The Committee met and heard from 20+ testifiers on the omnibus for this committee. The broadband issue in the room is that the House and the Governor have proposed $70 million for broadband. The Senate is promoting $30 million for broadband. Chair Westrom ended the meeting suggesting that he wanted to invest more in broadband but couldn’t without a budget imbalance. BUT the funding is for next year – which opens the door to trying to find further finding next year for the following year.
Two of the testifiers supported broadband – DEED Commissioner Steve Grove and MN Broadband Coalition member Vince Robins. You can see their full testimony in the video below.
Commissioner Grove recognizes that broadband is an important piece of the Governor’s One Minnesota budget. Broadband is bipartisan because we all want to be the kind of state where you don’t have to move to the city to engage. He notes that we have one of the best state broadband models in the US. Other states look to replicate our work and that our experience tells us we need $35 million ongoing funds to meet the state speed goals. We are disappointed with less than $70 million. If we had $35 million, we would have no problems spending and managing those grants.
Vince Robbins points out that we will not meet state broadband goals with one-time $30M broadband funding. Providers and communities need to be able to plan. Many projects are ready to go. In 2017 we had $50M in requests; many are still out there and new ones have emerged. To recognize the full benefits of broadband in the state – we all need to have it! Those who sell, those you buy; those you hire, those who work; those who teach, those who learn.
Senator Sparks did ask the Committee to reconsider the budget for broadband and to go with $70 million. The issue was that the $70 million pushes the budget beyond the Committee budget. Everyone said they supported broadband funding but some had a greater need to meet the target budget. That being the Legal Analyst pointed out that if the budget left committee unbalanced it would not be accepted OR the finance committee would make any necessary cut. (I have rough notes on that specific conversation below the video – it should be in the video as well – probably soon after the one-hour mark.)
- Sen Sparks – Supports the $70 million in broadband grant funds.
- Seb Weber – we have out budget target and we don’t have the authority to increase it. Where will this extra $35 million come from?
- Sen Dziedzic – We don’t need to be balanced coming out of committee
- Chair Westrom – If we don’t balance they bill – someone else will make the cut
- Sen Dziedzic – I would like a roll call on the budget and share – Info from Pages
- Sen Draheim – I have another bill that goes wireless in another committee. We can talk more about it have Easter Break.
- Sen Weber – When I was in the minority, I couldn’t suggest something like this. The problems is that we’d have to take the funds out of the Ag Admin accounts. Which do we want – money for Dep of Ag or broadband?
- Sen Sparks – This is an important program. We all think it is. We know you have targets; we don’t. I will withdraw A18 amendment with the understanding that this may come up again since the Governor’s budget is more.
- Chair Weber – OK
- Sen Sparks – Is there a rule in the Senate that a budget cannot leave Committee over budget? Or is it just not done?
- There’s not a rule – but it is enforced by finance committee and they will cut it out. They won’t hear the bill if it’s not in balance. All of the chairs in 35 years have enforced the budget. But it’s more a custom, not a rule.
- Chair Westrom, quoting Sen Rest – Custom and usage is the rule.
- Sen Sparks – happy to abide by the rule but recognize that sometimes it’s helpful to extend beyond custom.
- Sen Eken – can we use this in the tails?
LA Knopff – that will still be flat
- Sen Dziedzic – Broadband isn’t just a rural issue. Rural areas impact urban areas. Many of our amendments are similar to the broadband – they don’t maintain the target budget. Can we offer them and vote on them?
- Chair Westrom – we’re happy to hear the amendments if you can find a place to get the money and maintain the budget.
- LA Knopff – the chair is the one who upholds the target
- Sen Draheim – I would like to hear the items and the budget
- Sen Dziedzic – I’d like to give the amendments
- Chair Westrom – ok but if they are out of budget, then they will be found out of order
- Senators continue to offer amendments (not related to broadband)…