With the state facing a potential $66 million revenue shortfall this year, the Hennepin County Board started to fine-tune its 2018 legislative agenda Thursday.
The seven commissioners agreed that the session’s funding priorities would include legislation to secure the financial vitality of Hennepin County Medical Center and $26.2 million for a new regional medical examiner’s lab.
On the non-monetary side, the county wants to promote its new “performance-based” approach for child protection cases, housing for vulnerable adults and streamlining technology systems for state services.
The board also discussed a roadblock that every county will face in the upcoming legislative session: Revenue collections trail projections by $66 million because of a decrease in sales and individual taxes and other cash sources. Federal reforms in health and human services and transportation also could affect funding choices by lawmakers.
It’s too early to predict how the Legislature will make up for the deficit when it meets Feb. 20. But Kareem Murphy, intergovernmental relations liaison, told the board that the state’s Department of Human Services might be the target of heavy budget cuts.
The state is on a biennial budget cycle, and the 2018 session will be a bonding bill year. The Legislature creates a budget in the off years.
Large infrastructure projects specific to a particular community are more likely to be included in a bonding bill. That’s the hope for Hennepin County’s $26.2 million request for a new regional forensic science center in Minnetonka. The $58 million facility would serve Hennepin, Scott and Dakota counties.
Hennepin County is asking for $15 million for Artspace/Hennepin Center for the Arts, Cedar Cultural Center and Resource Inc. The county also will support the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s bonding bill for local and historic bridge repairs, including the Stone Arch Bridge, and for improving traffic flow on Interstate 494 and Hwy. 62.
The 90-minute meeting Thursday was the board’s first detailed review of the agenda, and several more tweaks will be made before the start of the legislative session.
The commissioners already removed several items from the 12-page document, including a push for legislation to expand the time period residents could use absentee voting.
But the topic that garnered the most debate was a measure to limit city restrictions on the placement of sex offenders in the community, and any related cost-shifting to local governments. The county, specifically Minneapolis, has housed the largest number of sex offenders after they leave prison.
The board learned that 83 cities and a county have restrictive ordinances, and almost all of them have different language. Board Chairwoman Jan Callison was concerned about Hennepin County being the first major county to lead the way on such a controversial and complex issue. The board decided to pull the item off the agenda.
Several other key issues on the agenda involved the county’s model for handling child protection cases. The agenda offered little detail, other than having the model focus on child well-being and achieve positive outcomes by standardizing practice methods, investing in early interventions and stabilizing the child protection system. The county has recently invested millions in improving the system.
Commissioners discussed data retention and requests, which are expected to be hot button topics for all counties during the upcoming legislative session.
Hennepin County wants clarification on how long agencies must retain certain types of data, which can be a financial drain, and how much time they have to respond to data requests. Current law gives them a reasonable time.
The board said the county needs help funding Hennepin County Medical Center, a safety-net hospital with the state’s largest uncompensated and undercompensated care burden. The agenda also features many smaller items ranging from tree preservation to tax and employment training issues.