Minnesota Legislature Considers Investment In BIPOC Communities

BIPOC leaders across the State of Minnesota are calling on the state legislature to invest parts of the state’s historic $17+ billion surplus into BIPOC communities, particularly in the the area of housing, transportation, business assistance, and workforce development. 

The Minnesota legislature is currently voting on a number of omnibus bills, massive budget and policy packages offered by the specific committees in the House and the Senate, including a public safety finance and policy omnibus bill and a K-12 education finance bill. 

Those bills have included a $1.9 billion capital investment package, the first in over two years given that a capital investment bill was not passed in the last biennium. The package was passed on the House floor but has so far failed to pass in the Senate. 

Rep. Fue Lee (DFL – District 59A, Minneapolis) chairs the House Capital Investment Committee. Screenshot by Cirien Saadeh

For some BIPOC leaders, those numbers represent missed opportunities if they’re not invested wisely. “We need to invest in housing, in land banks, so we can build up the economic base of our communities. We need to invest in our workforce, in skill training, in reskilling and upskilling,” said Bruce Corrie, Ph.D., an economist and entrepreneur. “We need wealth building infrastructures in every community.” 

Corrie isn’t alone. “The surplus isn’t because of overtaxing, it’s because of underinvestment in housing, education, healthcare, workforce development,” said Rep. Esther Agbaje (DFL – District 59B, Minneapolis) in an interview. 

Rep. Esther Agbaje. Credit: Minnesota House of Representatives

Agbaje co-chairs the People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) Caucus. In January 2023, the Caucus announced a goal that 20% of the surplus funding be dedicated for use in BIPOC communities. 

“The House DFL POCI Caucus is committed to equity in core areas to advance the needs of Black, Brown and Indigenous communities in the State of Minnesota,” Agbaje said. “With an unprecedented surplus of more than $17 billion, the POCI Caucus will pursue funding initiatives that will specifically support underinvested and under-resourced communities in the State of Minnesota.” 

There is no specific number yet for how much of the state’s surplus will be directly impacting BIPOC communities. According to an email exchange with a DFL staff member, non-partisan staff need more time to put those figures together. 

The House POCI Caucus held a press conference on January 25 to announce its legislative priorities (credit: Minnesota House of Representatives Media Services).

Corrie, who is also an economics professor at Concordia College in St. Paul, is critical of the legislative investment thus far; he argues for an equitable share of the budget for BIPOC communities, who make up 22% of the state’s population and an approximately $1.4 trillion economy.

“There’s been very little investment directly into ALAANA communities,” Corrie said, referring to communities of color with a somewhat infrequently-used acronym which stands for African, Latinx, Asian, Arab, and Native American. “There’s investment into ‘targeted communities,’ ‘disadvantaged communities.’ It’s broadening the pool but not to the magnitude we need.”

Corrie said he recognizes “some great ideas within the bills,” including a real estate development fund, though he believes the legislature should put some money to the side for future investments. 

“There needs to be a strategy of sustained funding. We don’t need to spend all of the [surplus] money in one year. Put half a billion dollars to the side into a sustained pool of money,” said Corrie. 

According to Clark Goldenrod, deputy director of the Minnesota Budget Project, much of the $17 billion surplus comes from resource investments from the federal COVID response and economic stimulus legislation that was not allocated in the 2021-2022 legislative session, when the split legislature could not come to an agreement on a bonding (infrastructure) package. 

“Seventeen billion dollars is a historic number. It’s the largest surplus we’ve ever seen but this is in some ways a blip. It’s carry-forward from our prior budget cycle when we had another really big surplus and policy makers didn’t spend it,” said Goldenrod in a podcast interview for the Radical News Radio Hour,* which airs on Frogtown Community Radio. 

“A state’s surplus doesn’t tell us whether Minnesota is actually addressing the challenges that we see,” Goldenrod said. “This is a huge opportunity to make sure Minnesotans have affordable healthcare, childcare, paid family and medical leave, quality education, clean air and water, all the building blocks of a high-quality standard of living.” 

While it is unknown how much of the state’s surplus and proposed budget bills will target BIPOC communities directly, there are several pieces of legislation targeting housing, transportation, and Capital Investment. Some are aimed at specific organizations; others are focused on big packages. 

For example, the House Capital Investment Committee has included funding for several BIPOC-led organizations in its omnibus capital investment bill. One project is the newly formed Asian Center for the Media and the Arts, which is requesting $2.6 million for the purchase of land in Saint Paul along with pre-design and design of a building to house their nascent organization. 

The omnibus bill also has some major investments, although many of them do not specifically name BIPOC communities as their focus. 

One version of the Housing Finance and Policy Omnibus Bill included $27 million, split over the 2024-2025 biennium (beginning July 1, 2023), for manufactured home parks infrastructure grants and loans. According to one report from the Minnesota Council of Latino Affairs, Latinx peoples make up a disproportionate share of homeowners in manufactured home communities. This means the state’s $27 million investment would likely have a direct impact on Latino communities of color across the state even if the bill language or testimony does not specifically cite an equity frame or purpose. 

A figure from the report “The State of Housing for Latinx in Minnesota” detailing the race of manufactured home park residents in Minnesota. Screenshot by Cirien Saadeh

That same Housing Finance and Policy Bill, however, does explicitly name disparities between white communities and communities of color when discussing a nearly $27 million investment, split across the two-year budget cycle, into a home ownership assistance fund.

The bill language reads: “The [Minnesota Housing Finance Agency] shall continue to strengthen its efforts to address the disparity gap in the homeownership rate between white households and Indigenous American Indian and communities of color.” It goes on to explain the mandate to MHFA in implementing a homeownership assistance fund. 

Despite some notable pieces of legislation, community leaders like Corrie are urging the Minnesota Legislature and legislative leaders to continue being more explicit in naming BIPOC/ALAANA communities in legislation and in equitably distributing the surplus so those communities benefit. Corrie also urges folks to contact their legislators to urge them to prioritize BIPOC/ALAANA communities in policy-making and budgeting. 

“Rather than crying about spilled milk, we have one, maybe two weeks to get it right and to change course and do things effectively,” said Corrie. The Minnesota Legislature must end the 2023 regular session by 11:59 p.m. on May 22, 2023 as dictated by state law. In 2024 the legislature will have its biannual “bonding” year. 

The legislature’s omnibus bills are multi-million or multi-billion dollar investments and, because of a surplus made up of mostly one-time funding, they may look a bit different during this year’s session compared with past omnibus bills, such as those during the 2021 legislative session.

Taking advantage of the DFL trifecta in state government, Majority Leader Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL – District 34B, Brooklyn Park), Senate President Bobby Joe Champion (DFL – District 59, Minneapolis) and Gov. Tim Walz announced joint budget targets and a $65 billion budget proposal this year in a March 21 press conference. A budget target is basically a goal for House and Senate legislators to work toward as they build their omnibus bills and proposed budgets. In that $65 billion budget, the transportation budget target was $1.07 billion, the housing budget target was $1 billion, economic development’s budget target was $250 million and broadband’s budget target was $100 million. A complete list of budget targets can be found here. Time— though not much time— will tell if the improvements suggested by Corrie, Goldenrod and Agbaje are made.

*The Radical News Radio Hour is produced and hosted by the author of this piece, Cirien Saadeh.