Legislative uncertainty continues

All eyes are on the state capitol as Gov. Mark Dayton and state lawmakers decide how to handle Minnesota’s plus-$5 billion budget deficit. As Access Press went to press, state leaders were still divided on the state’s budget woes. Unless a special legislative session is held in June, state government will largely shut down July 1. That has the potential for enormous impacts on people with disabilities throughout the state. (See related story)

The 2011 legislative session adjourned at midnight May 23 with several bills passed, including a sweeping health and human services bill. That bill and others were passed with massive service cuts but no increase to property taxes. Dayton quickly vetoed the budget bills because he objected to such deep spending cuts.

Since then Dayton and leaders of the Republican- controlled House and Senate have worked to get their messages out, with the governor continuing to call for some tax increase and Republicans standing firm against such measures.

They have also discussed ways to meet in the middle. In early June Dayton proposed bringing in a professional mediator, but Republican lawmakers nixed that idea. One possibility on the table in early June is a three-day special session at month’s end, to deal with the budget and possibly a few other issues. But until there is a budget to act on, no special session date has been set. 

Disability advocacy groups have swung into action since the session ended, with the Minnesota

Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN CCD) and other organizations urging everyone

to contact state lawmakers. “These unresolved budget questions mean that the final 2011 legislative impact on disability services is not yet decided, and that our work as disability community advocates is not over yet,” Mn-CCD stated.

“We must keep disability services in the forefront of decision makers’ minds—and you can help us do this. You can check out a more in-depth update on the current situation at the capitol below, or visit the MN-CCD blog for more details.”

The May 23 adjournment capped what had been a frustrating session. Some of that frustration boiled over during debate on the gay-marriage issue in May when members of the newly formed Minnesota ADAPT chapter were escorted out of the capitol for causing a disruption. ADAPT members are unhappy that state lawmakers spent time on gay marriage and other issues when they should have addressing the budget.

So what’s next? Only Dayton can call a special session. But it would be up to state legislators as to when to adjourn. In early June the governor proposed an agenda that would include the nine budget bills, a Legacy funding bill, a bonding bill, a Vikings stadium bill and an education policy bill. But no session will be called until there is a budget agreement.

Disability advocates throughout Minnesota have focused much attention on health and human service legislation. Major cuts totaling $1.8 billion were proposed for everything from personal care attendant services to health care programs. In his veto of the health and human services bill, Dayton stated that the measure would “cause devastating harm to many thousands of Minnesotans.” he said the state couldn’t go backwards in providing care and that is was “unconscionable” to eliminate health care for more than 140,000 people.

The governor expressed concern over major cuts to programs for people with disabilities and senior citizens. In his veto letter, he stated, “Minnesota has pursued a decades-long, bipartisan strategy that supports people in their homes and in the community so they do not need to live in institutions. Yet 98% of the reductions to long-term care are to home and community-based services with only 2% to institutions. The bill would force 1,500 people into nursing homes.” He called the cuts “bad public policy” and noted it would cost much more in the long term.

Another objection is cuts to services for the mentally ill, especially changes to reforms adopted in 2007. The bill would also undo much of the progress we have made to support people.

“Reducing community grants that support people with mental illness and repealing the expansion of Medical Assistance, undermine the successes we have accomplished in keeping people out of institutions,” Dayton stated.

“We must not return to a system where too many of our mentally ill citizens end up in jail, emergency rooms, and psychiatric hospitals.” Elimination of the General Assistance program, which provides $203 a month to 20,000 Minnesotans who cannot support themselves due to illness, age, or disability, was also cited in Dayton’s veto letter. Dayton also vowed to veto any legislation that repeals the expansion of Medical Assistance to adults without children implemented. He noted that the expansion leverages $1.5 billion in federal funds over three years.

Other concerns the governor outlined include reinstitution of the Coordinated Care Delivery Systems (CCDS), creation of a new voucher system for low-income Minnesotans and restrictions on the Affordable Care Act, nursing home rate equalization. Dayton also vetoed the transportation bill. One concern there was $3.729 million in cuts to transportation in Greater Minnesota, as well as potential fare increase for Twin-Cities transit services.

The governor also said budget bills couldn’t be vehicle for divisive policy, citing the prohibition on stem cell research. He said the state couldn’t halt important research that could provide treatment for chronic diseases, traumatic injuries and genetic disorders. That prohibition was also vetoed.

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