Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday told a group of education and child advocacy groups gathered for a conference that he plans to spend half of the state's $1-billion surplus on education and policies benefiting children.
The DFL governor is set to release his full budget proposal Tuesday, and in recent days has released partial details on proposals that include expanding a child-care tax credit and investing $30 million in the University of Minnesota Medical School.
Dayton on Friday said he would allocate $516 million for children. Of that, $372 million would go toward education, $44 million for human services and $100 million for the child-care tax credits.
The money would pay for programs such as early childhood education and support for families in need.
Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday announced the creation of a council charged with recruiting minority candidates to fill state jobs and identify ways to boost contracting with minority-owned vendors, according to a news released from his office.
The Diversity and Inclusion Council, chaired by Dayton, also creates the post of statewide recruiter to fill senior leadership roles within the governor's administration.
“A government that serves the people of Minnesota, should reflect the rich diversity of Minnesota,” Dayton said in a statement. “We must ensure that all Minnesotans have equitable opportunities to work for their state government, to do business with the state, and to participate fully in the development of policy within our democracy.”
The council will also explore ways to increase civic engagement by minorities. According to 2013 census data, Minnesota's population is 86 percent white, compared with 77 percent with the nation overall. African-Americans and Hispanics make up the next two largest ethnic groups in Minnesota, 5.7 percent and 5 percent respectively.
The council will include commissioners from state agencies, including Management and Budget, Transportation and others.
Some key outstate players held a conference call and outlined priorities in a session that is already shaping up to be consequential for rural Minnesota.
Bradley Peterson, lobbyist for the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities; Dan Dorman, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership and a former state representative; and Marty Seifert, CGMC lobbyist and a former state legislator, laid out an outstate agenda that totals nearly half a billion dollars.
Peterson said the key priorities are local government aid, broadband access, job training, workforce housing and transportation.
They want local government aid of $45 million by 2017, which would return it to 2002 levels (not adjusted for inflation.) They're also asking for broadband access similar to last year's $20 million; job training; a workforce tax credit; and $400 million for outstate transportation, split evenly between local roads and busier arteries they call "corridors of commerce" such as Highway 23.
Given House Republican victories in outstate Minnesota, where they flipped 10 districts, plus Senate DFL Majority Leader Tom Bakk's rural geographic base, many Capitol observers believe outstate is well positioned to do well this session.
Companion bills that would eliminate gaps between state and federal tax law advanced Tuesday through their respective committees.
The bills, House File 6 and Senate File 50, would better align the state’s tax code to mirror federal law after changes made by Congress and include provisions that could mean tax relief for thousands of Minnesotans, including teachers who spend on classroom supplies and those enrolled in higher education programs.
Lawmakers in both parties are racing to get the legislation to Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk for his approval by Jan. 20, when the federal and state tax filing period begins. If the legislation takes longer to be approved, Minnesotans who filed before would have to file amended returns to get the benefit.
The House bill advanced through the Taxes Committee unanimously and has now been referred to the Ways and Means Committee. The Senate bill also passed unanimously and advances now to the Senate floor.
Dayton said Monday he plans to sign the legislation should it reach his desk, a spokesman said.
Net Minnesota tax collections were $3.518 billion in November and December, up 6.4 percent from officials' projections last month, the Minnesota Management and Budget Office (MMB) reported Monday.
The fiscal news also included an improved economic outlook for the nation, largely because of lower gasoline prices and higher consumer confidence and spending, MMB reported.
Revenues collected from individual and corporate income taxes, sales tax receipts, and other miscellaneous revenues exceeded expectations for the month, officials said Monday.
"The individual income tax provided the largest amount of additional revenue, but much of this is believed to be due to timing of payments, rather than additional tax liability," the report said.
The economic outlook for the U.S. since the last forecast released in December rose in large part because the economy performed better than expected in the last quarter of 2014.
"Since that time, more recent data on job growth, hours, and retail sales have exceeded expectations, industrial production has boomed, and gasoline prices continued to move lower dipping below $2.25 per gallon in early January for the first time in nearly six years," MMB said. "Plummeting gas prices are freeing up household cash for other purposes and boosting confidence"
For fiscal year 2015, tax collections are at $9.5 billion, up 2.3 percent from a November projection.