Bipartisan legislation bumping up school district funding and fighting opioid addiction will improve the lives of Savage residents and other Minnesotans, the city’s legislators said, though a legal roadblock to a Dan Patch railway still stands.
Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, and Rep. Hunter Cantrell, DFL-Savage, both said they were mostly pleased with the recent legislative session’s agreements and compromises.
“I hate to say it, but I found that the governor is much more reasonable than our past governor and he just worked well with our leaders,” said Hall, who’s in his ninth year at the Legislature.
The omnibus primary and secondary education bill bring a 2% increase for the next two years on the state’s per-student general funding formula for public school districts. That’s a roughly $389 million increase in state aid dollars.
The result is a compromise between the Democrat-controlled House’s initial proposal of a 3% and the Republican Senate’s 0.5% proposal. The bill will increase funding by approximately $217 per student, or $2.34 million overall, in the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District.
“I think this is a significant victory for our schools and our community,” Cantrell said. Hall added officials always hope to give more than they can but said the increase is reasonable.
Also included in the omnibus bill is a roughly $91 million increase for special education services to help with the multimillion-dollar gap between government-required services and government assistance. For Burnsville-Eagan-Savage, officials have said that gap comes to almost $13 million a year.
The district has made or proposed several million dollars in spending cuts affecting teachers, athletics and academic programs in recent years. The superintendent and board members have pointed to the cross-subsidy and other factors, such as declining enrollment.
Cantrell and Hall said it’ll take real change from federal lawmakers to end the special education funding crisis.
“But we can’t wait for them,” Hall said. “We’ve got needs now.”
Gov. Tim Walz signed into law HF 400, a bill co-authored by Cantrell that aims to combat the state’s opioid epidemic by imposing fees on opioid manufacturers and distributors
The money raised will go to intervention, treatment and recovery programs around the state.
“It’s a huge victory for everyone, and it was really cool to see bipartisan consensus on that bill,” Cantrell said.
There were also several provisions left out of the slimmed down omnibus bill that Cantrell said he’ll continue working towards next session.
These provisions include HIV prevention grant funding for the state health department and a renewal of the funding for the Palliative Care Advisory Council.
Cantrell said his biggest disappointment is that no law will go into effect to prohibit health plan companies from changing their drug formulary, or their lists of covered medications, after someone has enrolled in the plan.
“They are pulling the rug out from under people,” he said.
Hall, meanwhile, said a lot of the bills introduced that didn’t make the final cut “were extreme views of the left and were not healthy for Minnesota.”
He said he does support the bill addressing opioid addiction and is glad to see more resources invested in the Department of Human Services to prevent and investigate elder abuse.
There won’t be a 20-cent gas tax hike as proposed earlier this year by Walz to help with road and bridge projects. Republicans opposed the measure as too big or unnecessary.
“I think we all knew that was just way out of the ballpark, and I’m glad we stood our ground,” Hall said. “Gas prices are low now, that doesn’t mean they’re always going to be low — to add that on is just outrageous.”
Cantrell said he’s heard concerns on both sides about the idea. Imposing a tax is never something lawmakers want to do, he said, but Minnesotans are losing money that could go to education and health care when transportation dollars are pulled from the state’s general fund.
He said he’s not sure if 20 cents is the right amount, but something will need to be done to improve roads and bridges eventually.
Also in the transportation bill is legislation authored by Hall for an expansion of Metro Mobility services into Lakeville beginning January 2020.
One transportation issue that continues to divide area Democratic and Republican legislators is the possibility of a commuter railway on the Dan Patch Line, which stretches from Northfield to Minneapolis and crosses the Minnesota River in Savage.
A bill Cantrell introduced earlier this year would’ve lifted the 2002 moratorium that prohibits state agencies from studying or discussing the possibility of public transportation on the line.
He said it’s crucial to be able to consider all transportation options for the region considering the roads and river crossings are over-capacity.
Savage officials have frequently voiced opposition to the moratorium, known as the gag order, and this year, each community in Scott County, and the Scott County Board of Commissioners, signed a resolution in favor of studying the Dan Patch Line.
Ultimately, the bill died before the transportation committee in May when Republican senators, including Hall, voted against the change despite testimony by City Administrator Brad Larson.
Hall said the moratorium doesn’t prevent the city and county from studying the Dan Patch line, and he’s “open-minded” to the results of any studies they choose to do.
He said the only people talking about the line are Savage city officials.
“No one has contacted me about it that are just constituents,” he said. “It may be good for Savage, but if Bloomington is yelling and Lakeville is yelling and Burnsville doesn’t care, I don’t know why we would do it.”