For more information contact: Caitlyn Stenerson 651-296-5989
Friends and neighbors,
It’s been another super busy week in St. Paul! Since my last update, I’ve enjoyed meeting with quite a few constituents – including some of you receiving this update - and greatly appreciate having heard from so many others regarding issues of significance to them and/or about specific bills moving through the legislative process. It truly is an honor to serve you in the Minnesota House of Representatives!
February Budget Forecast
I attended the February Budget Forecast briefing at the Capitol this morning presented by Commissioner Myron Frans of the Office of Management and Budget. As we head into the upcoming budget process for the 2016-17 biennium, it appears Minnesota is poised to have a $1.869 billion surplus! I’ve heard loudly and clearly from my constituents – including via email just this morning shortly after the official announcement - that you expect our state government to live within its means, just as hard-working Minnesotans must do each and every day, and that the excessive tax increases of the past biennium have made it exceedingly difficult for hard-working families throughout our district. It is for this reason that I strongly believe our top two priorities for the upcoming budget must include providing tax relief to those who bore the burden of the $2.1 billion tax increase of the past biennium and targeted spending for long-awaited completion of critical infrastructure projects [such as the expansion of Highway 212 in Carver County] as well as on the urgent repair of our states’ crumbling roads and bridges.
I welcome your thoughts and suggestions as to where you’d like to see the legislature prioritize spending [including ideas as to where we could/should make cuts], and encourage you to contact me to share your ideas and as always - look forward to hearing from you!
Update on Commissioner Salaries
Last week, the House voted to rescind the commissioner pay raises through July 1st, giving Governor Dayton time to reconsider the impact of his decision to give his commissioners more than $800,000 in pay raises while allowing him a one-day ‘window’ on July 2nd to, once again – if he so chooses – raise their wages, prior to returning control for oversight of such decisions where it belongs – to the Minnesota legislature! I’m pleased with and proud of my colleagues for demonstrating leadership on this issue. Minnesotans were outraged with the governor’s out-of-touch unilateral actions – especially given the fact that take-home pay for most Minnesotans has remained stagnant for an extended period of time.
Amid the debate surrounding the legislative reform to rein in these salary increases, I was disturbed to read that the new chairman of the Met Council, Adam Duinick, told the Pioneer Press that because his publicly-funded salary is at $58,489 - down from $145,000 due to action taken by the legislature - he will be counting his hours and isn't certain as to whether he will come into work every day.
As taxpayers, we expect better of our public servants. For my constituents - particularly those in Carver County - I share your frustration with the Met Council. Given the fact Carver County doesn't receive most of the Met Council services yet is required to comply with their mandates, it's frankly infuriating that we're hearing the Met Council Chairman express dismay about his salary that we, as hardworking taxpayers, are funding.
My First Bill Passed by the House
My first bill of the Legislative Session was unanimously passed by the House last night! HF510 offered a technical fix to a bill from 2009 which was carried by Representative Kurt Zellers, passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Pawlenty. It streamlined several antiquated Hennepin County Human Resources policies and procedures which resulted in increased flexibility for and efficiency within the department – exactly what government should be doing. Unfortunately, because the county inadvertently missed having completed the necessary filing with the Secretary of State’s office at the time, my bill was needed to ensure Hennepin County would be in full compliance with the law going forward. As I stated on the floor yesterday, my bill offered a final “dotting of the last ‘i’ and crossing of the last ‘t’” ensuring the county is now fully compliant. It was fun preparing for my first bill introduction on the floor – one of this Session’s first – and to watch the board light up with ‘green’ votes! The experience also served as a great primer for me as I gear up for future bill introductions on behalf of our district and my valued constituents.
MNsure Audit Identifies Major Problems
As I’m certain many of you have already heard, the Office of the Legislative Auditor released their report on MNsure. It echoed many of the problems reported to me by constituents throughout our district. Not only have Minnesotans faced a broken website, long wait times, poor customer service and most recently delayed tax documents keeping taxpayers from processing their tax returns, but MNsure failed to meet its enrollment goals by more than 80%! Overall, the Legislative Auditor concluded that “MNsure’s failures outweighed its achievements.” Needless to say, I find it very difficult to consider spending more hard-earned tax dollars (over and above the almost $200 million already spent) – which would be at the expense of other very worthwhile investments – given such a colossal failure of government.
Visitors to the Capitol
Visiting constituents at the Capitol regarding issues of significance is always a highlight of my week! These past two weeks have been no exception. I enjoyed meeting with veterans interested in several of the bills I co-authored, which – if enacted – would make Minnesota a more veteran-friendly state. It is an honor to serve on the Veterans Affairs Division Committee and I’m proud to stand with those who have sacrificed so much for our country. I am appreciative of our veterans and will work tirelessly on their behalf to enhance their civilian lives here in Minnesota in any way I am able!
I also had the opportunity to visit with constituents representing the Builders Association, recently, who shared their ideas as to how to improve the construction climate in Minnesota. Having heard their thoughts will prove valuable as my colleagues and I identify ways to ease regulations on small businesses.
Several University of Minnesota students stopped by my office to advocate for a tuition freeze and discuss their concerns about the growing student debt crisis. As a parent of two college graduates and as a college graduate myself, I share their concerns. Many students throughout our district and around the state have worked very diligently to earn their degree, only to be shocked by the bills that have piled up upon their graduation. As a result of our conversation and several Higher Education committee hearings I’ve attended, I am in the process of drafting legislation that would ensure a student who accepts a loan from a publicly funded post-secondary institution in Minnesota understands the impact of their college loan(s) and are clear about their repayment obligations in order to prevent a post-graduation shock. I’ve also co-authored a bill that would require colleges and universities publish their graduation rates, average student debt amounts, and other valuable information that would help our students fully understand their educational choices.
My colleagues Rep. Jerry Hertaus, member of the Property Tax Committee and Rep. Steve Drazkowski, Chairman of the Property Tax Committee were most appreciative of those who shared their time with us last Tuesday night in Wayzata at our Listening Session on Property Taxes. Representative Hertaus remarked as he pointed to the wall-mounted television that we would have had even better attendance had we been able to simulcast to Naples, FL and to Scottsdale, AZ! We greatly enjoyed hearing your experiences and were grateful for your input! Thank you to all who joined us to share their thoughts. If you were one of those ‘with us in spirit’ and weren’t able to join us but would like to weigh-in on this important issue affecting many within our highly taxed district, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’d love to hear from you.
Last, but certainly not least, congratulations to Chanhassen’s Alex Waletski, who hauled in the largest perch at Chanhassen’s annual February Festival ice fishing contest on Saturday, February 7th, during which almost 700 anglers participated. Alex’s perch weighed .15 pounds, and was caught on Lake Ann. Congratulations, Alex!
Please continue to reach out to me to share your thoughts on the issues that concern you and your family. I am always available to listen and pass your concerns along to my colleagues! You can schedule an appointment to meet with me in Saint Paul by calling my Legislative Assistant, Claire, at (651) 296-4272, or feel free to email me directly at email@example.com. Be sure that your friends and family stay informed about this and other legislative issues by signing up for my email updates here.
Have a wonderful weekend.