Minnesota Legislature passes higher ed bill and adjourns

Late last night, after several hours of negotiations, the House and Senate passed the higher education omnibus appropriations bill. It is now headed to Governor Walz, who will sign it into law. The Minnesota Legislature subsequently adjourned at midnight, thereby concluding the regular legislative session.
 
The higher education bill, Senate File 2415, includes a $43.5 million increase in operations and maintenance funding for the University of Minnesota. This brings the University’s biennial total appropriation (all funds) to $1.345 billion. The $150 million higher education bill also funds operations and maintenance at Minnesota State and the Office of Higher Education, and provides funding to the State Grant program.
 
The higher education bill was the only omnibus budget bill passed by the legislature during the regular legislative session. The legislature and governor will address the remaining nine budget bills in a special session. Negotiations between legislative leaders and Governor Walz on those remaining bills are ongoing.
 
This outcome is not entirely unexpected or unplanned. On Sunday night, legislative leaders and Governor Walz unveiled a global budget agreement, which allows for the completion of the remaining budget bills in a special session as early as Thursday of this week. This is contingent on the parties agreeing to the provisions in each of the bills, which is hardly a given. In fact, conference committee chairs were unable to reach agreement by the 5 p.m. deadline Monday night, thereby relinquishing final decision-making authority to the governor and legislative leadership. Unofficial legislative “working groups” are now established to try and hammer out the details of the remaining budget bills for a special session.
 
The global budget agreement provides approximately $48 billion over the next two years to fund Minnesota’s state government. A few highlights in the agreement:

  • No increase to the gas tax
  • Health care provider tax permanently set at 1.8% (no sunset)
  • 2% increase to the education formula in both 2020 and 2021
  • 0.25% cut to the second-tier income tax bracket

The agreement also provides for a $500 million capital investment bill. The House, Senate, and governor now must decide which projects will be included within that target number. To complicate matters, a supermajority is required in the House (81 votes) and Senate (41 votes) to pass any bonding bill, meaning that the minority parties must provide 6 votes each to pass the bill. As of this writing, there is no final commitment that the minority parties will provide those votes.
 
The governor stated he is inclined to call a special legislative session on Thursday for one day. This aggressive agenda would require agreement from all the parties beforehand because, although the governor is empowered to decide when a special session starts, only the legislature can decide when it ends. Furthermore, the minority parties would have to agree to suspend the rules to pass all the bills in one day. To date, the minority GOP members in the House have not yet stated they would provide the votes to suspend the rules. As a result, the final outcome of the budget bills remains unclear.
 
The higher education bill is the result of the advocacy of many University faculty, staff, alumni, and students. We are grateful for your support. As legislative negotiations continue, we encourage you to remain engaged with your local legislators and advocate for the inclusion of the University of Minnesota’s capital request in any final bonding bill.