Senjem: We accomplished much that had been left undone

The following, authored by Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester), appeared in the Rochester Post Bulletin on June 13, 2017.

Looking back at the 2017 legislative session, I believe great progress was made on issues that most Minnesotans sent us here to accomplish. With reforms to the health insurance market, significant new funding for our schools, a comprehensive investment into our transportation infrastructure, and putting money back in the pockets of hardworking Minnesotans, we accomplished much of what had regrettably been left undone in previous years.

In January, the new legislature hit the ground running, eager to address the issues heard during our campaigns and to pass a state budget. We passed a $300 million emergency aid package for families who faced unacceptable health insurance premium increases resulting from Obamacare and MNsure. We ended the 159-year old prohibition of Sunday liquor sales and left that decision to individual cities. We passed a REAL ID bill, ensuring Minnesotans can board airplanes without interruption. We heard the voices of farmers and landowners who were not happy with the rollout of the governor’s buffer strip mandate, and put in place a grace period for implementation.

Most importantly, we passed a bipartisan, $45.8 billion budget bill that prioritizes the needs of all Minnesotans. With historic investments in tax relief, transportation, and education, our budget ensures Minnesota’s economy will continue to grow.

Education was a top priority this session. Our $18.7 billion education budget is about putting the needs of our students first and affording schools more flexibility to meet the needs of their communities. 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 classrooms. Additional funding in areas such as special education, career and technical education, school readiness programs, ag education, and literacy programs will make sure all Minnesota students are prepared for the jobs of tomorrow.

With a billion-dollar budget surplus, putting money into the pockets of Minnesotans was a top priority. Our $648 million tax relief package provides the first meaningful tax relief package in nearly two decades.

The package includes a first-in-the-nation tax credit of up to $500 for college graduates paying student loans. It increases local government aid and county program aid. Social Security benefits for 350,000 seniors will be exempt from taxation.  Minnesota’s estate tax exemption is increased to $3 million, making Minnesota more competitive with neighboring states. A tax credit for beginning farmers will help equip more individuals to be successful in their early years in farming. Finally, main street businesses will see relief through an elimination of the inflator and an exemption of up to $100,000 of the commercial and industrial property tax value.

We passed the first comprehensive transportation investment in years with over $300 million in new, ongoing road and bridge funding. By redirecting auto-related sales taxes into a dedicated fund for roads and bridges, this funding will be available on an ongoing basis. An additional $300 million comes from the bonding bill. More than 8,800 lane miles and 200 bridges are expected to be repaired or replaced over the next ten years under this budget. Important reforms, such as increased weight restrictions for construction materials and milk trucks and MnDOT transparency, will allow more projects to be completed on time and commerce to travel easier and faster throughout the state.

Finally, for the first time in several years, we passed a bonding bill that invests nearly $1 billion in needed public works projects across the state. As chairman of the Capital Investment Committee, I was glad to see the bill pass in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion. I am pleased to report the inclusion of $1.5 million for Rochester’s Dyslexia Institute of Minnesota, also known as the Reading Center, which will allow them to expand on the great work they already are doing for our community and students across Minnesota. In addition, $500,000 for a wastewater treatment facility study in Oronoco was funded in the bill.

This session brought great legislation that will keep southeast Minnesota an attractive place for individuals and families. Working together, we accomplished great things.