GMNP Board adopts 2021 legislative priorities

At its December meeting, the Partnership’s Board of Directors approved the Partnership’s legislative priorities for the 2021 session. While the policy priorities will not change this year, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a new demand for action on two of our top priorities—access to and speed of internet service throughout Greater Minnesota, and stabilizing and growing our child care industry.

As the pandemic took hold and families parents found themselves working from home and their children learning from home, Minnesotans and policy leaders finally bore witness to what insufficient internet access in Greater Minnesota means: connectivity issues for people working from home and children in distance learning, and students in fast food restaurant parking lots using free wifi. 

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Legislature passes COVID relief bill

The Legislature convened this week for its seventh—and final—special session of 2020, triggered by Gov. Walz’s extension of his emergency order due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When gathered on Monday, the Legislature passed a bill that provides significant grants for businesses impacted by the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as increased unemployment benefits for displaced workers. The Governor signed the bill on Wednesday.

The legislation provides $216 million in relief for businesses directly or indirectly impacted by the business shutdowns or capacity reductions that have occurred since April. Of that amount, $88 million will be provided to bars, restaurants, breweries/wineries/distilleries, fitness centers, and bowling alleys via direct payments from the Department of Revenue. Payments will be between $10,000 and $45,000 per qualified business based on the number of employees. To be eligible, a business must have experienced a 30% reduction in taxable receipts between April 1, 2020 through Sept. 30, 2020 when compared to the same time period in 2019. These checks will be processed in the coming weeks.

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Legislature in sync on COVID relief for businesses, but still no agreement on unemployment benefits

The Legislature will reconvene Monday for its seventh special session of 2020 due to Gov. Walz authorizing another one-month extension of his COVID-19 emergency order. It is anticipated that the Legislature will pass a relief package aimed at businesses and employees impacted by the latest executive order that has closed or reduced operations for bars and restaurants, fitness centers, bowling alleys and other businesses. Although a global agreement has not been reached, the issues on the table include (but are not limited to) grants to businesses, extension of unemployment benefits, and emergency grants for child care providers.

On Thursday, the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Jobs and Economic Development Committee held informational hearings on the various pieces being negotiated. The proposal that appears to have the highest level of bipartisan, bicameral support is $216.5 million in relief for businesses impacted by the latest executive order enacted Nov. 18. This includes: Continue reading

State’s budget forecast better than expected

This week, the state released its first official state budget forecast since the start of the pandemic. It was a surprise when it was announced that the state has a projected $641 million surplus for the remainder of the current biennium, which ends June 30, 2021.

As the pandemic took hold in Minnesota, when many businesses were forced to close or operate at reduced capacity, and the state’s unemployment rate increased to 9.9 percent, the state prepared an unofficial budget projection that showed an anticipated $2.4 billion deficit for the current biennium. Since then, revenues have come in higher than anticipated and state spending has been lower than expected. For example, sales taxes are forecasted to be $808 million (7.6%) more than was originally calculated. On the expense side, state spending on health and human services is down $919 million largely due to the federal government covering more healthcare costs tied the pandemic emergency orders. Spending on K-12 is down $118 million in large part due to students enrolling in private schools or homeschooling or families delaying kindergarten enrollment.

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Webinar to explore the economic impact of the child care crisis

Finance and Commerce is hosting a webinar on Dec. 3 that will provide a deep dive into the child care crisis in Minnesota. A panel of experts will discuss the latest state and national data, followed by a discussion on the challenges Minnesota faces and the solutions being implemented to address the crisis.
 
Participating in the panel are several experts with whom both the CGMC and the Greater Minnesota Partnership work closely, including:

  • Chad Dunkley, CEO of New Horizons Academy
  • Rob Grunewald, economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis
  • Debra Marofsky, president of Affiliated Insurance Services
  • Suzanne Pearly, Minnesota director at First Children’s Finance

The webinar, “Child Care in Crisis: The Economic Impact,” will be on Dec. 3 from 11:45 a.m. – 1 p.m. Registration is free, and you can sign up at us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_jf1uw9qTSHK6Hs2IQn29Jw.

Gov. Walz announces four weeks of tighter COVID-19 restrictions

On Wednesday, Governor Walz announced he will turn the dial back on reopening by introducing new restrictions for restaurants, gyms, youth sports, and social gatherings.

Beginning at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 21:

  • In-person social gatherings with people outside your household are prohibited.
  • Bars and restaurants will be take-out and delivery only.
  • Gyms, fitness centers and public pools will be closed.
  • Indoor and outdoor wedding receptions, parties and celebrations are prohibited.
  • Adult and youth sports are on pause (college and pro sports are an exception).
  • Outdoor skating rinks, ski hills, and parks are still open but indoor facilities are closed.
  • Indoor entertainment venues, such as movie theatres and bowling allies, are closed

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Election update

As we wait for the final results of the last few Minnesota legislative races to come in, one thing continues to become clear: the DFL continues to shore up its political control in the Twin Cities, and the Republicans continue to shore up their control in Greater Minnesota.

At the end of the night, it appears that the Republicans were able to flip five DFL held seats in the House, bringing the DFL majority down to 70-64. Three of the five flipped seats are from Greater Minnesota. Some of these races may change as mail-in ballots continue to come in, and some of the races will likely have recounts. Flipped seats include the likely loss of Rep. Jeanne Poppe, an eight-term legislator from Austin, and Rep. John Persell, a five-term (non-consecutive) legislator from Bemidji. The Republicans did flip two Twin Cities seats, defeating Rep. Brad Tabke (DFL-Shakopee) and Rep. Ann Claflin (DFL-South St. Paul).

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Finally, a bonding bill

During the October special session, the Minnesota Legislature finally passed the long-anticipated bonding bill, which makes strategic and necessary long-term capital investments in state properties and to support local communities with their regional needs. The bill includes $1.9 billion in bonds: $1.3 billion on in general obligation (GO) bonds, $300 million in transportation bonds, and $150 million in appropriation bonds. 

This is the first time the legislature has passed a bonding bill with more than $1 billion in GO bonds, and it provides substantial investment throughout Greater Minnesota. In addition to funding numerous statewide capital improvement programs, the bonding bill includes more than $500 million in specific projects in communities throughout Greater Minnesota, including investing in clean water infrastructure, flood mitigation, improvements to roads, bridges, and airports, and replacing aging infrastructure.

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Deadlines approach for child care grants

Two deadlines are approaching for grants available to child care providers and communities looking address child care shortages.

Providers looking to access the $53 million available in COVID-19 Public Health Support Funds for Child Care, a program funded through the federal CARES Act and sponsored by the MN Department of Human Services, have until Oct. 14 to apply. Grants are available to help providers cover the cost of safeguarding the health and safety of children and staff for three months. Grants of up to $1,200 a month for family care providers and $8,500 for centers are available for providers who the meet the following criteria:

• Operating on Sept. 15
• Committed to operating through Dec. 15
• License in good standing
• Not found responsible for fraud in the past

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Blandin’s Broadband Conference to take place over 4 weeks

The Blandin Foundation is holding its annual Broadband Conference in a very different way this year. Rather than a usual 1-2 day conference filled with back-to-back seminars and panel discussions, this years’ conference will take place over four weeks. And thanks to broadband, the conference will be 100% virtual.

With the use of a virtual setting and by spreading the conference over four weeks, Blandin is also moving away from a meeting-based conference to more focus on collaboration, community discussion, and mentorship. Opportunities include:

  • Custom meetup/mentoring sessions where you can meet online with potential partners and/or experts in broadband adoption and deployment
  • Learning cohorts (small groups) to connect you with other attendees to bounce ideas and traverse an online event throughout the conference
  • Keynote speakers with the option to ask questions in real time or later, including Shirley Bloomfield of NTCA-The Rural Broadband Coalition, Roberto Gallardo from Purdue Center for Regional Development, Deb Socia from The Enterprise Center, and internationally known author and journalist Thomas Friedman.
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