The 2010 legislative session officially began on Thursday, February 4th. This session, like the last one, will be challenging. Our state is facing another $1.2 billion budget deficit and 250,000 Minnesotans remain unemployed. Job creation and addressing both our short-term and long-term state economy will be the top priorities of the session.
The budget forecast released in early December indicated that more than 70% of our deficit is the result of less income taxes collected, establishing very clearly the strong connection between jobs and our economy. One of the first bills we will pass this session is the bonding bill which is broadly considered to be one of the most effective ways to create jobs. It is estimated that a $1 billion bonding bill can create between 10,000 to 20,000 jobs, and will help our economy rebound by increasing not only our tax base, but local spending. As Paul Wellstone used to say, “We all do better when we all do better." All of us benefit when more Minnesotans are working.
The added advantage of a bonding bill is that it improves state assets, such as higher education and veterans facilities, and strengthens our infrastructure such as roads, bridges and wastewater treatment plants. We are also seeing a competitive bonding rate this year, and bids are coming in as much as 30% lower than expected. The Governor announced his bonding proposals in January, and the Senate and the House are close to an agreement on our package. I am hopeful all parties can reach agreement on a final bill quickly so we can take full advantage of the spring construction season.
In addition to passing the bonding bill, our most pressing business will be to fill the current $1.2 billion budget shortfall. Since 2002, our state has faced a budget deficit in every year but two. The approach each time has been to cut, shift, or delay state payments for services we depend on – such as early childhood education, K-12 schools, higher education, hospital and nursing home payments, and aid to local governments. As a result, schools have found it necessary to cut teachers and eliminate programs, nursing homes have closed, hospitals are financially challenged, and cities and counties have been forced to cut services. And, we’re all paying more for less – property taxes have increased by $3.2 billion since 2002, health care costs have skyrocketed, parents pay more out of pocket expenses for their children’s education and college tuition has more than doubled. In one way or another, every one of us is feeling the pain of ongoing budget deficits. It is clear it isn’t enough to fix our short-term deficit; we must also adopt a long-term strategy to help our state get off this deficit roller coaster.
The House Finance Divisions began meeting before session started to consider what cuts can be made to their budgets, and we expect the Governor’s budget soon. Reaching agreement will without a doubt be difficult, and I know others share my hope for collaboration and compromise. The choices we make over the next few months could change the face of our state for years to come. Now, more than ever, we must come together and work toward a common goal of bringing economic stability back to our state, and improving the lives of our fellow Minnesotans.
It is an honor to represent you. Please continue to contact me with your questions and feedback; I can be reached at 651-296-4255 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you.