Amid the partisan rancor over a $260 million tax-break bill, Gov. Mark Dayton last week approved many racial equity measures that won broad support.
He signed into law a supplementary spending plan that includes $35 million in one-time funding for programs to reduce economic and educational disparities between whites and people of color and adds $17.5 million a year in ongoing funding.
“These investments in economic equity are an important step toward eliminating the serious economic disparities facing people of color in our communities,” Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said in a statement. “While the gulf of economic opportunity in our state cannot be resolved in one year alone, our continued, sustained effort can and will make a difference for all Minnesotans.”
Sen. Jeff Hayden praised the move, saying it approved “a significant amount of money.”
He has co-chaired a Senate equity panel with Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, a fellow DFLer from Minneapolis, and advocated for spending on racial equity programs to be a priority during the Legislature’s brief special session. Even though the final spending compromise isn’t the $100 million initially proposed by the governor, Hayden praised the plan for sustaining spending in future years. “We knew we didn’t get into this disparate situation in a cycle of a biennium,” he said. “It may take a couple of biennium to really start to see that shift.”
He hopes that after the 26 recipients of the funding report back to the Legislature, lawmakers can make adjustments based on what’s effective and what’s not.
Funding would go toward expanding access to nutritious food, neighborhood development, aid to minority-run businesses, and moving more women into high-wage, nontraditional jobs. Money would also support youth employment and adult career training.
“Symbolically, it’s a strong signal to the community that the state acknowledges this issue,” said Hayden. “There’s a lot we can do to stimulate the economy and promote growth in these marginalized communities.”
Hayden credited Republican lawmakers for coming to a compromise on racial equity funding despite other disagreements on transportation and construction projects.
“I think it’s a good package of investments that are really going to create more opportunities, and there’s strong bipartisan agreement that we have to resolve racial disparities,” said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington.
But Anthony Newby, head of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, said the initial $35 million in funding was a bright spot in a session that was otherwise disappointing on the subject of racial equity.
He lamented that lawmakers had not acted on a broader package of equity proposals, including an expansion of voting rights of people with criminal records.
Newby still has hopes that legislators could address some of those proposals if they meet again for a special session to debate taxes and spending and bonding projects.