The 2021 Legislative Session convened in the midst of a global pandemic that has affected and disrupted the daily lives of people in every corner of our state. Many Minnesotans were unable to work and earn a steady paycheck, childcare became even more scarce, and stability was difficult to find.
Many turned to the state for assistance to put food on the table, keep the lights on and ensure that they could weather these difficult times. As legislators we came into the session with work to do to keep Minnesotans healthy, safe and secure, and to create a state budget that met the needs of this moment, not to simply help our communities to survive, but to build a future where we can thrive.
Despite the urgent need to take action on this crisis, the legislature adjourned on May 17 without completing the work of crafting our two-year budget, leaving Minnesotans uncertain about what comes next as we begin to emerge from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The voices of our communities are also now being left out of the crucial conversations that elected leaders are having as budget negotiations have moved behind closed doors. With a government shutdown looming on July 1, Minnesotans have no idea what is being debated and discussed as legislators negotiate over funding the programs that they have relied on during this crisis.
This follows a pattern that has been apparent throughout the session. While the House moved openly and with urgency on legislation, the GOP-controlled Senate chose a different path. While Minnesotans were concerned about the health of their families and the status of their next paycheck, Senate Republicans introduced an extreme right-wing agenda that targeted our most vulnerable communities and favored the wealthiest people and corporations, while slowing the Senate to a snail’s pace.
As a result of their inaction, we have a few short weeks to create a budget, and Senate Republicans are using these extreme positions to negotiate down to a status quo budget. This is unacceptable. After the most difficult year in generations, we must rise to the moment and create a budget that delivers a fair and full recovery.
The financial outlook for our state has improved significantly since the beginning of the year. Instead of a deficit, we have a surplus and a major influx of one-time federal aid on its way. If ever there was a time to address those pressing issues, both those caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and those it has exposed, now is the time.
One of these critical issues is the lack of housing that is being experienced in communities large and small. With one-time funds, we could deliver meaningful progress on the lack of affordable housing and the disparity in homeownership. We could use this funding for down payment assistance, building affordable rental property and investing in workforce housing in rural, suburban and metro communities. With a major one-time investment, made possible with the federal recovery dollars, we could take real steps towards ending the housing and homelessness crisis in our state.
Unlike the extreme agenda being used by Senate Republicans to negotiate a status quo budget, Minnesotans are looking for meaningful progress on the real issues facing our communities, and they should be heard. It is the right of all Minnesotans to be a part of these conversations to shape our budget.
After a year of unprecedented difficulty, we should be coming together and looking out for one another, we should be doing it openly and honestly, not behind closed doors, and we should be pushing for real solutions, not just the status quo.