Special Session: How did GMNP priorities fare?

Concerns about the potential for a partial government shutdown this year have now been laid to rest. A special session was held Friday to address the few remaining budget bills that had failed to pass by the end of the regular session (Legacy, bonding) or were vetoed by the Governor (K-12 education, jobs & energy, agriculture & environment). After a long day of debate, particularly in the Senate over some controversial measures in the ag & environment bill, all of the bills were passed out of the Legislature by the wee hours of Saturday morning; Governor Dayton signed them into law soon after.

The jobs & energy, ag & environment and bonding bills all contained provisions that address GMNP priorities. Here is run-down of what happened with our top issues this year (an outline of which can also be found on this chart):

  • Job training – The jobs bill included $900,000 in FY 16 and $900,000 in FY17 for a new Greater Minnesota job training program which the GMNP helped to create. Although we had hoped for more funding (we were seeking $15 million for the program), this is still significant in that it creates a brand-new job training program that is flexible, employer-driven and dedicated to Greater Minnesota.
  • Workforce housing – The final jobs bill included $5.373 million in FY16-17 for a workforce housing grant program dedicated to Greater Minnesota. Of that amount, $1.373 million is earmarked for Roseau and Pennington counties in FY16. Unfortunately, the GMNP’s plan for a workforce housing tax credit did not come into fruition this year because the Legislature failed to pass a tax bill.
  • Broadband – The final jobs bill included $10.838 million for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program in FY16-17.
  • Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure (BDPI) Grant Program – The final bonding bill included $1 million for the program. The jobs bill also included $1.9 million in FY16 (all of which is earmarked for projects in two cities) and $1.3 million in FY17.
  • Environmental regulatory reform – The final ag & environment bill included modified versions of some provisions supported by the GMNP, including a provision requiring the state to conduct a cost impact analysis of all of the new or soon-to-be-adopted water quality regulations and a pared down requirement for independent scientific review before some regulations can be adopted. The final bill did not include a GMNP-supported provision that would have required legislative approval of proposed regulations that are expected to be particularly costly to implement.
  • Corridors of Commerce – There was no new funding provided for the Corridors of Commerce program this year because the Legislature failed to pass a comprehensive transportation bill.

All in all, it was a lackluster year for Greater Minnesota economic development priorities at the Legislature. While we are pleased that some of our issues were addressed—particularly the establishment of the new Greater Minnesota job training program—we are disappointed that they were funded at such low levels, especially given the state’s large budget surplus. The failure to pass a tax bill or a major transportation bill are significant disappointments as well. We are already starting to prepare for next year and working toward a more positive outcome in 2016.