By Jane McClure
The 2024 legislative session starts February 12, with caution that this is likely to be much more of a policy year than one focused on spending. That’s because a structural budget deficit is looming.
Disability advocacy groups are putting final touches on their legislative agendas. That includes the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD), which is expected to approve its legislative asks set by tier in early January.
The three tiers used indicate how much time and attention MNCCD will put on each issue. The tier status ranges from priority items for the consortium to focus much of its energy on to items groundwork is being laid for and then the lowest tier items, which are championed by other organizations.
One need consortium members discussed in December is to have a soon-to-be-hired lobbyist review the agenda and make suggestions before tiers are set.
2024 is a policy as well as capital projects bonding year. One intent in bringing forward items that have financial implications is to have those matters on state lawmakers’ radar for 2025, which will be a budget year. That may be what happens to such important issues as enhanced rates.
In early December, Minnesota Management and Budget officials announced that they estimate an extra $2.4 billion in the two-year budget cycle that began in July. While that may bring visions of new programs and services, it also brought a huge caveat.
Higher spending estimates in health and human services, including long-term care for people with disabilities, free school meals for all, and education could mean that the state’s budget will not be balanced beginning in 2026. That prompted Gov. Tim Walz to indicate that he plans to hold the line on 2024 spending.
State officials are warning that the state budget surplus could be easily consumed by these and other programs added during 2023. Spending the latest project surplus would put the state in the crosshairs of a $2.3 billion shortfall starting in the summer of 2025.
State lawmakers used the $17.5 billion surplus to pass the largest budget in state history, at $72 billion for the biennium. The gains were widely celebrated as bringing needed supports and services to people with disabilities of all ages.
State budget officials said the latest state budget is just part of the picture. Education spending is up, projected $205 million above budget for FY 24-25 and $112 million for FY26-27. Enrollment in Minnesota schools is about 5,000 students higher than expected.
That and higher costs for universal free school meals have driven numbers up.
But the greatest projected increases are in health and human service spending. For FY24-25 the projection is $495 million above budget. That grows to $564 million above budget for FY26-27. Much of the increase has been attributed to rising costs of home- and community-based care for people with disabilities.
Costs for services and compensation are rising, combined with more demand for such services. Services, that keep people out of nursing homes, are expected to cost $355 million more than previously estimated in the current two-year budget cycle and $513 million more in the next.
Plan for rally days
Many groups are holding their annual legislative updates and rally days. One of the first rally days announced is ARRM and MOHR’s Disability Services Day at the Capitol, on March 19.
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