Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday revised his original budget proposal to add $100 million for voluntary preschool, $3 million for a trial Twin Cities-St. Cloud rail service expansion, but leave $200 million unspent as a buffer due to uncertainties with the federal budget.
All together, the new spending priorities represent an additional $147 million, raising the cost of Dayton’s budget proposal above $46 billion.
Dayton’s budget blueprint completes another puzzle piece to what will be a new two-year state budget.
Senate Republicans on Friday added to the mix by releasing their spending targets in areas like education, health and human services and transportation. House Republicans will follow suit.
The DFL governor’s revised budget priorities follow a recent economic and state budget forecast that predicts the state’s budget surplus will be $1.65 billion, slightly larger than the $1.4 billion surplus Dayton anticipated in devising his original spending plan.
“My supplemental budget proposal would continue making the investments our state needs to create opportunity for every Minnesotan, starting with our youngest learners, while protecting the fiscal integrity of our budget,” Dayton said in a statement.
Among Dayton’s new funding proposals are soft-body armor reimbursements for police, additional local aid to fully implement the governor’s water-quality law, and a Super Bowl tax exemption.
His budget also calls for increasing fees on prescription opioids that would generate $42 million to prevent and treat opioid addiction and abuse.
Early education, rail
Dayton’s new budget proposal reflects his commitment to expanding early-learning education.
Two years ago, Dayton pushed hard for universal preschool and instead compromised by adding funding for early-learning scholarships and an existing preschool program.
Republicans resisted the universal proposal, criticizing the massive expansion of the public school system as a giveaway to the state’s teachers union, Education Minnesota, which is a major DFL contributor.
Dayton on Friday lambasted that position, saying it’s unfair to children that ideological differences have stymied early-learning initiatives. In all, Dayton has now proposed $175 million for a voluntary preschool program to increase the number of school districts that offer preschool.
The governor’s supplemental budget also includes $3 million for a six-month pilot project that would assess whether rail service should be further expanded to St. Cloud from downtown Minneapolis.
This could result in the Northstar commuter rail service extending all the way to St. Cloud. It currently runs from Target Field in Minneapolis to Big Lake.
Preliminary plans call for one trip from St. Cloud to Target Field in the morning and another returning to St. Cloud in the evening. Target Field offers connections to both the Green and Blue light-rail lines.
The rail service in the pilot project could be provided by Amtrak, which now serves St. Cloud twice daily from Union Depot in St. Paul on the Empire Builder route to Seattle and Portland.
A thanks from Amtrak
On Friday, Amtrak issued a statement thanking Dayton “for recognizing the importance of passenger rail, and exploring how Amtrak can further connect St. Cloud with the Twin Cities.”
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the proposal would not affect existing Empire Service service between the cities and beyond. Alternatively, Northstar trains could be used for project — both use tracks owned by freight hauler BNSF Railway.
The $320 million Northstar commuter rail was initially planned to serve St. Cloud. But when passenger service began in 2009, the final stop ended up in Big Lake, because of a lack of federal money.
Buses now provide service between Big Lake and St. Cloud, but in recent years, transportation advocates and some legislators, including Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, have supported finishing the line to St. Cloud’s existing Amtrak station.
The governor also wants $850,000 for an engineering study on extending Northstar commuter service to St. Cloud.
This would update a 2010 study on engineering costs and projected ridership and help transportation planners estimate the cost of extending the line between the two communities.
Senate GOP spending goals
Senate Republicans released budget targets calling for tax cuts and increases to transportation, education and health and human services.
They would pay for the tax cuts and new spending by dipping into the $1.65 billion surplus and making significant reductions to environmental protection, economic development and other state programs, according to a chart that accompanied the news release.
The GOP senators did not provide details about how their budget fits together.
They are calling for a $900 million tax cut, more than $1 billion in new education spending, more than $500 million in new transportation spending and more than $2 billion in new spending for health and human services, according to the news release.
The rise in health care spending is increasingly dominated by the cost of caring for the sick and Minnesotans with disabilities, putting pressure on efforts by Dayton to pursue expanded preschool and on Republicans’ push for more tax cuts.
Environment and natural resource spending would decline 29 percent from to $274 million from $386 million, echoing a proposal by President Donald Trump to cut funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent.
Senate committees will now work on putting details to the broad spending plan.
Republicans in the House will soon put out their own tax and spending plan that is also expected to promote tax cuts, transportation and education.
The House and Senate will negotiate their differences before sending bills to Dayton for his approval or veto.
Staff writers Janet Moore and J. Patrick Coolican contributed to this report.