DFL legislators claim victory
By: From State Senator Tom Bakk and State Representatives David Dill and Mary Murphy, Lake County News Chronicle
Soon after the DFL won majorities in the Minnesota House and Senate last November, Gov. Mark Dayton was asked by reporters what Minnesotans should expect from an all DFL government. He answered in one word: progress.
The legislative session adjourned on time last Monday with the passage of a budget package that, we believe, will deliver significant achievements for the Arrowhead Region and for all of Minnesota.
Before we tackled the 2013 session, however, the newly-elected DFL majorities in the House and Senate were faced with a $627 million deficit to dig out of, on top of over $800 million still owed to our K-12 schools. For the past decade, previous lawmakers managed year over year budget deficits with a patchwork of harmful cuts and one-time fixes. The result has been increased class sizes, tuition hikes, skyrocketing property taxes and economic insecurity.
This year is different. We finally resolved our state’s fiscal challenges and balanced the budget honestly, both for this year and for the next biennium, FY2016-17. This year’s progress means future legislatures will be able to spend their time on issues that matter to Minnesotans, not on dealing with deficits and IOU’s.
Additionally, by passing bold tax reforms including asking the state’s highest wage earners, the top 2 percent, to contribute the same amount of their income most Minnesotans already pay, we were able to raise enough revenue to make significant investments in priorities widely shared by Minnesotans — schools, job growth and property tax relief.
To begin with, we made a historic, $735 million investment in education from preschool to college. For the first time, every child in Minnesota is going to have access to free all-day kindergarten. We are freezing tuition at the U of M and MnSCU campuses, and part-time college students who were previously ineligible for state grants will now be able to receive this financial aid. Beyond their immediate impact, these investments will keep our state’s workforce globally competitive into the future.
We also made unprecedented investments to keep Minnesota a competitive place to do business and to attract and retain good-paying jobs in our communities. These job-creating initiatives have a proven track record of leveraging millions more in private investment. At a time when too many Minnesotans remain out of work, our focus is always on expanding economic opportunities and strengthening our state’s middle class.
The Legislature finally invested in our long-term care providers in 2013, as well. We allocated an 8.2 percent nursing home funding increase, the largest in the last decade, and we invested another $25 million in our home and community based service providers. This budget reaffirms Minnesota’s commitment to our senior population and the hard-working people who serve them.
Yet, more than any other single issue, we hear most often from constituents that we need to address skyrocketing property taxes. Over the past decade, Minnesotans’ property tax bills have more than doubled as the state continually shifted its budget problems onto our local governments.
Minnesota families will see over $440 million in property tax relief as a result of this year’s budget package. By restoring our partnership with cities, counties and school districts—where most government services are delivered—they will be able to ease local property tax burdens. For example, cities and counties will no longer have to pay sales tax on their purchases, saving them millions of dollars each year that they currently capture through property taxes. Additionally, we provide direct property tax relief for homeowners, renters, farmers and businesses who saw their homestead credit erased during the last budget cycle.
From the start of the 2013 session, we were faced with the challenge of solving the state’s long-term budget problems and reversing the trend of disinvestment in so many of our critical government services. We knew we couldn’t fix everything in one session, but, together with Dayton, we are proud of the progress we’ve made toward improving the quality of life in Northern Minnesota and putting our state on a course for future prosperity.