State Legislature Convenes
The 2012 Legislative Session convened on January 24. After tackling Minnesota’s budget deficit in 2011, our focus this year will be 1) retaining and creating jobs and 2) passing a “bonding” bill targeted to assist higher education opportunities, community and economic development, and natural resource protection. There will be a variety of other issues, too, ranging from proposals to empower homeless persons and families, the Vikings’ future home, and attacking Asian carp.
Priority one is improving our jobs climate. I strongly support Governor Dayton’s recently announced jobs’ plan, http://mn.gov/governor/newsroom/pressreleasedetail.jsp?id=102-34505. Initiatives include:
* A New Jobs Tax Credit for employers hiring a veteran, unemployed worker or recent graduate.
* A proposal to provide an additional $10 million in funding to the Minnesota Investment Fund, http://www.positivelyminnesota.com/Business/Financing_a_Business/DEED_Business_Finance_Programs/Minnesota_Investment_Fund.aspx. The Fund provides grants to help add new workers and retain high-quality jobs on a statewide basis. The focus is on industrial, manufacturing, and technology-related industries to increase the local and state tax base and improve economic vitality statewide.
* An expansion of the FastTRAC ((Training, Resources, and Credentialing)program, http://www.mnfasttrac.org/. FastTRAC seeks to make Minnesota more competitive by meeting the common skill needs of businesses and individuals. FastTRAC helps educationally underprepared adults succeed in well-paying careers by integrating basic skills education and career-specific training in fields where new skills are in high demand. By focusing on high-demand fields, FastTRAC meets the needs of business while ensuring that students find well-paying jobs with room for advancement.
* Creation of the Minnesota Opportunity Grants Pilot Program.
I will also continue sponsoring the Minnesota Creative Freedom Act, which empowers inventors to market their ideas if not used by their employer. I am also working with some area chamber of commerce business representatives on legislation that would allow a sales tax exemption for capital equipment at the time of purchase. A local measure sponsored by Representative Slawik and I will allow Oakdale additional time for the authorization of the city’s tax increment financing projects designed to create many new local jobs and opportunities.
Governor Dayton’s recently announced “bonding bill” proposals will receive considerable discussion. Many initiatives seeking capital investment being advocated are aimed at improving higher education opportunities, infrastructure and naturual resource improvements, plus community and economic development. I currently serve on the Senate Capital Investment Committee. We have been inspecting and reviewing many proposals for the past few months. I will be the chief author for several measures including initiatives for Century College, Tubman, Fish Creek and a Veterans Memorial in Oakdale. Please call me or go to my website, senate.mn/senatorwiger, for more information on these or other proposals.
As you hear almost daily, the Vikings will certainly be discussed as well. I commend Governor Dayton for his leadership in trying to get the stadium issue resolved. I believe we will, just as other initiatives have in the past, though I believe the owners need to increase their contribution and no general tax revenue should be used.
An interesting array of policy issues will be considered. Soon, our Environment and Natural Resources Committee will discuss invasive species and Legacy funding. Last session the Legislature asked the Office of the Legislative Auditor to look at Minnesota’s Legacy Funds and report on the use of those dollars. The Report plus additional citizen input will help guide any needed changes to the way we use Legacy funding.
The Environment Committee will also be working with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on their plan to stop the spread of invasive species in our lakes and rivers. If you would like more information from the DNR on Asian Carp, Zebra Mussels and other invasive species, visit their website at www.dnr.state.mn.us and search for invasive species.
Representative Slawik and I will be sponsoring a bill to create the Anatomical Gift license plate, an idea which was suggested to us by an area constituent whose spouse’s life was recently saved by an organ transplant. The proposal would help raise needed awareness and funds (voluntarily) for organ donations. I will also sponsor a bill to eliminate the sales tax on purchases by governments, political subdivisions, and nonprofit groups.
My committee assignments this session include Education; State Government Innovation and Veterans Affairs; and Capital Investment.
One of the most important parts in the legislative process is your involvement. Visit the Senate’s website at www.senate.leg.state.mn.us to follow bills, watch floor and committee debates, and stay up-to-date on everything happening in the Legislature.
As always, please contact me with questions or suggestions about any issue. Please visit my Senate website at senate.mn/senatorwiger. I also encourage you to visit me at the Capitol, or let me know if you’d like me to stop by your home or apartment. Also, please tune in to my local cable TV show, “Your Capitol: What’s Up?,” which appears on public access channels 15 and 16.