Delano Lions Club members participated in a Highway 12 cleanup last night. This is a project the Lions have done for many years. We picked up over 20 bags of garbage. I currently serve as the president of the Lions.
We have reached the midpoint of this relatively brief 2016 session. This year's biggest bills are rounding into shape and will start being presented to the House for votes of the full body.
Among them is a package related to Health and Human Services that I have been working closely with as the vice chairman of the committee that addresses that subject. Look for details of that bill as it comes to the floor.
The House, Senate and governor all have come forward with supplemental budget proposals. The state is fully funded through June 30, 2017 through the biennial budget we passed last year, but adjustments often occur in off years to compensate for changes that occur. There also is a $900 million state budget surplus to address.
The governor's plan includes spending increases that far outweigh any tax relief and he spends most of the state's $900 million surplus. He is proposing significant tax hikes, including a wholesale gas tax increase and a metro area sales tax increase for transit.
The House plan is neutral in that spending increases and reductions wash out to a net of zero. The approach we are taking is to shuffle appropriations to focus on our priorities. We can reprioritize the existing budget to make improvements without simply raising spending.
Among the adjustments is an additional $35 million for high-speed Internet expansion in underserved regions of Greater Minnesota.
Another key difference in what the House proposes is we preserve the $900 million surplus. That will allow us to make that money available for providing tax relief and passing a long-term transportation plan that focuses on roads and bridges.
People in our district tell me their top two priorities are transportation and tax relief. Bills the House passed last year to address both of those issues remain in conference committees and can advance this session. The transportation plan directs $7 billion toward roads and bridges over the next 10 years without raising increase the gas tax. By contrast, the Senate proposes to spend less than 4 percent of the $900 million surplus on transportation.
On another transportation note, I continue working with fellow House members on legislation to provide $15 million for improvements to the safety of Highway 12 in our area. That is among our state's deadliest stretches of road and our proposal is receiving strong support. Stay tuned as this develops.
One of the most noteworthy provisions in the tax bill would phase out the state's tax on social security benefits for seniors. Just think how much that would help our seniors, many of whom are on fixed incomes. Minnesota is one of very few states to fully tax social security and we should end that practice. Tax legislation I authored to extend exemptions for fundraising purposes also is progressing in the House. The bottom line is money organizations raise for a particular cause should go to that cause - not to the state.
As for action on the floor this week, people in District 29A and beyond will be pleased to learn the House passed the Fireworks Freedom Act. It would legalize aerial and audible fireworks such as bottle rockets and firecrackers.
The governor has vetoed previous bills we passed to legalize fireworks, but this proposal is different in that it would allow aerial and audible devices to be sold and used from June 1 to July 10 each year. Only people above the age of 18 could make fireworks purchases. Local governments could charge an annual license fee to stores that want to sell fireworks and are able to prohibit them from being sold.
Stay tuned as things unfold down the stretch of this session in St. Paul. Your feedback always is welcome.