The 2016 legislative session is right around the corner and is expected to be one of the shortest in recent history due to renovations at the Capitol. Despite the shortened session, there are a number of important issues that will be debated this year.
The biggest factor shaping this year’s legislative session will be the state’s budget surplus.
Late last year, the Minnesota Management and Budget Office revealed a projected surplus of $1.871 billion for Fiscal Years 2016-2017. State law requires nearly $600 million of this surplus to be put into the state budget reserve, leaving an overall projected balance of around $1.2 billion.
While news of a surplus is good news for the financial stability of the state, such a massive surplus indicates that government is taking in more money than it needs. Simply put, Minnesotans are overtaxed.
That’s why one of my top priorities this year is giving hard working Minnesotans a much needed tax break. I am committed to working with my colleagues to pass a tax bill that helps all Minnesotans—middle class families, college students, seniors, veterans, small businesses, and more.
In addition to tax relief, a comprehensive transportation bill is in the works for the coming session. Last year, the House passed legislation that would have spent nearly $7 billion over the next ten years on our roads and bridges without raising the gas tax.
This bill did not become law due to Governor Dayton’s insistence that any transportation plan include a gas tax increase. Nevertheless, our plan remains very popular with Minnesotans and given the large state surplus, any push for a gas tax increase appears likely to fail.
While our transportation plan did not become law last year, we were still able to pass new funding for cities with populations less than 5,000 residents. I would expect additional, similar funding to be allocated this session as well.
Another significant topic that will be discussed this session is expanded broadband access for communities in rural Minnesota.
Minnesota continues to make strides in rural broadband expansion. Just last year, five broadband providers in Minnesota received $86 million from the federal government through the Federal Connect America Fund (CAF II).
What’s more, the federal government will be investing an additional $500 million in Minnesota over the next five years as we continue to improve access across the state.
At least 170,355 homes and businesses across 85 counties will be served in the coming years.
I am committed to working with my colleagues in the legislature to partner additional state investments with existing federal funds to ensure that Minnesota’s broadband needs are met.
While there are a number of other important issues that will be addressed in the coming legislative session, I also want to share exciting news about a select committee that I have been asked to be a member of.
Earlier this month, I was appointed to a newly formed Select Committee on Affordable Childcare.
This committee will partner with providers and parents to facilitate solutions for more affordable child care choices for Minnesota families.
There is no question that Minnesota has a number of quality child care providers that are committed to the families they serve. However, many families in rural Minnesota have a difficult time finding access to providers as recent data from the Department of Human Services shows that Minnesota has lost over 3,000 providers in the last decade.
Beginning in February, this committee will tour Greater Minnesota to hear from parents and providers about the challenges they face.
We have a lot to accomplish in a shortened session once we head back to St. Paul in early March so it is as important as ever that I hear from you. I can be reached by phone at 651-296-4929 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you.