The Capitol will look a lot different when the 2019 legislative session begins Tuesday, January 8. After eight years in office Governor Dayton is stepping down and the House majority once again changed hands in what seems to be a back and forth almost every election cycle.
In November, voters went to the polls to choose a new Governor, all other constitutional officers and all 134 members of the Minnesota House of Representatives. While the entire State Senate was not up for election, there was a special election to replace a former State Senator who stepped down to run for Lieutenant Governor. Here’s a breakdown of the elections.
Governor and Lieutenant Governor
Voters chose former Democrats Tim Walz and State Representative Peggy Flanagan as our next Governor and Lieutenant Governor. While not in office yet, the new administration has been busy getting ready for 2019. Their first task is to appoint new commissioners to run the state agencies and while some commissioners may continue on from the Dayton administration, many changes are likely. Next, the new administration will focus on putting together their budget recommendations for the next two-year state budget.
Governor-elect Walz, a former high school teacher, campaigned on his vision for a strong public education system. Priorities he highlighted throughout the campaign include a per-pupil formula increase tied to inflation, funding for the special education cross subsidy, school safety, voluntary pre-K and full service community schools.
Minnesota House of Representatives
For the third time in six years the House will have a new majority party, with DFLers winning control of the chamber by picking up 18 house districts previously controlled by Republicans and holding on to all of their incumbents. Heading into the election House Republicans held a majority of 77-57, which now means Democrats will have a majority of 75-59. Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) will become the Speaker of the House and current Speaker, Rep. Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) will become the House Minority Leader. Along with the new majority comes a new committee structure and committee chairs. Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Minneapolis) will chair the House Education Finance Committee, Rep. Cheryl Youakim (DFL-Hopkins) will chair the House Education Policy Committee and Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul) will chair a new subcommittee on Early Childhood Finance & Policy.
In the Senate, Republicans had a 34-33 majority over their Democrat counterparts, but following the open Senate seat, the chamber was split 33-33. While considered a republican stronghold, the special election for this seat was watched closely for any November surprises. Ultimately, the Senate Republicans held the seat and will maintain their 34-33 majority. And while there were no significant elections changes, the Senate did change their committee structure. Instead of a having separate Education Finance and Policy committees, the Senate will have one committee, Education Finance and Policy, chaired by Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester).
Budget forecast shows $1.5 billion surplus
This session, the legislature and the governor must pass a two-year state budget. The first step in that process is the release of an updated budget forecast which will be used by Governor-elect Walz to develop his budget recommendations for the next biennium. That forecast, which was released December 6, shows that Minnesota has a $1.5 billion budget surplus for the upcoming biennium. In addition, $491 million has been added the budget reserve, which now totals $2.075 billion.
While the projected budget surplus is positive economic news for the state, some lawmakers have expressed caution because the report does not incorporate inflationary spending, which could reduce the bottom line of the state budget if the legislature chooses to adopt such proposals. In addition, the forecast shows a slowing of economic growth into FY22-23 which could also impact funding decisions made by the Governor and the Legislature.
For the education budget, the per-pupil formula will be a priority and strongly advocated for by MASA. Pressure to provide at least an inflationary increase this next biennium and tie future increases to inflation will be on the top of many organizations priorities, including MASA. In addition, funding the special education cross subsidy, addressing challenges with the special education formula cap as well as special education mandates are likely to also get a lot of discussion.
Debate on how to fund early learning likely will continue. Governor-elect Walz campaigned on expanding voluntary pre-kindergarten but the Senate is likely to favor a more targeted approach based on early learning scholarships. And while finance issues will get a lot of attention, we expect some policy proposals to come up such as school start times, teacher shortages, and looking at unfunded mandates.
Now is a great time to connect with your local legislators. There are a number of ways to connect, whether it’s a note congratulating them on their election or an invitation to come visit your district. These are easy ways to build or strengthen your relationship and our elected officials appreciate your outreach!