Gov. Mark Dayton is recommending more than $11 million in state dollars go toward reform of the state’s controversial sex offender program.
The recommendation, part of Dayton’s proposed $42 billion budget unveiled Tuesday, includes allocating $.3 million in the 2016-17 biennium and $3.8 million in 2018-19 biennium to evaluate the treatment progress of the residents of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) and to move 50 of them to less-restrictive settings if they are approved. Nearly 700 residents are held indefinitely at treatment centers in Moose Lake and St. Peter. Only two people have been released from MSOP since it was established nearly 20 years ago.
The controversial program has long remained a hot potato for lawmakers and Gov. Dayton, who blame one another for failing to address problems with MSOP, whose policies were described by a federal judge as “draconian” and ordered the Legislature to take action or face court-ordered changes.
Republican leaders of the Minnesota Legislature gave a chilly reception to the budget proposal that Gov. Mark Dayton released Tuesday, arguing that it spends too big over the next two years and doesn't go far enough in setting priorities for state government.
"He is spending every penny of this," House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said of the state's current $1 billion budget surplus. "We are also a little disappointed in the lack of returning some of the money back to Minnesotans."
The budget blueprint that Dayton submitted to legislators Tuesday calls for a total of $42 billion in state spending for the two years that start on July 1. Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, pointed out that the size of the two-year budget was $34 billion when Dayton took office.
"That is a big increase in spending," Hann said.
By far the largest share of spending boosts in the Dayton proposal would go to schools, both an increase in per-pupil payments to schools, and specific increases in programs that target early learning. Republicans criticized that approach, saying education programs demand "reforms" aimed at increasing student performance.
"It spends more money doing the same things we've done the last 15 to 20 years, and we have not seen any results so far, and somehow we're expected to believe that's going to improve education and make it excellent?" Hann said.
Daudt did say he supported Dayton's proposal to boost spending for early reading programs. But he said he was disappointed Dayton did not propose additional state money for nursing homes, which has been a high priority for the new House Republican majority.
The only major piece of tax relief in Dayton's proposal is a $100 million child care tax credit. Republicans said they were open to that, although Daudt said Dayton's proposed income ceiling of $124,000 might be too high. "I'm not sure that's the kind of folks that need that kind of tax relief," Daudt said.
Republicans were not forthcoming with details of their own budget priorities. Daudt said Republicans would not start assembling budget bills until after the next state economic forecast, in late February. He also said Republicans were not yet ready to say how much under $42 billion the next budget should be.
Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday provided no additional funding for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system because of an ongoing dispute between the system's administration and faculty over long-term planning.
The dispute centers over for MnSCU's handling of a controversial strategic plan called “Charting the Future,” which is supposed to overhaul operations at the system’s 24 two-year colleges and seven four-year universities.
The faculty and administration issued a joint statement:
“We take the governor’s decision not to recommend new funding for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) at this time very seriously and we appreciate the governor's commitment to supporting MnSCU and its vital mission of ensuring access to an affordable, high value education for all Minnesotans and meeting the workforce needs of Minnesota.
We understand and share the governor’s concerns and are taking positive steps and having substantive dialogue to resolve our disagreements regarding Charting the Future. We are all committed to continuing our progress and are confident of a positive outcome. ”
The Legislature on Monday gave final approval to $17 million in recovery dollars for 47 Minnesota counties and three American Indian reservations that suffered damages and expense from flooding in June 2014.
The House voted unanimously in favor of the legislation on Monday afternoon. The Senate also passed the measure unanimously, last week, meaning it now heads to the desk of Gov. Mark Dayton. He is expected to sign the bill.
Several factors combined to bring on last June's floods, which were among the most severe and widespread in years in the state. A heavy snowpack from the previous winter, waves of torrential rain throughout spring and early summer, and a major June storm that brought nearly six inches of rain to many areas.
Most of the counties and reservations involved already had 75 percent of their flood costs covered by the federal government, with the state filling in the remaining 25 percent. The counties of Dakota, Washington and Morrison did not qualify for federal assistance, so in those case the state is paying more of their expenses.
The flood relief bill is the second passed in the 2015 session, following legislation that Dayton signed over the weekend to match Minnesota tax laws with federal counterparts.
The release Tuesday of Gov. Mark Dayton's budget proposal, in the works for weeks now, will set the framework for budget negotiations and will make clear the governor's priorities.
Dayton so far has offered a few details of his goals. Here's a breakdown of what has been unveiled so far:
-- $100 million in child-care and caregiver tax credits: Households earning up to $124,000 would be eligible for the credit, which would give direct tax relief averaging $481 per family to about 130,000 families statewide. The credit also would apply to dependent care for the disabled and elderly.
-- $372 million for education. Dayton late last week at a child advocacy conference said the state funds would go toward early childhood scholarships, pre-kindergarten programs, and Head Start programs. Part of the money would go toward raising the per-pupil funding formula.
-- $44 million for human services aimed at Minnesota children's needs, particularly families in need, Dayton said Friday. Another $116 million would also go to human services, though, this portion would be aimed at the needs of the adult population.
-- $30 million for the University of Minnesota Medical School. From colleague Abby Simons: "The money would pay for 50 research faculty members over the course of eight years, improving research and attracting the best and brightest students. Dayton said the proposed $30 million — $5 million next year and $25 million in 2017 — would be only a start. He would encourage the Legislature to invest another $50 million in the medical school per biennium for the next decade."
The sum of these budget requests -- $662 million -- equal more than half of the state's projected budget surplus of $1 billion. The Minnesota Management and Budget Office will release another budget and economic forecast in late February or early March that state lawmakers will work with to craft their own budget proposal.
Separately, Dayton on Monday unveiled his transportation budget proposal. The two-term governor has proposed new forms of revenue to pay for a projected $6-billion deficit in transportation funding.