By Rep. Bud Nornes
The conclusion to the 2016 legislative session included a mix of satisfaction for providing more than half a billion dollars in tax relief and disappointment because the Senate blocked funding for roads and bridges and a bonding bill.
The tax bill we passed and are waiting for the governor to enact is historic, with more than half a billion dollars in tax relief for veterans, college graduates with student loan debt, farmers, and more; generational reforms to assist Minnesota's aging adults and provide historic levels of education funding.
In the next three years, the plan provides tax relief in the amounts as follows:
During the 2016 legislative session, infrastructure funding was a major focus and as evidenced by the House's bonding bill. The approved borrowing for nearly $1 billion in a package that seems to be the most infrastructure-intensive bonding proposal I have seen in my House tenure. It was a nuts-and-bolts bill that passed off the floor with wide, bipartisan support, 91-39.
Unfortunately, the Senate's last-minute maneuvering prevented the bill from reaching the governor for his approval. Senate Democrats added light-rail train spending to the bill just as the session was ending at midnight Sunday. The Senate's change to the proposal came just moments after the House had adjourned, making it impossible to gain reconciliation necessary for final passage.
The Senate's decision to tank the bill jeopardizes many road-related projects throughout the state, including withholding the second half of a $25 million Small Cities Road Assistance package Republicans established last year. It also blocks a new initiative providing $4 million to townships for roadwork.
It is hard to comprehend why the Senate would put trains, which just a fraction of our population use, ahead of roads and bridges which benefit virtually all of us – even non-drivers.
Locally, the Senate Democrats' action puts on hold legislation the House passed to extend by two years a previous grant to assist Fergus Falls in repurposing the former state hospital property in town. They also are holding up $500,000 for work on a Pelican Rapids dam and nearly $1 million for moving the college workforce center in Fergus Falls closer to campus. An $820,000 appropriation for the library/student development renovation in Wadena also is on hold.
The bottom line is the House got its job done, but Senate Democrats threw up a roadblock. The House showed leadership in passing all its major bills and we had just sent an excellent infrastructure and road and bridge package to the Senate. We fully anticipated the previously agreed-to provisions would be approved by the Senate as well and be sent to the governor.
There is a chance the governor will call a special session so we can correct the Senate's misdoings. It is too bad it comes down to this, but I'm all for a special session if that's what it takes to get these important bonding and transportation provisions into law.
Thank you for all the support this session and I will keep you posted if new developments occur.