Legislature makes a budget offer

June 16, 2011

On Thursday, the legislature presented an offer to Governor Dayton that withdraws $203 million in tax cuts and slightly backs off of spending cuts in some areas. The major elements of the offer include:

  • Withdrawing the $203 million in tax cuts contained in their tax bill, including gradually eliminating the state property tax paid by businesses and cabins, a corporate tax cut and conforming to a number of federal tax changes.
  • Increasing funding for K-12 education by $80 million above the conference committee target, including $10 million for early education scholarships. This would match the Governor’s spending target in his March budget proposal. However, the additional funding appears to be contingent on the Governor accepting a number of controversial provisions, including shifting integration aid away from core cities, limiting collective bargaining rights, and instituting a new teacher and principal evaluation system.
  • Reducing proposed cuts to higher education by $50 million. The legislature still leaves $361 million in cuts to higher education in FY 2012-13, $190 million more than the Governor.
  • Reducing proposed cuts to the environment and energy by $13 million. The budget proposals from the legislature and Governor would still differ by a significant margin.
  • Reducing proposed cuts to public safety and the judiciary by $30 million, bringing the legislature closer to the Governor’s proposed increase in base funding for this area.
  • Providing $9 million for flood and disaster relief.
  • Reducing proposed cuts to tax aids and credits by $20 million, which would not make much of a dent in the $925 million in proposed cuts in aids to cities and counties and property tax refunds for low- and moderate-income renters, which are expected to result in increased property taxes.

The legislature’s offer doesn’t include any changes in the funding targets for health and human services, transit, jobs and economic development, or state government. The offer “expires” at 5:00 p.m. on Monday, June 20.

Governor Dayton expressed disappointment with the offer, suggesting that it didn’t show real movement on the part of the legislature.

-Christina Wessel

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Cuts-only approach jeopardizes our lakes, rivers and streams

April 29, 2011

Today, Way Five of the 20 Ways in 20 Days Campaign looks at how a cuts-only approach to meeting Minnesota’s needs will jeopardize our lakes, rivers and streams – and threaten further pollution to our great outdoors.

Proposed Cut: The Minnesota House has proposed eliminating general fund support for Clean Water Partnership grants, which provide necessary resources to protect and clean up Minnesota’s water.

Consequence: Beth is involved with a team of concerned citizens, Bridgewater Township officials, college researchers and members of the Cannon River Watershed Partnership nonprofit working to clean up lakes and streams in Southeastern Minnesota. They’ve used Clean Water Partnership grants to make significant progress in detecting that E. coli bacteria and other pollutants are seeping into the Upper Cannon River and Rice Creek, devastating native trout and wildlife populations. “We need to understand what the lakes and streams need to become healthy – and how to protect our water for future generations,” Beth said.

Only 17 percent of Minnesota’s streams and 28 percent of Minnesota’s lakes have been tested for pollution. Of those, 40 percent are polluted, meaning the water is unsafe for swimming and the fish are unsafe for eating. Drastic cuts to the Clean Water Partnership grants will jeopardize the ability of local communities to protect and clean up their waterways.

Solution: Let’s protect Minnesota’s communities, residents and quality of life. We cannot afford to take a cuts-only approach to meeting our state’s needs, jeopardizing the safety of our lakes, rivers and streams. Minnesotans know we need a balanced approach, one that includes raising revenues based on ability to pay, in order to maintain critical state services that support Minnesotans in tough times and invest in our future.

  • For more information about cuts to Minnesota’s water and great outdoors, contact Steve Morse with the Minnesota Environmental Partnership at (651) 290-0154.
  • For more information about the 20 Ways in 20 Days Campaign or Invest in Minnesota, contact Leah Gardner at 651-757-3063.
  • Download the PDF version of this story to spread the word about the impact of proposed budget cuts.

-Leah Gardner


Weatherization spending primes economic pump, cuts family expenses

December 16, 2010

A fierce, cold winter wind has been blowing into Minnesota, but here is the good news. Expanded weatherization assistance in the state has created a triple benefit – boosting state economic activity, reducing pollution and lowering energy bills for low- and moderate-income households (who are often the hardest hit by the economic downturn and slow recovery).

Investments in weatherization are a specific example of how the federal economic recovery act has worked to improve people’s lives and help the economy.

Through FY 2011, Minnesota will receive $132 million in additional federal weatherization assistance. Weatherization pays for energy efficiency improvements, including repairing or replacing aging and inefficient furnaces and installing better insulation. These upgrades permanently reduce heating and cooling bills for low-income family homes. By September, the recovery act funding increased the number of weatherized Minnesota homes nearly five fold.

A study by the University of Minnesota’s Extension Service found that every weatherization dollar spent in Minnesota creates $1.09 in economic activity, as the money circulates through the economy. “This heightened impact is likely attributable to the availability of manufacturers and suppliers of weatherization products in Minnesota and to the vast network of weatherization agencies throughout the state,” according to the report.

Further, the Minnesota Office of Energy Security estimates that weatherization efforts save an average of $304 a year per home. This helps families on the financial edge. More than half of the households benefiting from weatherization have annual incomes of $20,000 or less. A few hundred dollars makes a big difference in their budgets.

But there is an opportunity for these weatherization dollars to have an even greater impact. Similar to many job-creating efforts, weatherization assistance is being scrutinized to make sure that all Minnesotans benefit from these new jobs, including people of color and women.

The Office of Energy Security has published some demographic data on weatherization jobs by region, indicating that people of color and women are underrepresented in these new jobs. Overall, approximately 14 percent of Minnesota’s working-age population (18-64) are people of color and women make up roughly half of the state’s workforce. From April to August, the recovery act funding resulted in 1,562 new hires (full- and part-time work) in weatherization. Not all contractors reported demographic information, but based on information about those who did:

  • The hiring rate for people of color in the seven-county metro area was 11 percent. In Greater Minnesota, the hiring rate for people of color ranged from a low of two percent in Northeast Minnesota to a high of 14 percent in Northwest Minnesota.
  • The hiring rate for women in the seven-county Metro area was 6 percent. In Greater Minnesota, the hiring rate for women ranged from a low of seven percent in Southwest Minnesota to a high of 24 percent in Southeastern Minnesota.

HIRE Minnesota is working to improve hiring diversity in a broad range of occupations, including weatherization, “to ensure that public investments in infrastructure and renewable energy help lift people out of poverty, reduce racial disparities and contribute to healthier communities.” And RENEW, a collaborative project between the City of Minneapolis and Ramsey County Workforce Solutions, is targeting workers in Minneapolis and St. Paul to get more underrepresented communities ready for work in the green jobs field.

-Scott Russell and Leah Gardner


An update on climate change policy

February 11, 2010

The Minnesota Budget Project has been following the climate change debate for some time. Low-income populations will be disproportionately impacted if nothing is done about climate change, but these same households will also be impacted harder by price increases resulting from efforts to stop climate change. It is important, therefore, that any climate change legislation protect low-income households from price increases and make sure that they have access to green jobs, home weatherization and other opportunities.

We thought it was time for a little update on what is happening with climate change legislation.

In the U.S. Congress:

  • The U.S. House passed a cap-and-trade bill last June called The American Clean Energy and Security Act. The bill set aside the revenues necessary to target consumer relief to the lowest-income 20 percent of the population. Our main recommendation for improving the bill was to extend relief to moderate-income households.
  • Last October, the U.S. Senate proposed a similar cap-and-trade bill called the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act which has passed through the Environment and Public Works Committee. In its present form, the bill falls short of fully funding low-income consumer relief. As the bill heads towards the Finance Committee, we will continue to ask for reallocation of revenues to fully fund relief for at least the lowest-income households.
  • An alternative to cap-and-trade was introduced in the U.S. Senate in December by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME). The Carbon Limits and Energy for American Renewal Act (CLEAR) Act proposes a cap-and-dividend approach to reducing carbon emissions. This bill would provide consumer relief on a per capita basis, using 75 percent of revenues to fund dividends. It appears that this  level of resources would more than mitigate cost burdens for low-income households. Here is a two page summary and a link to the full text.
  • In December Senators John Kerry (MA), Joseph Lieberman (CT) and Lindsey Graham (SC) presented a “Framework for Climate Action and Energy Independence” to inform the debate on cap-and-trade in the U.S. Senate and gain bi-partisan support. You can read their 5 page outline here. In the President’s State of the Union address in January, Obama seemed to open the door to many of their interests while pushing for a comprehensive climate bill.

On the international scene:

  • The 15th Conference of the Parties (COP 15) brought world leaders together in Copenhagen last December to discuss international commitments to address climate change. Many anticipated this meeting would nudge the U.S. Congress toward passing legislation to address climate change. A short agreement called the Copenhagen Accord was created – its influence on U.S. policy remains to be seen.

Unfortunately, it is still unclear what will happen next on climate change or how soon Congress might act to pass legislation. We will keep you posted as we learn more.

We also have a new climate change resource page where you can find our written materials on the basics of cap-and-trade and the importance of low-income consumer relief, the latest policy updates on climate change legislation, and resources and program information regarding consumer relief, green jobs, energy efficiency and weatherization. You will also find more information about environmental justice concerns and local programs and partnerships working to address climate change.

-Leah Gardner and Julia Jackson

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Senate releases bill to address climate change

October 6, 2009

Last week the U.S. Senate released their version of a bill to address climate change – the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act. The bill is an important step toward a cleaner, healthier and more economically vibrant place for all members of our society, addressing the serious problem of climate change and producing needed employment opportunities at the same time. Although much of the bill took the form of “placeholder language” – signaling a need for continued negotiations – the existing content suggests it will include critical provisions to mitigate cost burdens for low- and moderate-income households rising from expected energy price increases. At the same time, the bill includes important measures to target low-income people and people of color for new green job opportunities so that they are able reap the economic benefits of this legislation.

As negotiations continue, we know that Minnesota will play an important role in the debate – particularly given Senator Klobuchar’s leadership in the Environment and Public Works Committee. A diverse range of organizations recently delivered a sign-on letter to our Senators asking them to dedicate 15 percent of total allowance values for full, direct consumer relief for low- income households, as the House bill did, in addition to extending relief to moderate-income households. We also made the case for public investments in training and job creation programs to ensure that disadvantaged populations have access to well-paid employment opportunities.

We will continue to keep you informed as details emerge, but given that legislation has already passed through the House and is currently being crafted in the Senate now is a great time to get involved and weigh in on what will surely be a challenging debate. To learn more about our position or to share your own priorities and concerns, please contact me at 651-757-3063 or leah@mncn.org.

-Leah Gardner

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Convening on climate change provides opportunities to act

August 27, 2009

Last week, the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits hosted a Convening on Climate Change to bring together a diverse range of nonprofits and other advocacy groups to talk about the impacts of climate change on low-income communities and people of color. This is an urgent conversation since there is pending federal legislation that could have both positive and negative impacts on Minnesota’s low-income families.

Over 50 people attended the convening, representing environmental groups working to reduce global warming, faith groups speaking up about climate-related social justice issues, labor and equal rights groups working for adequate access to green jobs, community groups working to oversee proper implementation of local investments in home weatherization, and a variety of low-income service providers concerned about provisions for adequate consumer relief to counter rising energy prices. Attendees got a chance to learn from one another about how climate change itself impacts low-income people disproportionately and the many ways that legislation may provide both opportunities and concerns for disadvantaged populations.

The convening, however, wasn’t just about learning…it was also about action.

Organizations in attendance had the chance to discuss and commit to a variety of action items that will allow us to work on this issue in a more collaborative spirit.

One important action that many groups committed to that day was to sign-on to a letter to Senator Klobuchar asking her to take the lead in shaping strong and fair climate legislation with low-income Minnesotans in mind.

It is not too late to add your organization to the list of those supporting strong and fair solutions to climate change! E-mail me by Monday, August 31st at leah@mncn.org if your organization can sign-on and strengthen our joint work on behalf of disadvantaged populations.

I’d also encourage you to call me at 651-757-3063 soon if you would like to discuss additional ways to get involved or learn more about this important issue. Remember, time is of the essence as we expect the U.S. Senate to take this issue up in September!

-Leah Gardner


Convening this Tuesday to address environmental, low-income and social justice issues

August 17, 2009

If you have an interest in environmental, low-income or social justice issues, there is an important conversation taking place this Tuesday that you should be part of. The Convening on Climate Change will provide a great deal of information about the many ways that climate change and related legislation will impact low-income communities. The convening – which will take place at the Minneapolis Urban League this Tuesday, August 18, from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. – will give you the chance to learn from the diverse perspectives of our speakers:

  • Consumer Relief, Minnesota Budget Project
  • Weatherization of Homes, Minnesota Community Action Partnership (CAP)
  • A Labor Perspective, Minnesota American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Workers (AFL-CIO)
  • Climate Justice and Green Jobs, Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota (EJAM)
  • A Faith Perspective, Lutheran Coalition for Public Policy in Minnesota (LCPP)

With climate change legislation already moving in Congress, there will also be time to connect with other local organizations to talk about priorities, common interests and easy ways to get involved. If you have a particular interest in consumer relief, green jobs or weatherization there will be an opportunity to learn more about one of these issues in detail during break-out sessions. The event is free and open to all, but RSVPs are requested. If you have questions, you can contact me at 651-757-3063 or leah@mncn.org.

I hope to see you there!

Want more background on this issue? Read some of our previous blog posts:

-Leah Gardner


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