people-focused enterprise, and when a state’s population or the services those people need grow, spending follows. Minnesota also receives about a billion dollars a month from Washington D.C. that essentially passes through state coffers to support federal programs. (Pioneer Press)
3. Klobuchar spent an hour on CNN last night from New Hampshire. At a CNN town hall with voters Monday night, Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar offered few sugar-coated promises on causes that have become popular among the party’s progressive base. Instead, she gave detail-laden answers about why there are no easy fixes to these challenges, despite what they might hear from other Democrats. With her presidential campaign only eight days old, Klobuchar is testing the balance between pragmatism and purity, while resisting the urge to pander to the party’s progressive wing. Her approach on stage at St. Anselm College, which echoes early conversations she is having with voters in New Hampshire and Iowa, offers a glimpse into how she hopes to differentiate herself from a large and still-growing field of 2020 Democratic hopefuls. Even as she touts her progressive record, she is seeking to carve out a more moderate lane, while emphasizing her ability to accomplish the goals she lays out. The winds of the Democratic presidential primary are blowing fiercely from the left, but on Monday night she showed few signs of bending. Asked whether she would support Medicare-for-all, Klobuchar replied: “It could be a possibility in the future. I’m just looking for something that will work now.” She said her focus would be on improving the Affordable Care Act, expanding both Medicare and Medicaid and creating a public option. As for the Green New Deal, she praised the idea, but said it was pie in the sky to enact such sweeping proposals in 10 years. “I think they are aspirations,” she said. (CNN)
4. Ellison joins suit over Trump’s emergency declaration. Minnesota will join a multistate lawsuit against President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration to fund a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a release from Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s Office. Trump declared a national emergency to fulfill his promise of completing the wall. The move allows the president to bypass Congress to use money from the Pentagon and other budgets. “President Trump, who has been unable to persuade Congress and the American people that a wall is necessary, is harming the people of Minnesota by forcing this constitutional crisis. I have joined this lawsuit because I cannot allow him to do that,” Attorney General Ellison said in the release. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. (KSTP-TV)
5. Students who don’t speak English put pressure on school budgets. The education of students learning to grasp the English language is getting fresh attention at the State Capitol — in no small part because of the fiscal pressures being placed on school districts. Statewide, expenditures outpaced revenue by $100 million in 2016-17, forcing school systems to find ways to cover the deficits. The shifting of funds — known in education circles as a cross subsidy — is central, too, to the fight over soaring special-education costs. Shortfalls attached to the English language learner (ELL) programs include about $5.5 million in the Anoka-Hennepin district, $2.3 million in South Washington County, $3.3 million in Rochester, $1.3 million in Willmar, and $17 million and $14 million, respectively, in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Rep. Kaohly Her, DFL-St. Paul, the bill’s chief author, is a former ELL student herself. So, too, is Be Vang, principal of Mississippi Creative Arts School in St. Paul. Vang testified in favor of the bill and of the need for more teachers and bilingual aides who can work past barriers to bring out a child’s strengths. “Students may come with a language gap. But they don’t come )with a cognitive gap,” Vang said last week. (Star Tribune)