The 2022 legislative session gavels into order at noon today. This marks the third session to take place during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Democrat-led House has announced the State Office Building will remain closed to the public, and all committee hearings will be held remotely via Zoom. Speaker Hortman has stated that these remote operations will continue until she is confident that staff and members can work safely. The Republican-led Senate will try a hybrid approach. The lobby and hearing rooms in the Senate building will be open to the public, with restricted access to the upper level floors where individual members and staff offices reside. Senate committee hearings will be a combination of in-person and Zoom attendance.
An Unprecedented Surplus
In early December, Minnesota Management and Budget released its November 2021 state economic forecast and blew everyone away by predicting an enormous $7.7 billion budget surplus for the fiscal 2022-23 biennium. The state uses this forecast to inform its budgeting and policy decisions. This surplus is certainly a central focus for the legislature as they prepare for session. With the surplus in mind, a top priority for the Senate Republican majority will be broad tax relief. Some of the House DFL majority priorities will be climate action, paid family and medical leave, education, and child care funding.
Proposed Bonding Bills
Gov. Walz released his higher-than-ever $2.73 billion bonding bill on January 18, sending a clear message to legislators – he wants them to have big appetites for capital investment this session. The big ticket items in the package include over $1 billion in asset preservation, $560 million for infrastructure projects across the state, and $750 million for climate mitigation projects. In response to the Governor’s bonding bill Rep. Lee, the Capital Investment committee chair, hinted that the House’s bonding bill would be “robust” as well.
Two days after Gov. Walz released his bonding recommendations, the Governor and his team announced the Walz-Flanagan Budget to Move Minnesota Forward. The plan includes $700 million going to much-discussed “Walz checks,” tax relief for businesses and families, funding for border-to-border broadband access, replenishment of the unemployment insurance fund, among other things. This supplemental budget will serve as recommendations for the legislature; in an even-numbered year the legislature is under no obligation to pass a budget bill.
On January 25, Gov. Walz and his team announced plans to invest $2.4 billion dollars in a variety of education programs over the next three years as part of his supplemental budget. Some of the highlights include a 2% increase to the general education formula for the next school year, additional funding for special education, an increase to the English Learner aid, statewide Voluntary prekindergarten (VPK), and universal meals. Gov. Walz is also attempting to address the staffing shortages in schools with several initiatives including an increase to Grow Your Own funding, teacher retention bonuses, and covering the licensure and testing costs for graduates in 2022-2025.
Leaders from the Senate Republican majority have also released their priorities for the upcoming session. Education Committee Chair Chamberlain said his top three priorities are literacy, parent empowerment, and mental health. His goal is for Minnesota to have a 90% literacy rate and that other issues can be addressed once that goal is met.
As if an ongoing pandemic and a massive state surplus weren’t enough to make 2022 an interesting session, 2022 is also a re-districting year. The new maps are set to be released on February 15. Faced with district uncertainties and the upcoming 2022 elections, many legislators are choosing to retire. As of now, seven Senators and nine House members have announced they will not be seeking reelection. More retirement announcements are likely to come, considering some legislators may get paired against each other in newly formed districts.
The 2022 session must end on or before May 23. Watch your MREA Insider Briefs for weekly updates as the session unfolds.