MRBC Update: Legislature Returns Tomorrow, Where Does Broadband Stand?

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

Legislature Returns Tomorrow, Where Does Broadband Stand?
Minnesota Legislators return to Saint Paul tomorrow morning to begin the final portion of the 2022 legislative session after a 10-day Easter/Passover break. The Legislature must adjourn by May 23 and there is still no agreement on what to do with the $9 billion budget surplus and other pressing legislative items. Those who follow the Legislature closely know that spending deals tend to come together in the final two weeks of the session, so things are moving at a familiarly slow pace. The only caveat is the Legislature assembled and passed their two-year budget in the 2021 session. The takeaway? There is no constitutional requirement for them to pass a supplemental budget bill this year—despite the historically large surplus—and every seat is on the ballot this fall. Expect a bumpy finish.
Where Does Broadband Stand?
In the House, $100 million in state general funds for the Border-to-Border program is in HF 14 and HF 4375. Both bills are identical and currently parked in the Ways and Means Committee awaiting their fate. They could be amended on to a larger spending bill (like the Agriculture Committee’s omnibus bill) or move on their own. The House’s committee structure is not the same as the Senate and broadband bills go through a different committee in the House than in the Senate, making it difficult to match up if broadband provisions are in different omnibus bills in each chamber. The strategy of moving HF 14 and HF 4375 independently was used to give the House flexibility as we enter the final weeks of the session. Additionally, there is language in these bills to increase the state’s portion of the matching funds from 50% to 75% of a project cost. There is also language to increase the maximum project cost from $5 million to $10 million. DEED and the Office of Broadband Development must report back to the Legislature on how these changes have affected the grant program. HF 3605, the Line Extension Grant Program, is currently on the House Floor awaiting action.
In the Senate, there are several broadband provisions in SF 4019, the Agriculture Omnibus Bill. It is currently on the Senate Floor, awaiting action. $110 million remaining in the Capital Projects Fund would be directed to the Border-to-Border program in addition to requiring all funds from the forthcoming federal Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment Program be used for the Border-to-Border program (as well as language to allow DEED to conform to federal program standards). Policy items in this bill include allowing OBD to develop and spend up to $15 million for a low-density pilot program, increasing the state match from 50% to 75%, but leaving the $5 million project cap intact. Finally, the bill contains the Line Extension Grant Program which is also a standalone bill (SF 3476) currently on the Senate Floor awaiting action.
What’s Next?
The good news is that both the House and Senate are proposing $100 million+ for broadband. The governor’s supplemental budget proposal included $170 million in general funds for broadband as well. Our strategy will be to support the funding and let negotiators find an agreement on the funding source, whether that be all general funds, all federal funds, or a combination of both. The next step is for the House and Senate to pass their omnibus spending packages and form conference committees to negotiate the differences between their positions. You can expect to see this happen within the next few weeks. As always, we will keep you updated on any movement or changes.

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