Senator's View Column: Fast-acting bipartisanship required for COVID-19
The Minnesota Management and Budget Office released its February forecast, which provides the clearest indicator of the state’s fiscal health. According to the office, we have a projected positive budget balance of $1.513 billion for the fiscal 2020-’21 biennium. It is important to note that this forecast was released prior to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, which has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization and has caused serious global economic disruptions. On Friday, President Donald Trump and Gov. Tim Walz individually declared peacetime states of emergency.
At this stage, it is clear we must take a responsible and cautious approach as to how we utilize our state budget surplus. With the potential for an economic downturn, I applaud Gov. Walz’s responsible supplemental budget proposal that would replenish state reserves and leave $1.2 billion on the bottom line to assist Minnesota in weathering any downturn without the need to cut essential services.
In addition to being fiscally responsible, Gov. Walz’s supplemental budget invests in enhanced preparedness to natural disasters and emergencies, including the COVID-19 pandemic. This funding will be directed toward the Minnesota Department of Health and our private health care partners to expand Minnesota’s capabilities in adequately responding to this crisis.
Beyond the strategic response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Gov. Walz is also proposing critical one-time strategic investments toward a wide variety of important initiatives. This includes funding for Minnesota’s mental health crisis and community safety initiatives and to eliminate the backlog in sexual assault exam kits, invest in transit and farm safety, combat youth vaping, increase emergency shelters for the homeless, and address the child care shortage.
As we are facing an economic slowdown, it is imperative we pass a substantial capital investment bill that will invest in shovel-ready projects throughout the state. By investing in key needs like infrastructure, our colleges and universities, and economic development projects, we can help mitigate a potential downturn while creating thousands of jobs for Minnesotans. With a AAA rating from credit agencies and negative interest rates, we have an opportunity to pass a bonding bill that truly invests in needs throughout the state. I will continue to advocate for projects in our community that are well-deserving of state funding, and I believe we can get them included in a final bill.
As we continued to listen to our public health officials, we knew it was only a matter of time before COVID-19 would arrive here, but to quote Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, we are not panicked; we are prepared. The Legislature moved quickly to provide $20.8 million in additional funding for our public health officials to help respond to its spread. It’s imperative we continue this fast-acting, bipartisan approach in the days to come.
This funding will help address immediate needs, but we stand ready to provide additional help. I encourage you to visit health.state.mn.us for up-to-date and accurate information about the virus.
The most important thing you can do? Wash your hands, cover your cough, and stay home if you’re sick.
If you have questions about this or any other issues before the Legislature, please reach out to my office.
Erik Simonson represents Duluth in the Minnesota Senate.
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