ST. PAUL – While the 2016 legislative session ended with a legislative agreement to provide significant tax relief to hardworking Minnesotans of all ages, it failed to produce legislation that funded capital investment and transportation needs after Senate Democrats balked because light rail funding was not included.
State Representative Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska), who serves as chairman of the Minnesota House Capital Investment Committee, said this was a disappointing end to what could have been a historic day at the State Capitol.
“The tax relief proposal is so good for middle class Minnesotans – and so good for Greater Minnesota – only 10 out of 134 state representatives voted against it,” Torkelson said. “We thought our bonding and transportation bill was equally great, but a handful of Senate Democrats broke the agreement and took the bill down because it didn’t satisfy their insatiable appetite for another Twin Cities train.”
More than $800 million will be provided to Minnesotans in tax relief over the next three years under the approved legislation. This includes the expansion of childcare and working family tax credits for parents; some property tax relief for farmers facing school construction bond levies; and the removal of the state general tax for all business property up to the first $100,000 in value, which is expected to save the average business owner nearly $1000 a year in state property taxes. Refundable tax credits for college students paying off student loans and the exemption of veterans’ military pensions from state income taxes was also approved.
Torkelson’s capital investment and transportation funding proposal would have spent $995 million on statewide construction projects, and nearly $700 million in one-time funds on road and bridge needs throughout Minnesota. This included $40 million that would have begun the land acquisition process along Highway 14 between New Ulm and Nicollet in order to create a four-lane roadway.
An agreement between House and Senate leadership was reached on the proposal. The House lived up to their end of negotiation by approving the plan, but Torkelson said Senate Democrats killed the legislation – and later bragged about it on social media - because it didn’t include money for Southwest Light Rail.
Torkelson has heard speculation that Governor Dayton may call a special session in early June to address capital investment and transportation funding, which is a move he strongly supports.
“As far as I’m concerned, the sooner he calls it the better,” Torkelson said. “Leadership should get back together and reach agreement on this plan.”
“But we also need to make sure we don’t add more to the bill than what is necessary,” Torkelson continued. “I liken finding support for a capital investment proposal to the Jenga game. If you remove too many blocks from the base and put too many at the top of the tower, it will inevitably collapse. If we load up a special session bonding bill with too many projects, we won’t get the votes we need and it will ultimately collapse. There is strong support from both parties to come back and pass this legislation, so hopefully that will happen in the very near future.”