To the editor:
A lot of legislative wrangling took place the last week of session and when all was said and done, the final product turned out pretty well.
A provision I crafted to help re-use the soon-to-be vacant Regional Treatment Center in Fergus Falls passed as part of the Tax Bill; this provision is critical for the preservation of this historic campus. The plan is to convert the RTC into a cross-cultural college campus focusing on international business. Hunan Normal University in China will act as a sister campus to Fergus Falls.
It was crucial that we eliminated our $935 million budget deficit and improved the health care market for our small business owners this session. We made progress on both accounts when the House, the Senate and Gov. Pawlenty found common ground.
The deficit was erased by cutting $355 million in spending, taking $500 million from Minnesota’s rainy day fund, and generating $100 million by closing some loopholes in Minnesota’s corporate tax system.
The late agreement also included health care improvements. Small business got good news from the plan as it provides tax credits for individuals and small employers which will lead to federal and state tax deductions.
We made progress on a variety of other fronts, including education. For K-12 students, this session brought temporary increased funding. For college students, we increased overall higher education funding, including state grants to help make tuition more affordable. We still need to do more with K-12 education funding. For one thing, we need to make sure we have equitable funding for all schools.
Another breakthrough led to a property relief package, which includes $25 million in direct property tax refunds and $60 million for Local Government Aid, along with a provision that caps local levy increases at 3.9 percent for the next three years.
Nursing homes workers also got some help, as cost-of living-adjustments were increased 2-percent in 2008 and 1 percent in 2009 with a one-time 1-percent bonus increase.
We also need to do all that we can to encourage economic development and job growth. It was good that Republicans were able to prevent the elimination of the JOBZ package that is geared toward helping the small-business community in rural Minnesota.