It’s that time of year again. The 2019 Legislative Session is beginning, so the Minnesota Budget Project team is getting out our calculators to crunch all the numbers, and our magnifying glasses to read those huge budget spreadsheets in size 8 font.
This year will be a budget year – meaning that policymakers’ primary task will be to craft the state’s next two-year budget. And as they do so, we urge them to make advancing racial equity a primary goal in their decision-making. This will mean deliberately addressing the structural barriers that block Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) from thriving in today’s economy.
(Primarily white) Minnesotans often brag about Minnesota’s overall economic success, as demonstrated by the state’s low unemployment rate, high median income, and high rates of health coverage. And we’ve done it too. But these statistics often ignore that many Minnesotans of color face systemic barriers that make it harder to get ahead. And a legacy of discriminatory policies in housing, education, and elsewhere mean that people of color in this state face gaps in opportunity.
For example, due to discriminatory housing policies that were put in place over the past century, BIPOC communities are far more likely to live in areas of concentrated poverty where access to building blocks of opportunity, such as good schools and jobs, are limited. This means that BIPOC Minnesotans are more likely than their white counterparts to earn lower incomes, face poor health outcomes, or be subject to over-policing.
Policymakers should commit this session to make serious advances toward racial equity in our state and close these gaps in opportunity, in areas such as:
- Economic equity. All Minnesotans should have the opportunity to succeed. This could involve investments in public transportation and allowing access to driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status, so that working people can get to their jobs safely and reliably. It could also include improving the state’s Working Family Tax Credit to boost working people’s wages and get children off to a stronger start.
- Criminal justice. Minnesota needs a more just and equitable system. This could mean restoring voting rights for individuals who were formerly incarcerated, and addressing the debt trap that some face when they’re subjected to fees and fines from things like traffic tickets.
- Health equity. There’s a lot of work to do to make progress in this area, but it will also be important to make sure that policymakers don’t take a step backward as well. The provider tax, which primarily funds affordable health care through Medicaid and MinnesotaCare, is set to expire at the end of this year. Policymakers will need to take action to maintain the provider tax so that our state continues to support access to health care for over one million Minnesotans.
- Structural racism. Minnesota needs to address policies, formal practices, and other barriers that continue racial inequities. This could include formalizing practices that require policymakers to consider the impacts on racial equity during the policymaking process.
In 2016, policymakers dedicated $70 million over three years towards a number of policies that would promote racial equity, and Governor Mark Dayton started including equity and inclusion impacts on many items in his budget proposals. But much more work is needed. The time is now to advance racial equity in Minnesota. You can count on us to keep you informed on what progress policymakers are making at the Capitol.