The 2016 legislative session starts March 8 and, while it is not a budget year by definition, some of the top legislative issues will necessarily pertain to taxes and spending.
A BIG SURPLUS
This is especially true because the state must deal with its "revenue surplus." In the November revenue forecast, we learned that $1.2 billion is available on the bottom line after one-third of the surplus is placed in reserve accounts per state statutes. An updated revenue forecast in late February will confirm or update those figures.
Minnesota tax collections account for nearly 74 percent of state government revenues. The other 26.4 percent comes in the form of aid from the federal government. That percentage ranks Minnesota as 39th in terms of reliance upon federal dollars. Click here for the full report.
Tax reductions certainly will be at the forefront of discussions. One proposal which I support would stop the state's practice of taxing Social Security income benefits. Minnesota is an outlier in that regard, as one of just a handful of states that fully taxes Social Security.
PRESCHOOL FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Education is a top priority for citizens and legislators alike. In an effort to do more for our children, the recent trend has been to bring more structure to learning at ever-younger ages. Gov. Mark Dayton is even pushing for all-day pre-K schooling for 4-year-olds, to "transform the trajectory of Minnesota's youngest learners."
One thing to consider is there is not universal consent on how that trajectory actually looks. Could it be downward? Reports are questioning whether added emphasis on bookwork for preschoolers is leading to diminished returns, causing children to become less inquisitive and less engaged than children of previous generations, ultimately stunting their learning.
A recent article in The Atlantic took a closer look at various findings, including a public schools study which found "that although children who had attended preschool initially exhibited more 'school readiness' skills when they entered kindergarten than did their non-preschool-attending peers, by the time they were in first grade their attitudes toward school were deteriorating. And by second grade they performed worse on tests measuring literacy, language, and math skills. The researchers told New York magazine that overreliance on direct instruction and repetitive, poorly structured pedagogy were likely culprits; children who’d been subjected to the same insipid tasks year after year after year were understandably losing their enthusiasm for learning."
This is a complex topic and trends such as these need to be examined as we consider what is best for our children and Minnesotans in general. I continue to support a "scholarship" approach to boost school readiness for those 4-year-olds who have lack the opportunity.
PROOF OF INSURANCE FOR TABS
Some new laws went into effect this month, including one which requires drivers to provide proof of insurance when applying for motor vehicle or motorcycle registration or transfer of ownership. Under the new law, required information includes the insurance company’s name, the policy number and the policy expiration date.
This is the reinstatement of a law which previously was on the books in Minnesota. The goal is this additional checkpoint will reduce the number of uninsured motorists on Minnesota's roadways. Reports indicate approximately 10 percent of Minnesota's drivers are uninsured. This results in higher premiums for those who do comply with state law by carrying insurance.
Information regarding this and other changes to state law is available at www.house.mn/newlaws.
As always, your correspondence is welcome as we approach the 2016 session. I soon will be conducting a constituent survey seeking input on a number of key issues and will pass along details on how you can participate.
Rep. Linda Runbeck