Session has begun, committees have started to meet to review legislation and Governor Pawlenty has given his State of the State address and released his budget proposals. The state’s economic forecast is optimistic with the proposed budget surplus and legislator’s have been working cooperatively to ensure that the needs of the people are met and the state continues on this successful course.
The Governor’s State of the State address and budget announcement highlighted some of the main issues that are on everyone’s agenda this session. Among other things, the Governor mentioned increasing education funding and paying for performance, providing health care to Minnesota children, tax relief, specifically property tax relief, and continuing to pass legislation that makes our state the national leader in renewable energy policy.
One of the first pieces of legislation passed by the House was a federal tax conformity bill that puts Minnesota in compliance with new federal tax provisions and provides $24.2 million in tax deductions for parents and/or students paying college tuition as well as classroom expenses for teachers. At the encouragement of Governor Pawlenty, the bill passed the House on only the third day of Session so Minnesota taxpayers who file their tax returns early will not have to file amendments to their returns later in the year in order to get the new Federal deductions and credits.
Veterans issues are another major area that will receive some significant attention this session. The Governor and both branches of the Legislature have this issue as a high priority. Bills are being introduced in both the House and Senate that extend some long overdue benefits to our veterans. The package includes a bill proposing 100 percent exemption from state income taxes for military pay and pensions, as well as a Minnesota GI Bill, which would supplement the federal GI Bill by providing eligible veterans or eligible dependents $1,000 per semester for up to five years of higher education. As Governor Pawlenty said, it’s our way of showing the kind of appreciation that is not done justice with just our words.
The first few weeks of committee meetings are spent hearing the reports of state agencies and organizations that help legislators gauge the status of each issue area moving forward. I have the privilege of being Lead Republican on the Minnesota Heritage Finance Committee. I also serve on the Agriculture, Rural Economies and Veterans Affairs Committee, Capital Investment Finance Committee and E-12 Education Committee.
The session has gotten off to a successful start, with quick passage of bipartisan legislation that is important to the state, and an agenda that is shared by the House, Senate and Governor, Republican and Democrat. I will continue to keep you informed about the work we’re doing in St. Paul. I will review each piece of legislation that comes across my desk to ensure it’s in the best interests of the state and our communities.
Dean Urdahl represents District 18B in the Minnesota House of Representatives. The district includes Meeker County and a portion of Wright County. This is Urdahl’s third term in the legislature after being elected in 2002, 2004 and 2006.