District representative gives post-session update

Area State House Rep. Connie Bernardy (Dist. 41A) recently reflected on the state budget, education funding, transportation, tax cuts and more pertaining to the end of the 2017 legislative session.

Rep. Connie Bernardy (Submitted photo)

“It was a long and grueling session, probably not only for myself but for the public watching it,” she said. “There were a lot of changes that happened this last year nationally as well as in Minnesota. We had our two majorities become conservative so it was quite different. I would say there were mixed results.”

Bernardy’s Dist. 41A includes Fridley, northern New Brighton and a small portion of Spring Lake Park.

Education

A proposal led by republican leadership threatened education funding in local school districts, which would of lead to larger class sizes, teacher cuts and the elimination of pre-K programs because it wasn’t keeping up with inflation.

“We were able to work with the governor and in the end we got nearly twice as much that had originally been proposed,” said Bernardy. “So for our school districts that will mean less cuts and hopefully not very many at all that they would be able to manage those. I know that people really value education in our communities so that is good.”

When Bernardy was the chief author of this bill, staff from Fridley and Columbia Heights school districts testified to keep funding available. Columbia Heights Supt. Kathy Kelly said all-day kindergarten was “essential”.

“I was pleased that we were able to push for an achieve new money for early childhood and k-12 education,” said Bernardy. “We were also able to get some more resources and funding into higher education to help lessen the impacts of rising tuition cost and student debt. So that is where I see the difference that I made along with my colleagues.”

Bernardy also said that she would of liked to see a freeze in college tuition.

“In the past I believe these budgets are balanced on the backs of college students and the responsibility of the state and the goal of the state is to pay two-thirds of a college students education in public schools and a third by the students,” she said. “Well that is not even 50/50 anymore. That is why Minnesota is third in the country for college debt.”

State budget and tax cuts

Bernardy fears that the State of Minnesota is going to face challenges regarding the state budget because $7 million was left on the bottom line.

“That is why I couldn’t support the tax bill,” she said. “We don’t know what is going to happen with healthcare and infrastructure on the federal level so it is concerning not only for this year but for next year, too. Personally, I am really concerned about the long-term fiscal responsibility of our budget.”

Bernardy says that is if projections hold out to what is expected the state will be facing budget deficits in two years. It is required by law to balance the state budget for the next two years during the legislative session but are not constitutionally bound to keep it balanced thereafter.

“There are a lot of tax cuts and the state has to spend to pay for the tax cuts given to the ultra wealthy corporations and big tobacco and those are growing at a much greater rate after the next two years are out,” said Bernardy. “So right now it is projected that we are going to be faced with deficits so that is very troubling. I would of loved to see our tax be more fiscally responsible and focus tax cuts on working families.”

Some of the things that are challenging in future years is the business property taxes. It is going to grow from $10 million in the first biennium to $84 million in the next biennium without any new revenue to cover those expenses. In 2026 and 2027 it is going to climb to $425 million.

“So that is one example about how things inflate or not inflate but they ramp them up so they might balance the budget this time but the tails aren’t going to be covered in the future,” said Bernardy.

Transportation

Bernardy said that there was a need for $600 million dollars of new funding and $300 million dollars from the general fund was put into transportation.

“The biggest missed opportunity was passing a long term sustainable transportation funding package,” said Bernardy. “There was money put into transportation but I am worried about how it was funded because money taken from the general fund could disappear for transportation in a couple years.”

Bernardy said a legislature could decide not to fund it out of the general fund because it is not dedicated funding.

“Now transportation, education or health and human services are competing with each other,” said Bernardy. “Things that are state priorities are now going to be competing with transportation. This was a shift in policy at a state level instead of using dedicated taxes. If the economy tanks there are going to be challenges with that.”

New Brighton license bureau

Bernardy chief authored a bill that will allow the New Brighton motor vehicle license bureau to become a full-service.

Previous legislation didn’t allow more than one full service DMV within a 10-mile radius. However, a number of the local government bureaus within a 10-mile radius wanted New Brighton to be full service to reduce customer volumes at their able facilities.

This means that the license bureau will be able to renew and issue new driver’s licenses and ID cards.

Currently, the license bureau can only make address changes and duplicate licenses and ID cards. Before the license bureau can become an official full-service agent, the city has to submit an application to the Department of Public Safety, purchase all the necessary equipment, remodel the office, provide training, and hire additional staff.

“The anticipated start time for that is the fall of this year so that is good news,” said Bernardy.

Final thought

“I think there were really mixed results and missed opportunities in this session,” said Bernardy. “I was happy with some of the things we were able to push for and achieve. I was really glad we were able to get new money to prevent some of those education cuts.”

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