New report shows how out of reach housing costs are

A report from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, Out of Reach 2016, shows that workers need to earn almost twice the minimum wage to afford a fair market two-bedroom apartment in Minnesota.

The National Low-Income Housing Coalition calculates the “Housing Wage,” or the amount a household needs to earn to rent a fair market unit while not spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Minnesota’s Housing Wage for a two-bedroom unit is $17.76 an hour.

In some parts of Minnesota, the Housing Wage is even higher. In several counties, including Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka and Chisago, a full-time worker needs to earn $19.75 an hour to afford a fair market two-bedroom apartment.
housing costs meme-01

The Minnesota Housing Partnership provides a county-level look at how many hours a minimum-wage worker would need to work to afford housing. Even with the upcoming increase to $9.50 an hour for large employers, a minimum-wage worker needs to work 53 to 83 hours a week year round, depending on where they live, to afford a two-bedroom apartment.

When housing takes up such a large share of families’ incomes, they can’t afford other basic needs like transportation or child care, families may have to live in substandard or dangerous housing, or workers can’t afford to live where the jobs are.

Policy choices can play an important role in more Minnesotans affording the housing that meets their needs, both by increasing the supply of affordable housing and ensuring more Minnesotans have good-paying jobs.

In the 2014 Legislative Session, Minnesota policymakers gave minimum-wage workers in the state a long overdue raise. Later this summer, the minimum wage in Minnesota will be $9.50 an hour for large employers, and will be indexed to inflation in future years so that working Minnesotans can better keep up with the cost of housing and other basic needs.

Legislative sessions that fall in even-numbered calendar years, like the one that just ended, are typically bonding years where capital projects like affordable housing are funded. Unfortunately, this session policymakers could not come to an agreement on a bonding bill. They did add funding for affordable housing in the 2016 supplemental budget, including $500,000 for rental assistance for exploited women and children, and $750,000 for a statewide workforce and affordable housing program.

But there’s more that can be done. Policymakers should continue to make progress so that all Minnesotans can afford the basics, including stable housing.

-Clark Biegler

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U.S. Supreme Court decision halts expanded economic opportunity for immigrants

Today’s disappointing decision from the U.S. Supreme Court halts proposed actions to expand opportunity for an estimated 3.9 million unauthorized immigrants across the nation, including 30,000 in Minnesota.

The U.S. Supreme Court announced a split 4-4 ruling today, leaving the nationwide delay of President Barack Obama’s 2014 executive action in effect. The U.S. Supreme Court currently has an empty seat due to Justice Antonin Scalia’s death earlier this year, making the possibility of split decisions much more common.

In November 2014, Obama introduced an executive action that expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and created the new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). These would allow undocumented immigrants who came into the country as children, as well as parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, to request relief from deportation and receive work permits that would last for three years. However, a lawsuit brought by 26 states, and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court today, prevented those actions from going into effect.

The executive action sought to recognize the contributions these residents make to their local communities and economies, and would keep families together who already call the United States their home. Obama’s action also would provide an economic boost by strengthening the country’s workforce, as young people who grew up here could advance their educations and careers, and workers could increase their earnings through jobs that better match their skills. As a result, it’s estimated that full implementation of DACA and DAPA could improve the Minnesota economy by $1.7 billion over 10 years.

Obama’s executive action would be a common-sense way to provide a more stable status to immigrants living in our communities. Next steps for the executive action to proceed are unclear at the moment, but it is possible that the U.S. Supreme Court could schedule the case for another argument when it has a full court of nine justices again.

-Clark Biegler

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Smart policy interventions can shrink racial disparities: national mortality rates edition

When researchers looked at mortality rates of younger Americans across the country, they found that policy choices are shrinking the health-based inequities that exist in our society. Their findings remind us that we’ve come a long way in the struggle for health equity, while also impelling us to continue working to ensure that someday, someone’s zip code and skin color won’t play a role in determining their life span.

Mortality rates measure the share of people in a group who die within a given time period. After looking at the way those rates changed over time, the authors found that income still matters — our youngest boys are still more likely to die in the poorest places in America — but the disparity in mortality rates between rich and poor counties for some groups has been cut nearly in half.

For example, the researchers found that in 1990, 2.38 out of every 1,000 boys ages 0 to 4 in the country’s richest counties died within three years. Over the next 20 years, that three-year mortality rate shrank to 1.32. Meanwhile, the youngest boys in the country’s poorest counties had a mortality rate of 4.49 in 1990; in 2010, it had dropped to 2.39.

Graphical depiction of mortality rates described in this article.

Source: “Mortality and Inequality: The Good News From a County-Level Approach” by Janet Currie and Hannes Schwandt

America made similar equity gains across racial lines, too, but the data contain a chilling reminder of how important race remains in our country: black boys living in the wealthiest parts of America are still less likely to make it to adulthood than white boys living in the nation’s poorest counties.

The authors of the study point out that over the past 20 years disparities shrank as public investments in health and well-being increased. In that time span, the United States increased the availability of affordable health insurance for pregnant women and children through Medicaid and the State Child Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), helped Americans with low incomes stock their fridges through federal food aid, and supported families’ efforts to make ends meet through strengthened tax credits for working families.

Minnesota has been a national leader on many of these fronts — for example, by crafting innovative paths towards affordable health insurance. Such investments are now paying dividends represented by actual human lives, and show that America (and Minnesota) can narrow racial and income disparities when we make smart policy choices.

-Ben Horowitz

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Jobs, economic development top supplemental spending

While the House and Senate put forward very different visions around how to use the projected $900 million surplus this session, legislators put together a supplemental budget bill (House File 2749) in the last days of the legislative session that had a net general fund impact of $182 million for FY 2017, providing the largest funding boost in economic development. The total impact of the bill increases to $233 million in FY 2018-19. This budget bill includes $26 million in FY 2017 and $67 million in FY 2018-19 in tax cuts in its state government provisions. The Legislature also passed a tax bill totaling $257 million in FY 2017 and $544 million in FY 2018-19.

FY 2016-17 Supplemental Budget General Fund Proposals (Net General Fund Changes)
Governor House Senate Conference Agreement
Jobs and Energy $129 million $12 million $189 million $75 million
State Government $51 million -$10 million $36 million $45 million*
E-12 Education $61 million $0 $59 million $25 million
Public Safety $65 million -$793,000 $43 million $25 million
Environment and Agriculture $11 million $2 million $27 million $7 million
Higher Education $76 million $0 $48 million $5 million
Health and Human Services $86 million $0 $51 million $0
Transportation $15 million $260,000 $1.8 million $0
Tax Cuts and Aids to Local Governments (House File 848) $140 million $999 million $283 million $257 million
Total $635 million $1 billion $738 million $440 million
*This total includes the tax cut provisions in the supplemental budget bill.

In the budget bill, policymakers put the most additional resources towards jobs and economic development, where they allocated $75 million in FY 2017. Providing access to broadband for Greater Minnesota was a priority expressed by the House, Senate and governor, and about half of the funding in this area ($35 million) is for that purpose. Only $5 million can go to underserved areas, defined as areas where households and businesses have internet speeds slower than the state’s 2026 goals. Policymakers also set aside up to $500,000 for areas with significant low-income populations. The final funding for broadband is much closer to the proposed House figure of $15 million than the governor’s and Senate’s proposals of $100 million and $85 million, respectively.

The final equity agreement includes important provisions that work to move the needle on the state’s economic disparities. Policymakers dedicated $35 million in FY 2017 and $35 in FY 2018-19 for equity initiatives such as:

  • $6.9 million in grants for the Latino, Somali, Southeast Asian, and American Indian communities to address educational, employment, and workforce disparities, and to support youth; and
  • $1.5 million to promote high-wage, high-demand nontraditional jobs for women.

Policymakers invested $25 million of the surplus in E-12 education. The House and Senate agreed to fund one of the governor’s highest priorities, voluntary pre-kindergarten, with $19 million in FY 2017. The education provisions also include funding to support development of teachers and proper placement of support staff to help improve students’ learning environments, as well as for early education and equity aid funding changes. Much of these funding increases are made possible through savings resulting from a loan refinancing option for some school districts.

Policymakers invested $5 million in higher education, with $2 million for the state grant program, which lowers the cost of college for low- and moderate-income students, and $500,000 for colleges and universities to narrow gaps in college education attainment between students of color and white students.

While the House and Senate found agreement in many areas of the budget, the transportation and bonding discussions proved to be less productive. For the second year in a row, policymakers failed to pass a substantial transportation bill due to disagreements on which transportation investments the state should make and how they should be funded. Last year, policymakers passed a transportation budget that maintained the status quo, but there was no funding allocated this year. Legislative sessions in even numbered calendar years like this one are also typically “bonding years,” where policymakers pass a capital budget bill that invests in our state’s infrastructure, such as roads and buildings. Policymakers this year were unable to pass a bonding bill during the legislative session.

There is discussion that policymakers will return to the Capitol this summer to pass bonding and transportation budgets.

We discuss more of the health and human services and tax details elsewhere on our blog. In health and human services, legislators agreed to some important investments in mental health and Medical Assistance. They also missed critical opportunities to improve MinnesotaCare, expand access to affordable child care, and support struggling families through the Minnesota Family Investment Program. The tax bill includes several provisions that make working families its priority, including nation-leading improvements to the Working Family Credit, and expansions of the Child and Dependent Care Credit.

The House and Senate passed the supplemental budget bill Sunday night.  It now is in the governor’s hands where he has the power to sign, veto, or line-item veto this supplemental budget.

-Clark Biegler

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Net-zero HHS agreement invests in some vulnerable Minnesotans; misses opportunity to help many more

Sunday morning, the Supplemental Budget Conference Committee approved House File 2749, which spells out the near future of Minnesota’s Health and Human Services (HHS) budget.

The bill provides important resources that will protect vulnerable young Minnesotans and provide for the treatment of Minnesotans with mental illnesses. However, the agreement missed an important opportunity to invest our state surplus in supports for Minnesotans who are struggling to make ends meet. It doesn’t include provisions to increase economic stability for our most financially vulnerable neighbors or expand access to affordable child and health care. On the other hand, the bill also left out harmful proposals that would have made affordable health care more difficult to come by for Minnesotans with lower incomes.

The supplemental bill increases overall HHS spending by $79 million in FY 2016-17 and $154 million in FY 2018-19. The increased funding doesn’t come from the state’s general fund surplus. Instead, it is made possible by a $74 million transfer from the Health Care Access Fund, which updates an existing transfer for payments intended to cover services provided by health insurers and providers; the transfer amount was frozen in 2005.

The supplemental budget bill includes many of the limited areas of agreement between the House and Senate’s HHS budget bills, and also contains some of Governor Mark Dayton’s priorities. The bill includes:

  • $63 million in FY 2016-17 and $71 million in FY 2018-19 dedicated to the hospitals and other facilities that provide care, treatment and support for Minnesotans with mental illnesses and sex offenders;
  • $4.8 million in FY 2017 and $28 million in FY 2018-19 to allow a spouse to preserve their family’s assets when their partner needs home- or community-based services provided through Medical Assistance;
  • $2.8 million in FY 2017 and $3.8 million in FY 2018-19 to tribal governments to support their efforts to provide culturally-responsive human services;
  • $2.5 million in FY 2016 and $4.8 million in FY 2018-19 to prevent liens from being placed on older Minnesotans’ estates when they enroll in Medical Assistance;
  • $20 million in FY 2018-19 for a 15 percent increase in payment rates to foster parents;
  • $188,000 in FY 2017 and $8.4 million in FY 2018-19 to be invested in certified community behavioral health clinics, a proposal that may be matched with an additional $15 million in federal dollars; and
  • $8.8 million in FY 2018-19 to support vulnerable youth through the Homeless Youth Act, school-linked mental health services and Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth.

The bill did not include any of the proposals to seek approval from the federal government to change the way Minnesota manages our state’s options for affordable public health insurance. Negative proposals left out would have:

  • Re-instituted asset testing for MinnesotaCare, placing an unnecessary, inefficient bureaucratic wall between more than 100,000 Minnesotans and affordable health insurance.
  • Provided working Minnesotans eligible for MinnesotaCare with options for health plans that come with higher premiums and cost-sharing than MinnesotaCare.

Constructive waiver proposals would have:

  • Re-established eligibility for Minnesotans earning 200 to 275 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, or $24,000 to $33,000 for a single adult. Minnesotans in this income range are nearly three times more likely to lack health insurance as Minnesotans with higher earnings. The cost of providing MinnesotaCare to these Minnesotans would likely be covered considerably or entirely by federal funding.
  • Allowed access to MinnesotaCare for people earning more than 275 percent of federal poverty guidelines.
  • Simplified health insurance enrollment processes for families with children eligible for Medical Assistance.

It is disappointing that proposals that would have helped more Minnesota families reach economic security failed to make the final cut. The list of new investments skipped the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), leaving 7,300 families on the waiting list and failing to expand the shrinking set of child care provider options for families who use CCAP by updating rates paid to providers. It also does not contain Dayton’s plan to update cash assistance offered by the Minnesota Family Investment Program, a crucial but cruelly out-of-date support for Minnesota families who fall on hard times.

The bill received final approval on the floor of the House and Senate on Sunday; it now awaits the governor’s signature before becoming law.

-Ben Horowitz

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2016 tax bill provisions focus on working Minnesotans

This legislative session, we’ve made the case that policymakers should take the opportunity to invest in broader prosperity, including by supporting the work efforts of those Minnesotans who struggle to make ends meet and get ahead.

The tax bill passed by the Minnesota Legislature this weekend includes provisions that make everyday Minnesotans the priority, especially by strengthening the Working Family Tax Credit and Child and Dependent Care Credit. And importantly, it does not include large and poorly targeted proposed tax cuts that would have reversed the state’s recent progress toward a more equitable tax system and threaten the state’s ability to fund schools, health care and other critical services.

The bill, House File 848 authored by Senator Rod Skoe and Representative Greg Davids, includes a strong expansion of the Working Family Credit. Based on Senate File 2586 authored by Senator Ann Rest, the provision would provide $49 million in tax reductions to about 386,000 Minnesota families and individuals across the state by:

  • Increasing the size of the tax credit for most currently eligible families and individuals;
  • Making some additional families and individuals eligible by increasing the incomes that they can earn and still qualify for the credit; and
  • Reaching younger workers without dependent children by lowering the age requirement to qualify for the credit from 25 years old to 21.

The Working Family Credit provisions for workers without dependent children are truly nation-leading, and would support younger workers and others to be successful as they start their working lives. Minnesota is among the first states (after Washington, D.C.) to move forward with improving such credits for these working people, building on bipartisan (but stalled) efforts to make similar improvements at the federal level.

In addition to supporting work, the benefits of the Working Family Credit are myriad: it helps kids succeed, can narrow racial income disparities, and is focused on those income groups who on average pay the largest share of their incomes in Minnesota taxes. That’s why the Minnesota Budget Project led the effort, with critical involvement from diverse partners, to expand the Working Family Credit this year.

The tax bill also supports Minnesota’s working parents through a targeted expansion of the state’s Child and Dependent Care Credit. Governor Mark Dayton has long championed updating this credit as part of the solution to making child care affordable for more Minnesota families, and a version of it was included in the House’s 2015 omnibus tax bill, based on a bill from Representative Jenifer Loon. A $9.8 million expansion is included in the 2016 tax bill, which would:

  • Increase the maximum amount of credit that families can receive to $1,050 for families with one child and $2,100 for families with two or more children.
  • Increase the income that families can earn and still qualify for the credit to $44,900 for families with one child and $51,800 for families with two or more children.

The bill also includes additional funding for free tax preparation and related financial capability services, which means more Minnesotans will get the tax credits for which they qualify and can use their tax refunds to build savings and a stronger economic future.

What’s also important about the bill is what is not in it. One of the primary concerns we had with the House’s 2015 tax bill was its overall size. It included $1 billion in tax cuts and diversions of existing revenues in the current budget cycle, which used up all of the surplus and more, leaving nothing left to invest to expand opportunity in Minnesota. And it contained tax cuts that grew substantially over time, threatening to put the state back into deficits.

In contrast, the 2016 omnibus tax bill is $257 million for the remainder of FY 2016-17 and $544 million in the next two-year budget cycle (FY 2018-19). Those figures include both tax cuts and additional appropriations, including increased funding to cities, counties and other local governments and for economic development initiatives.

The 2016 tax bill also leaves out the largest and most poorly targeted proposals that were on the table. It does not cut the estate tax, which would benefit only a small number of the largest estates. It leaves out expensive proposals to exempt all Social Security income, which would have had no benefit for the state’s most struggling seniors and had a high price tag that would put the services that seniors rely on at risk.

We also raised concerns about the House’s proposal to eliminate the statewide property tax paid by businesses and cabins, which would ultimately cost about $1 billion a year when fully in effect and provide the largest tax cuts to the state’s highest valued properties. And we heard directly from small-business owners who said these kinds of tax cuts were not their priority.

The 2016 tax bill includes a significantly scaled back and more targeted proposal, which exempts all commercial-industrial properties from paying the tax on the first $100,000 of the property’s value. This proposal is $31 million for a partial year tax cut in FY 2017 and about $58 million per year starting in FY 2018.

This tax bill certainly isn’t perfect. But its expansions of the Working Family Credit and Child and Dependent Care Credit focus on Minnesota families and workers striving to get ahead, and represent an important commitment to expanding economic opportunity.

-Nan Madden

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Updating child care assistance reimbursement rates important for parents

Minnesota’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) reimburses child care providers so that parents with low wages can leave for work knowing that their children will be cared for in a stable, nurturing environment. But CCAP reimbursement rates are set far below market value, creating another barrier for hard-working parents.

Through CCAP, which includes Basic Sliding Fee, Minnesota’s counties pay child care providers who serve children while their parents are at work or looking for a job. A family of four is eligible for Basic Sliding Fee if they earn $43,000 or less; unfortunately, the resource currently has a waiting list that is 7,300 families long.

Even when parents are able to benefit from Basic Sliding Fee, they are confronted by another problem. The state sets the maximum rate counties can pay child care providers who serve families through CCAP. For years, those rates have been set well below what a typical provider charges for their services. Currently, the reimbursement rates cover less than a third of the options available to parents. Parents may not be able to find a provider willing to accept their child for such low rates.

The Senate and Governor Mark Dayton have taken steps towards addressing the provider rate problem by proposing increases to CCAP payments. In addition to shrinking the Basic Sliding Fee waiting list, policymakers should make sure that CCAP rates give this important work its due.

-Ben Horowitz

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House version of Real ID costly, contains unnecessary language

This session, Minnesota policymakers are considering bills to bring our state’s driver’s licenses up to required federal Real ID standards. Real ID compliant licenses are already required to gain access to federal facilities and nuclear power plants. Soon they will be needed to board planes, which has policymakers anxious this session to make progress toward compliance. Bills are now under consideration in conference committee, but the House bill (House File 3959) includes both unnecessary provisions and unnecessary costs.

Under the House bill, the state would need to offer Real ID compliant driver’s licenses by this fall, a very tight implementation timeline that dramatically increases the cost. The Department of Public Safety has testified to major problems with this approach:

  • The high cost could be easily avoided. The department is already scheduled to overhaul their computer system next year. If the state implements Real ID in conjunction with the system changeover, the Department of Public Safety would be able to absorb the costs. But implementing Real ID on a short deadline using the state’s current system will mean an additional $7.5 million in programming, training, and card costs in FY 2017 and will likely delay the system overhaul, since resources will instead be devoted to Real ID.
  • Such an early implementation of Real ID would have required the Department of Public Safety to start working with their vendor for the computer system by May 15, a deadline that has already passed.

The House bill also includes unnecessary language that requires applicants to demonstrate lawful status to obtain a non-Real ID compliant license (the license most Minnesotans use today). Unauthorized immigrants are already unable to receive driver’s licenses in Minnesota. And while policymakers should take a good look at expanding access to driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status because it would strengthen the economy and expand opportunity for about 78,000 Minnesotans, they should leave immigration policies out of the Real ID debate.

Policymakers in the House would be wise to look to the Senate version (Senate File 3589), which implements Real ID in line with federal requirements and in sync with the new computer system, requiring no additional cost, and leaves out duplicative restrictions against unauthorized immigrants receiving driver’s licenses.

-Clark Biegler

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Local interference restricts local governments’ ability to meet needs of their residents

Recently, “local interference” laws, which prevent local governments from setting higher standards than state law, have popped up in a number of states. These have ranged from a law in Alabama that bars a higher minimum wage than the state’s, to a very harmful law in North Carolina that bans local governments from implementing protections for discrimination because of “race, religion, color, national origin, or biological sex” that differ from state law.

Essentially, local interference policies undermine the ability of local governments, like cities or counties, to meet the needs of their constituents, and they take away this authority from the very leaders who are most familiar with their communities.

While the state plays an important role in setting baseline standards, cities have historically had the power to enact higher standards in the best interest of their residents. Just as states can go beyond federal minimum standards, cities and counties at times do the same for their communities.

Take the minimum wage for example. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, but in 2014, Minnesota policymakers agreed that the wage floor in our state should be higher and that workers at large employers should earn at least $9.00 an hour (set to increase to $9.50 later this summer). Similarly, some local governments have set higher minimum wages to account for the higher cost of living in their areas. This has been done in cities, including Chicago, Louisville, Ky., and Seattle, which have raised wages so that workers in their cities can better make ends meet.

Local governments also choose to improve the health and general welfare of their residents. This has included expanding access to earned sick leave as Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Spokane, Wash., have done and Minneapolis is considering doing. These cities have taken important steps to ensure that their residents are better able to come into work healthy and not lose wages when they need to take time off of work to care for themselves. This not only helps workers, but also benefits local businesses which experience lower turnover and training costs.

Last session, the threat of local interference came to Minnesota in a House provision that would have prohibited local governments from passing higher minimum wages, leave policies, scheduling policies, or any required employer benefit higher than the state’s minimum standards. Local interference was rightly not included in the final economic development budget legislation that passed last year, and it should not be included in negotiations this year.

-Clark Biegler

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Duluth business owners call for strengthening workforce with education investments

This is another story in a series that shares why small business owners believe it’s important to reinvest our budget surplus back into our state to build a broader, more durable prosperity for all Minnesotans.

In 1997, Patty McNulty joined Duke Skorich as a partner in his company, Zenith Research Group, Inc. Today, the Duluth market research firm serves businesses in a variety of industries and cities across the country. They have employed close to 100 people over the past 19 years.Photo of business owners Patty and Duke

Patty and Duke believe that continued investment in communities and neighborhoods throughout the state is essential to the strength of the Minnesota business climate. Minnesota’s economy cannot be sustained if economic opportunity is available only in the Twin Cities metro area.

“Small business is critical to the foundation of Minnesota’s economy,” Duke said. “Very often it is small businesses that allow cities, towns and villages to survive and prosper, while ensuring jobs for the people who live in those communities.”

For Patty and Duke, one of the greatest advantages of owning a small business in Minnesota has been the quality of education. “From our local school districts to our colleges and university system, Minnesota values education,” Patty said. “Job applicants, even those without higher education, have solid reading skills, good communication ability and a broad background in a variety of subjects.”

And Duke points out that Minnesota’s high-quality workforce is recognized by people and businesses in other states. “Educational investment is essential to building a strong economic future in the state,” he said. “The backbone of a strong business community are the workers, and Minnesota has always produced an educated workforce willing to be trained and equipped to produce.”

Like many small business owners across the state, they are worried that some of the current proposals to use the state’s budget surplus for large, poorly targeted tax cuts would primarily benefit large businesses and would do little for small businesses. In addition, large tax cuts crowd out the continued and strategic investments that benefit small businesses and allow towns and cities throughout Minnesota to thrive.

As Patty puts it, “Without the hundreds of small business owners and employees, Minnesota could easily lose what makes it the very distinctive place we love to call home.”

Join with Patty and Duke and other like-minded small business owners to ensure the Legislature enacts budget policies that build a broader, durable prosperity in Minnesota. Sign the petition today.

Then join in a discussion on why state investments matter to you via Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag, #MNProsperity.

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