The adjournment of the Minnesota House of Representatives on May 16th brought to a close an incredibly productive 2013-2014 legislative biennium. Given the significance of what was achieved, I thought you might appreciate a recap of some of the accomplishments. Over the next several weeks, I’ll be sending out updates on key issues we addressed at the Capitol over the last two years. This first update will provide an overview of the session as a whole, with more detailed updates to follow.
When the 2013-2014 biennium began on January 8, 2013, Minnesota faced a $627 million deficit, we owed our schools over $800 million, and property taxes were on the rise. Fortunately, the 2013 Legislature began to move Minnesota in a different direction, electing to invest in hardworking families and middle-class Minnesotans by:
Since then, Minnesota’s economy has grown, the unemployment rate dropped, and the deficit turned into a surplus. In 2014, the Legislature built upon the successes of the 2013 session and continued to move Minnesota forward.
Nowhere is Minnesota’s positive direction more evident than when looking at the state’s “bottom line.” After a decade of deficits, government shutdowns, and “budget gimmicks,” Minnesota now has a stable budget into the future. Last year we balanced our deficit honestly and this year we had a $1.2 billion surplus. We utilized our surplus responsibly, providing middle-class tax cuts, making key investments in bread-and-butter priorities like education, and strengthening our budget reserve to keep our budget structurally balanced into the future.
MIDDLE CLASS TAX CUTS
In 2014, the Legislature provided approximately $200 million in middle class income tax relief by conforming Minnesota’s income tax to changes made to the federal income tax. Conforming to federal changes makes filing state income taxes simpler. The marriage penalty was fixed, and the dependent care credit and the working family credits were improved. Families paying higher education tuition or who have student loans also will benefit.
The Legislature continued efforts begun last year to keep property taxes in check. We enacted major property tax
relief, providing $45 million in direct property tax relief to 980,000 homeowners, renters, and farmers. More than two million Minnesota will benefit from tax cuts passed by the 2014 Legislature.
Last year, the Legislature made historic investments to make free all-day, every-day kindergarten available to all Minnesota children and to freeze tuition at our public colleges and universities. In 2013, we increased per pupil funding by $158 per pupil over the next two years. In 2014, using part of the budget surplus, we added another $25 per pupil. We also acted to correct an injustice that had been discovered in recent months. School lunch aid was increased to ensure that students are not denied a hot meal at lunchtime. Special financial assistance will also be provided to school districts to guarantee that all kindergartners, regardless of ability to pay, receive breakfast.
More than 50,000 jobs have been created in Minnesota since the 2013-2014 biennium began. This session the Legislature continued to build on that progress by focusing on job creation and economic development. For example, $20 million was allocated to expand broadband Internet access in unserved or underserved areas of the state. Increased access to broadband service will help drive job creation, promote innovation, and expand markets for Minnesota businesses, particularly those in Greater Minnesota.
Growing Minnesota’s economy and job base means more than just technological advances, however. That is why this session the Legislature adopted, with broad bipartisan support, the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA). This new law strives to close the “wage gap” and promote the overall economic standing of women and their families by investing in initiatives that: (1) help women enter and stay in high-wage, high-demand, non-traditional occupations; and (2) promote the creation and expansion of women-owned businesses. WESA’s provisions also eliminate barriers to the economic well-being of women and their families by ensuring equal pay for equal work, expanding parenting and sick leave for working families, and enhancing employment protections for pregnant workers. When women have equal opportunities to succeed, it means stronger families, stronger communities, and a healthier Minnesota economy.
This year the Legislature also addressed the needs of Minnesota’s lowest paid workers. The minimum wage will begin a phased-in increase in August 2014 — boosting the wages of over 300,000 Minnesotans.
In an ongoing effort to create good paying jobs and to preserve and protect state-owned assets, the Legislature enacted a bipartisan capital investment package containing $1.1 billion in strategic investments spread through every corner of the state. These measures will provide thousands of private sector jobs and fund crucial investments in college campuses, roads, bridges, wastewater treatment plants, flood prevention and mitigation, parks and trails, housing, and other important infrastructure.
MINNESOTA’S FUTURE IS BRIGHT
Clearly, Minnesota has momentum, but there is more work to be done to ensure we keep our middle class strong, and our state headed in the right direction. Looking forward, we must continue to address the bread-and-butter issues vital to Minnesota’s future. It is my hope that in upcoming sessions we can continue the tone of productivity and bipartisanship to build upon the significant achievements enacted during the 2013-2014 biennium. I am committed to continue to work with Republicans and Democrats for the good of our community, and I will always place Minnesota's long-term needs ahead of partisan politics. To that end, I look forward to spending this summer and fall visiting with you and other members of our community about how we can keep our state moving forward.
Thank you for the honor of representing you in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Please always feel free to contact me whenever I can be of assistance.