2021 Regular Session and Special Session Analysis

We first want to thank all of our members who made calls and sent countless emails to elected officials, took to social media, participated in our press conferences and more to fight for our legislative priorities during the 2021 legislative session - We were able to secure many victories through our collective diligence, activism, and solidarity!

We also want to give a huge shout out and 'thank you' to Council 5 Legislative Director Ethan Vogel, Legislative Representative Pat Benner, Public Affairs and Political Action Director Max Hall, Council 5 staff sector liaisons, our management team, field and office staff for your incredible work during this difficult legislative session. With our new sector liaison structure, including creating a new county/city liaison and others, we were able to create a line of communication between the ever-changing legislative session and the need to connect as quickly as possible to our staff and members in the affected budget areas to deliver upon our legislative priorities and ensure frontline worker input is truly heard in the halls of power.

In March, we led one of the largest Day on the Hill events at the Capitol -where hundreds of members and retirees met with more elected officials than ever before in our council’s history. We put a face to the honorable work you do every day and you held lawmakers accountable to our shared values as union members and the working-class. We remain grateful for the continued activism and passion of all AFSCME Council 5 members!

Together, we will continue to reach and surpass our identified goals as a union.

2021 Regular Session and Special Session Analysis

Taxes: The final agreement included a tax bill which funded a myriad of initiatives. Relatively speaking, the size of the tax bill was small and the scope broad.

·       Tax conformity for PPP and Enhanced Unemployment Insurance Benefits – when Federal stimulus legislation was originally passed to help businesses keep their employees on payroll and to provide additional unemployment benefits to people who had been laid off, Minnesota law would have treated that money as taxable. This bill exempted PPP and enhanced unemployment benefits from being taxed at the state level.

·       Working Family Credit Expansion – the tax bill expanded eligibility to the working family tax credit to include 19 and 20 year olds without dependents – this will provide greater financial stability for young people.

·       Homelessness Prevention – counties will receive a new form of state aid specifically designed to fund programs aimed at homelessness prevention and assistance.

·       Frontline Worker Bonus Pay – the tax bill included $250 million in funding for the frontline worker bonus pay. Allocation of this money has not yet been determined. 9 people will be appointed to form a committee to make recommendations to the full legislature by Labor Day. Three will be appointed by the House, three by the Senate, and three by the Governor. In order to endorse a spending idea, 7 of the 9 committee members must agree.

·       The tax bill also authorized historic investment for the historically African American Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul. When interstate 94 was expanded 60 years ago, over 60% of residents in this neighborhood, and 300 businesses, were displaced. Now, over $6 million has been invested to fund the planning of a land bridge to rejoin the neighborhood. Of course, significant future investments will be needed to construct the land bridge but dedicated funding from the state for initial planning is a historic first step.

·       The tax agreement also includes aid for small cities who will be negatively impacted by the LGA formula. A working group will be pulled together to discuss updating the LGA formula in the future so small cities are not left out of LGA funding.

State Government: The final State Government and Elections bill included funding for operating adjustments across-the-board as well as important elections language. All of the worst policy and funding proposals made by Senate Republicans, such as restrictions on voting locations, harmful cuts to state agencies, arbitrary caps on hiring, and their attempt to further insert the legislature into our collective bargaining processes were ultimately left out of the final agreement as a result of our members' diligent and hard work.

·       This agreement included an additional $78.5 million for state agencies and constitutional offices such as Administration, Management and Budget, Attorney General’s Office, Secretary of State’s Office, MN IT Services, Department of Revenue and others.

·       This agreement also ended the COVID-19 Peacetime Emergency. Governor Walz was able to secure an agreement from the Federal Government to continue to have access to funding for testing and vaccine resource distribution and food assistance. An orderly end to the eviction moratorium so as to not displace thousands of renters was also included in this agreement.

·       This agreement also allows 16 and 17 year olds to pre-register to vote and creates uniform standards for counties using absentee ballot drop boxes such as constant video monitoring, requirements for where/how they are installed as well as a requirement to empty these drop boxes on a daily basis.

New Veterans Home Funding:

  • $7.6 million operating adjustment for existing veterans homes.
  • $8.6 million funding for staffing at three new veterans homes in Bemidji, Montevideo and Preston (hiring to begin in the fall of 2022 with potential winter 2023 opening).

Health and Human Services: House HHS Chair, Tina Liebling (DFL, Rochester), called this agreement “the best HHS bill we’ve seen in a generation”. It includes historic investments for working people and additional funding to make our workplaces more safe.

  • Direct Care and Treatment will receive a funding increase for operating adjustment of $33.5 million in FY22-23 and $51.8 million in FY24-25.
  • Medical Assistance postpartum coverage was expanded from 2 to 12 months, a huge win for the health of working mothers.
  • Includes one-time payments of $435 to MFIP families.
  • Increases funding for and wages of personal care attendants and home care providers.
  • Makes historic investments in child care – over $100 million in funding to update the maximum rates for the Child Care Assistance Program.

Higher Education:

  • Minnesota State will receive a budget increase of $56 million over the two-year budgeting period with $45 million dedicated for Operations and Maintenance. An additional $5.4 million per biennium will fund supplemental aid to non-metro colleges. 
  • University of Minnesota will receive a funding increase of $38.5 million.
  • These funding increases are in addition to funding from the last federal stimulus package.
  • Tuition increase capped at 3.5% per year for Minnesota State. The University of Minnesota will increase tuition by 1.5% per academic year over the next two years.

Education: In coalition with other labor organizations, we helped defeat efforts to privatize education funding. GOP legislators wanted to give families a tax credit for the money they pay to send their children to private, parochial schools. The final agreement provides more funding for the education formula than any time in the last fifteen years. Historic investments in education, now and in the future, are necessary to ensure learning loss experienced by some children during the pandemic does not have long-term negative consequences.

  • Perpich Center for Arts Education will receive an operating adjustment of $351,000
  • Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and Blind will receive and operating adjustment of $778,000 in FY22-23 and $1.03 million in FY24-25.

Public Safety – Corrections, Courts, Guardians Ad Litem: The Public Safety agreement was the hardest area for legislators to reach a deal on. Negotiations continued to the very end with last minute agreement on additional police reforms finally allowing a deal to fall into place. At the very end, an agreement was reached to create a new prohibition on sharing personal information of a peace officer, such as home addresses, as well as an agreement to change how individuals with low level warrants are treated during police encounters, allowing for sign-and-release in certain scenarios rather than detaining and arresting the individual. The bill included funding for operating adjustments for the Department of Corrections, Public Safety, Courts, Guardian Ad Litem Board and various boards and commissions.


  • All operating adjustments for MNDOT, as requested by the Governor’s initial budget, were funded in the transportation bill.
  • The Senate GOP originally proposed cutting Met Council appropriations for three years due to reduced transit usage during the pandemic. The House and Governor held firm on their positions during negotiations and the Met Council was ultimately funded. 
  • Driver and Vehicle Services within Department of Public Safety received the full operating adjustment as requested by the Governor. They also received:
    • $3.65 million in one-time funding for driver services.
    • $2.38 million for same-day driver’s license programming as a pilot project and
    • $5.2 million for driver-exam stations as a one-time appropriation to reopen all closed sites due to COVID.
  • GOP efforts to privatize public safety by allowing third parties to test for Class D and CDL licenses was defeated. Our union successfully led the effort to block this harmful privatization provision.

Environment and Natural Resources: Policy disagreements were eventually resolved and a budget passed to fund operations at the Department of Natural Resources, Pollution Control Agency, Zoological Board and others. An additional $13 million was allocated to combat Chronic Wasting Disease, Emerald Ash Borer, Aquatic Invasive Species and accelerated tree planting. DNR will receive nearly $4 million in additional funding for an operating adjustment.

Unemployment Insurance fix for Hourly School Workers: We worked diligently in coalition with other unions to fix the gaps in the unemployment insurance program. Hourly school employees at school districts across the state as well as hourly workers at colleges and universities and elsewhere are not eligible for unemployment insurance. Ultimately, Senate Republicans blocked our efforts to fix this program once the association for school administrators came out in opposition. We will continue to advocate for this change.

Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML): For many years, our union has led the fight in colaition with faith, labor, and non-profit organizations to expand access to paid family and medical leave. This session, Senate Republicans refused to compromise in any meaningful way on PFML and it was ultimately left out of the Jobs and Commerce omnibus bill. We will continue to advocate for this necessary policy provision for all working people.

With unity, solidarity, and action we will build our new post-COVID world rooted in the lived experiences of all of the workers who sacrificed so much to get us through the most difficult times we have experienced in generations.