Months of work disappeared with a few pen strokes as Gov. Mark Dayton May 23 vetoed the 2018 Minnesota Legislature’s major bills. Dayton nixed the tax and supplemental budget bills, sparking a war of words with the Republican-led House and Senate.
The vetoes include money to rectify a looming seven percent cut in waiver services and cuts to children’s mental health residential facilities. (See related stories.) Emergency school funding for special education was also a huge casualty of the veto pen.
A special session doesn’t appear likely, so many initiatives community members worked hard to pass are now set aside until 2019. That’s a tough pill to swallow for Minnesota’s disability community. Many people spent the final weeks of the session putting in long hours to advocate for dozens of bills that had made it through the committee deadline process.
One big push in mid-May was the Best Life Alliance’s social media campaign to ask for restoration of the seven percent cut to waiver services. That effort generated more than 1,000 tweets and retweets, many with pictures of the people whose services would be affected.
People with disabilities, who’d planned a rally May 23 urging Dayton to sign the budget bill, turned the event into a call for action. They joined Senators Jim Abeler (R-Anoka) and John Hoffman (DFLChamplain) to speak against the veto and outline what its impacts will be. Some called for a special session.
“I just don’t know what to say,” said Abeler. He and Hoffman were especially frustrated by the loss of the fix to the seven percent cut.
“The most vulnerable people in our state are hurting … this is the core of what government is about, protecting those in need,” said Hoffman.
Self-advocates and organization leaders also expressed unhappiness with the vetoes. “We’re already strapped and shorthanded,” said Rick Nelson, CEO of MWB Residential Services, a new Ulm-based residential services provider. “We have 23 job openings … The funding has been stagnant for many, many years.”
Nelson said the seven percent cut takes back a promise of support that is critical to many people. “It’s not just about
funding,” he said. It greatly impacts entire families, employers and their hometowns. “It’s about having people present. It’s about having people living and working in their communities.”
“We’ve come down here many times and spoke up,” said David Sprague, part of the LifeWorks self-advocacy group. Many self-advocates said they are sad and frustrated by not having anything to show for their work.
Others spoke of how the lack of funding will only add to the critical workforce shortage for direct care and support services, citing the very high turnover that already occurs. The turnover affects peoples’ trust in their staff members.
“It hurts. It really hurts,” said Kelly Kausel, an Apple Valley parent of a child with disabilities. “This is not going to help people.” She and other parents said they worry about the impacts on their families, and people who rely on support services to live and work in the community.
House and Senate leaders objected to the vetoes, saying they weren’t given enough time to respond. But Dayton repeatedly warned during the session that he didn’t want to see major initiatives wrapped into large bills. But that is exactly what happen. Dayton described the 2018 session as “very irresponsible.” He also called the session “worst managed legislative session I’ve ever seen,” Dayton said.
In his press conference announcing the vetoes Dayton listed his objections to the 990-page supplemental spending and tax bills. He criticized tax cuts for businesses and the wealthy. Not enough resources toward the state’s opioid epidemic and eldercare crisis were other key concerns.
Dayton in a letter to state lawmakers said that while there were good initiatives in the bill, legislators knowingly prevented their enactment by putting them into a bill with many agency cuts and policies he didn’t support. He described the bill as having good features “combined with a lot of junk.” House and Senate leadership responded strongly. “This session wasn’t a failure, our governor was a failure,” said House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown).
The impacts on many fronts are substantial, especially with the veto of the omnibus supplemental spending bill. Many disability community initiatives were in that legislation.
The vetoed tax bill included the emergency education funding, much of which would have aided special education
programs statewide. Special education funding is a huge worry as that was wrapped into the vetoed tax bill. Dayton sought $138 million in new emergency school funding to help districts with budget shortfalls. The growing demand for special education services is driving the spending statewide. Minnesota Public Radio recently reported that Minnesota school districts spent $2.2 billion on special education alone last year, up 26 percent in a decade.
More than 141,000 students receive special education services for physical impairments, or 16 percent of the state’s students. Unfunded mandates are a growing worry, as school districts have to not only fund their own students but also charter school attendees. Charter schools for special education students respond that they need more money to offer specialized services.
There was already little to celebrate before the vetoes. At its end-of-session gathering May 22, the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD) noted that several of its priorities, including changes to Consumer-Directed community Supports, Medical Assistance enrollment, complex care and brain injury waiver qualifications, hadn’t made the cut. Other key proposals including the effort to restore funding for incontinence products, were rolled into the omnibus spending bill.
Sighs of relief could be heard as some damaging bills didn’t pass this session. One, which was fought by groups including the This is Medicaid alliance, would have taken health care away from more than 20,000 Minnesotans, and cost local governments and taxpayers more than $160 million every year to ramp up and maintain more staff and systems.
The bill would have placed costly and complicated new monthly reporting requirements on thousands of Minnesotans receiving health coverage through Medical Assistance. Over the past few months, more than 155 nonprofit Minnesota organizations formally opposed these bills. Minnesotans from across the state spoke up and shared their stories about how adding barriers to health care would harm their neighbors and their communities.
“This was the right conclusion,” said Susie Emmert of the This Is Medicaid coalition. “It reflects a core belief held by all Minnesotans — that all of us deserve to see a doctor or get the treatment we need, when we need it.”
“We extend our thanks to Gov. Mark Dayton and legislators on both sides of the aisle who opposed these proposals, so Minnesotans can get the care they need,” said Patrick Ness of This Is Medicaid.
One bit of good news was that the MNCCD Children’s Work Group’s effort to require health plan coverage of sensory
integration therapy and cognitive therapy for children was signed into law. Some health plans in Minnesota cover the therapies while some do not. The change is expected to address inconsistency in in terms of access for children who need these services based on whether they have Medical Assistance or commercial coverage and what type of commercial insurance they have.
Another is that the effort to make Minnesota’s state parks more accessible. What began as a $20 million ask to wound up with $500,000. That provides design money so some projects can be shovel-ready.
Access Press will continue to track legislation that does take effect July 1 and outline the implications in future issues.