In January, I began my first term as your state senator – and it has been an absolute privilege to serve. With my first legislative session now in the books, I am pleased to report it as being one of the most productive sessions in memory, bringing both sound policy and a complete state budget that will keep the greater St. Cloud community a great place to live, work, go to school, and raise a family.
As part of a new legislative majority, we hit the ground running, ready to make good on our commitment to passing a budget and addressing the many issues we heard on the campaign trail. We made good on that commitment, passing a $300 million emergency aid package for those families who faced unacceptable health insurance premium increases resulting from Obamacare and MNsure. We ended a 159-year old prohibition of Sunday liquor sales. We finally passed a REAL ID bill, ensuring Minnesotans can board an airplane without interruption. We heard the voices of farmers and landowners who were not happy with the rollout of the governor’s buffer strip mandate, allowing for a grace period in its implementation.
We also passed a bonding bill, bringing funding for infrastructure upgrades across the state. Included in the bill is $18.5 million for the overhaul of SCSU’s Eastman Hall, as well as $19 million for badly needed security upgrades to Minnesota Correctional Facility-St. Cloud.
And last week, Gov. Dayton signed our two-year, $45.8 billion state budget into law. The culmination of weeks of negotiations and a short special session, the budget is, as it should be, the result of significant compromise.
This is good news – and what Minnesotans should expect from their government.
The reality is Minnesota must get more competitive with neighboring states. Our $648 million tax relief package includes a series of provisions aimed at cutting taxes for students, seniors, main street businesses, and families. St. Cloud and the surrounding area only stands to benefit from the largest tax relief package in nearly two decades.
Students can take advantage of a first-in-the-nation tax credit of up to $500 for college graduates paying student loans. Communities can continue to provide essential services through increases to local government aid and county program aid. Over 350,000 Minnesota seniors can keep more of their Social Security benefits through a reduction in their income taxes. Minnesota’s estate tax exemption will be more in line with the federal exemption, and a reduction in the statewide property tax burden, including an elimination of the inflator and an exemption of up to $100,000 of property market value, will ease the burden on main street businesses.
The opportunity for a great education is a large part of what makes our communities so appealing. An additional $1.3 billion in funding, including a 2% increase to the per-pupil general education formula in each of the next two years, will put more money directly in the classroom; St. Cloud Area Schools will see an estimated $4.9 million in additional funding. Along with increased funding in areas such as special education, career and technical education, school readiness programs, and literacy, all Minnesota students will have the opportunity for an education that prepares them for the jobs of tomorrow.
Both St. Cloud Community and Technical College and St. Cloud State University will see millions more in funding, and with a better funded Minnesota State Grant Program, more students will be able to take advantage of more financial aid.
Finally, we passed the first comprehensive transportation investment in years. Over $300 million in new, ongoing road and bridge funding is included, coming through a redirection of auto-related sales taxes into a dedicated fund for roads and bridges; another $250 million comes from the bonding bill. Altogether, thousands of lane miles and hundreds of bridges across the state will be repaired or replaced under our plan.
The work to better our state continues, but our budget is a great starting point. Thank you for the honor of serving the people of St. Cloud, Waite Park, St. Augusta, and Haven and Minden townships. Working together, we can continue the good work being done at the Capitol.