The 2016 session begins Tuesday and this week I attended Rotary Club meetings in Fergus Falls and Perham to discuss some of the top issues the House will be addressing.
Even though this isn't a budget year in name, finances always are a factor at the Capitol. We recently received an economic forecast which calls for a $900 million surplus through June of 2017. That is around $300 million less than our last forecast in November and a weaker national economy and reduced consumer spending are listed as key factors in the dip.
That said, a surplus still is projected, meaning the state is collecting $900 million more in than it needs. This underscores the importance of reducing taxes in the 2016 session, leaving money the state does not need in the hands of families and small businesses so they have more to spend. House Republicans, for instance propose phasing out the state tax on Social Security benefits seniors receive.
We also should view this as an opportunity to provide more funding to improve our roads and bridges. The House is offering a long-term transportation plan that would invest $7 billion in state roads and bridges over the next 10 years without an increase in the gas tax.
In total, the plan would repair or replace more than 15,500 lane miles of road and 330 bridges statewide. Our roads and bridges need work and this plan puts stable, consistent funding in place for the next decade. People say roads and bridges should be a priority and the House's proposal supports that notion.
On a final note, child care providers recently overwhelmingly voted against unionizing that industry. Most providers and parents I have heard from oppose unionization and the results of the vote reflect that position, with 1,014 voting "no" and only 392 voting "yes." One thing worth noting is that only around 25 percent of the child care providers – those receiving state assistance for children in their care – received ballots and were allowed to vote.
Stay tuned for more news soon from the Capitol as the new session gets underway and, as always, your input is welcome.