The 2016 session ended with a flurry of activity, with numerous bills being approved in the closing hours. While I’m not a fan of waiting until the last-minute for important legislation, I am pleased that many of these proposals are going to make a positive difference not only in Swift, Chippewa, Renville and Kandiyohi counties, but throughout Greater Minnesota.
The biggest highlight is our bipartisan tax relief proposal that will benefit hundreds of thousands of hardworking taxpayers.
Farmers have been unfairly hammered with rising property taxes when a school bond levy is approved. Now, the legislature has dedicated nearly $91 million in agriculture property tax relief to assist them in these situations. Over the years our small business owners have also been leveled by the costly state general tax. Now, that tax will be eliminated for all business property up to the first $100,000 in value, saving the average business owner nearly $1000 a year in state property taxes.
Parents will benefit from the expansion of the working family tax credit and childcare tax credit. College graduates paying off student loans would also gain from a refundable tax credit of up to $1,000. $13 million is also included for veterans’ tax relief, and a provision was also approved that exempts military pensions from state tax.
In all, the tax relief package totals more than $800 million over the next three years.
In addition, there are a number of local interest provisions that are also headed to the Governor’s desk.
A $35 million investment was made for broadband on the final night of session. Along with the $11 million allocation made last session, we have surpassed the amount dedicated by the previous legislature for this reliable technology. Combined with federal funding, Minnesota will now see roughly $120 million in broadband investments.
$3 million in critical state allocations are being made for safe shelter and supportive services for sexually exploited youth, which is good news for the Heartland Girls’ Ranch in Benson. A provision was also included that will allow the Fort Ridgely Golf Course near Fairfax to remain open throughout the season.
There were also a few disappointments, the biggest of which was in transportation. On the last day of session, House and Senate leadership agreed on a proposal that would have allocated more than $600 million to Minnesota’s road and bridge needs.
Over the past two weeks, I’d been working behind the scenes to include Highway 212 as part of the Corridors of Commerce program, and the bill approved in the House would have made this happen as the section from Chaska all the way to Montevideo made the cut. This would have been unbelievable for our district as it meant 212 would have been finally been eligible for future state reconstruction and improvement funds.
Unfortunately, Senate Democrats reneged on the agreement after the House had adjourned for the year, bemoaning the fact that light rail was not included. It’s unfortunate the Senate Democrat appetite for more Twin Cities trains eliminated a bipartisan road and bridge funding plan, but that’s exactly what happened. As I write this, Governor Dayton is debating whether or not to call a one-day special session to address our transportation and bonding concerns. I’ll be sure to keep you updated.