Now that the legislative session has concluded, I want to take a moment to share with you my assessment of this year's accomplishments. This was one of the most productive and efficient sessions in many years, marked by compromise and bipartisan cooperation. Our biggest challenge was balancing the state budget in the face of a $935 million deficit. The final budget meets this challenge in a fiscally sound manner, and at the same time protects the values that make Minnesota a great place to live. It includes a combination of budget reductions, use of reserve funds, and increased revenues by closing corporate tax loopholes. No general tax increases were used to erase the deficit.
As a former educator, I remain concerned about the financial struggles many school districts, including the Hopkins and Robbinsdale area schools, are confronting. As a result of our efforts this session, every district in the state will receive an additional $51 per pupil in 2009; approximately $30 per pupil will be ongoing funding. School districts were also granted flexibility to use $51 per pupil from their operating capital reserve account for general fund purposes. This is in addition to an $800 million funding increase passed last year that included a 2009 formula increase of 1 percent.
The situation our schools are facing is a long-term problem that needs a solid, long-term solution. And while this year's legislation is a short-term fix, it is a necessary step to set the stage for a comprehensive education reform measure in the 2009 session.
Whether you are a senior living on a fixed income, a two-income family, or an individual whose wages haven't kept up with increasing costs, dramatically rising property taxes can seriously limit your ability to meet basic needs, such as food, clothing, and health care.
To combat this trend, the Legislature enacted a major property tax relief plan. It includes an expansion of the Property Tax Refund Program, which provides relief to homeowners whose property taxes are high relative to their incomes. Local governments will receive more aid to help lessen their reliance on property taxes, and levy limits were imposed on local units of government to further help control escalating property taxes.
Thousands of Minnesotans are being financially squeezed as the cost of their health insurance outpaces their wages. For others, the prohibitive cost of health insurance simply prices them out of the insurance market altogether. This year, we began to address this problem by passing a landmark health care reform initiative that will lower costs, make health care more affordable for those with insurance, extend coverage to the uninsured, and change the health care system so that it better meets the needs of patients. This reform package, along with the health care initiatives enacted last year, will reduce the number of uninsured Minnesotans by over 30 percent.
Our strategic jobs/capital improvements bill will pump $821 million into our state's economy by making necessary investments in state assets such as higher education, infrastructure and environmental initiatives, and our transportation bill will invest $6.6 billion to improve safety and travel throughout the state. Both of these bills will create thousands of new jobs for Minnesotans.
As we look to the future, it is my hope that in upcoming sessions we can build upon the significant achievements that were enacted this year, and continue our progress toward keeping Minnesota the finest state in which to live and work. Thank you for giving me the privilege to serve you in St. Paul. As always, please don’t hesitate to share your views on issues that are of concern to you.