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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL)

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Legislative Update- April 7, 2019

Sunday, April 07, 2019
Dear Neighbors,
 
This week at the Capitol there were many important bill introductions and announcements. Read more below:
 

Governor’s State of the State Address

On Wednesday, April 3 Governor Tim Walz delivered his first-ever State of the State Address. Speaking on the floor of the Minnesota House Chamber, Gov. Walz played the role of storyteller and shared the hopes, dreams, and challenges of our neighbors and communities across Minnesota. He told specific personal stories of Minnesotans that he knows and has recently met, including small business owners, working families, veterans, and more.
I was pleased to have Coon Rapids Mayor Jerry Koch join me on the floor as my guest. It was great to listen to Gov. Walz’s a positive, inclusive speech that encouraged compromise and bipartisan collaboration. Now we have to put that poetry into practice.
 

Investing in our Infrastructure

On April 2, several of my colleagues announced a new transportation budget that makes investments to fix our roads, bridges, and transit. The American Society of Civil Engineers rated Minnesota’s roads as “D+” on their most recent infrastructure report card. This is an unacceptable problem that needs to be resolved as soon as possible.
 
We see this problem locally.  The Highway 10 bridge over the Rum River is now fracture critical. Meanwhile, Highways 10, 610, 169, and 252 are choked with traffic.  Clearly the north metro needs to see increased investment in our transportation system.  I was very pleased to see that my proposal to start the process of building a new river crossing between Dayton and Ramsey made it into the transportation budget.
 
The transportation budget also includes a four year phase in of a gas tax increase of 20 cents (roughly 5 cents every year).  I have never been a big fan of the gas tax.  It is regressive, and is losing its efficacy with the increasing popularity of electric vehicles. 
 
On the other hand, the gas tax is constitutionally dedicated to our roads and bridges (it can’t be spent on anything else), which means it is the best way to ensure that our roads and bridges get the attention they need.  I will be considering all of this (as well as the broader budget picture) as I decide whether to vote for or against the transportation bill.
 

New Higher Education Budget Freezes Tuition for Minnesota Students

The House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee on Thursday, April 4 announced a new budget that puts students first by making college more affordable, reducing debt, and improving health and safety on campus. According to the U.S. Department of Education, there are 775,000 Minnesotans with student debt totaling $27.1 billion.  A central aspect of this budget is a two year tuition freeze at the University of Minnesota, Minnesota State, and all of our community and technical colleges.
 
I am separately working on a proposal to create a Student Loan Advocate in the Department of Commerce to help students and recent graduates navigate the increasingly complex world of student loans.  The Student Loan Advocate would also work as a “cop on the beat,” to police bad behavior by student loan servicing companies.  I was very pleased when, earlier this week, that proposal was included in the House Jobs and Workforce Development omnibus bill.
 
Sincerely,
 
Zack Stephenson
State Representative