Notes from the Capitol

By Scott McMahon, GMNP Executive Director

The 2021 legislative session has finally come to an end. This session will never be forgotten, and hopefully, never repeated. After wrapping up the 2020 legislative session a year ago, there were seven special sessions between June 2020 and December 2020 as the state managed the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 legislative session began in early January with completely virtual hearings, floor sessions, and legislator meetings.

Over the course of the five-month session and the two-week special session, the GMNP had hundreds of meetings with legislators, legislative staff, and agency staff and monitored and testified in dozens of committee hearings. Only one of these meetings was in-person. The rest were done via a virtual platform or lobbying from the GMNP office. Despite the challenges of lobbying when there is no lobby, 2021 was a successful session for the Greater Minnesota Partnership, and many of our legislative priorities were enacted.

The child care shortage in Greater Minnesota was a major issue prior to the pandemic and has only intensified due to economic shutdowns and the move to work-from-home. As part of federal COVID response legislation, Minnesota received $520 million in federal funds to invest in child care provider grants and increased support for families. The Department of Human Services will now have $22.5 million in federal funds to invest throughout Minnesota for the construction of new or expansion of existing child care facilities.

In addition, we secured funding for two critical grant programs. First, the six Initiative Foundations, which exclusively serve Greater Minnesota, will receive $3 million over the next two years to continue their child care efforts that support providers and communities in addressing regional supply issues. Second, the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Child Grant program will receive $5 million over the next two years, with at least 50 percent of the funds going to efforts in Greater Minnesota. These grants will help retain existing providers, support new providers, and help communities develop plans to address their local shortage.

On the broadband front, the final budget includes $70 million for the Border-to-Border Broadband program, the largest one-time investment in the program’s history. While we are excited about this, the investment is short of what the Governor’s Broadband Task Force says is needed to keep the state on track to meet the 2026 broadband goal of 100mbps download/20mbps download. The Task Force has calculated $125 million per biennium is needed to meet that goal. With the likelihood of broadband funds being included in the federal infrastructure bill currently under debate, and the federal stimulus funds the state held back for the 2022 session, closing this gap will be a top priority next session.

Our third major policy focus this session was housing, and trying to stimulate more housing development—especially workforce housing—throughout Greater Minnesota. Unfortunately, with limited new money in the housing budget and no bonding bill, our achievements in this area were limited to securing $4 million for the Greater Minnesota Workforce Housing Program. $10 million in new housing funds were committed to supporting statewide programs. This highlights why an organization like the Greater Minnesota Partnership is so important at the Capitol. There is no denying that there are housing issues across the state, but the reality is the housing challenges in the Twin Cities are different than the housing challenges in Greater Minnesota. As a result, statewide programs do not always fully address the unique challenges affecting our communities. If we are to make an impact and ultimately convince policymakers that we need solutions that work for both the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota, we need groups like the Greater Minnesota Partnership advocating these ideas.

There were two major investments that came through this session that were not a part of the original GMNP 2021 agenda, but required a significant amount of time: another round of financial support for businesses impacted by the pandemic and a major redevelopment fund housed in DEED. DEED and the six Initiative Foundations will partner again to distribute $35 million in grants to small businesses impacted by the pandemic but who did not receive financial assistance in the grants distributed in 2020. The DEED redevelopment fund is $40 million to support investments addressing the greatest revitalization needs that have arisen since the start of the pandemic. One of the needs these funds can be used for is new child care facilities. Given the difficult circumstances of the 2021 legislative session, we are pleased with the level of success the Partnership accomplished. However, this success could have only happened with the support and commitment of our membership. Without you, your engagement, and your financial contribution, none of this would be possible. Thank you for your support this session.