Legislative session ends with mixed results

The 2012 legislative session adjourned May 10 with mixed results. The Republican majority’s focus on social issues and partisan fights nearly derailed a session that was supposed to be about job creation. In the end, Governor Mark Dayton and DFL lawmakers pushed for the compromise that allowed the session to end with a significant bonding package and a few other bipartisan successes.

The bonding bill will invest in statewide road and infrastructure projects and create up to 13,500 jobs, certainly nothing to sneeze at. Minnesota State Colleges and Universities campuses across the state will benefit, and local farmers may take advantage of a revolving loan fund that is financed through an underutilized account.

The real story, however, is what was left out of the bill. A grant to help Moose Lake redevelop Earl Ellens Park and Riverside Center was not included. I also tried to add an amendment to invest $250,000 into Pine Technical College’s business incubator program, which will support hi-tech and light manufacturing entrepreneurs in the community while giving PTC students access to internships and practical experience in the growing hi-tech industry. That amendment failed by a vote of 32-35. With such tremendous job-creating potential, the state should be investing in this project, but Republicans’ demands for a small bonding bill made it impossible to fund many worthy projects.

At $496 million, the bonding bill is smaller than I would have liked. Guidelines set under former Governor Tim Pawlenty allow the state to bond for up to $1.7 million this year without harming the budget or the state’s credit rating, which is why I preferred Governor Mark Dayton’s $760 million bonding proposal that promised as many as 21,000 new jobs. It was a conservative package that would have taken full advantage of record-low interest rates and construction costs. In the spirit of compromise, we agreed to a smaller package that Republicans could support to make sure some version of a bonding bill passed.

I’m proud of the work I did this year to pass a Health and Human Services Bill that fixes many mistakes made in 2011. I worked very hard to find compromise language that would satisfy Republicans and Democrats and as a result, the bill ended up being one of the biggest bipartisan successes of the year.

Included in the bill is a one-year restoration of last year’s devastating 20 percent cut to the Personal Care Assistance Program, which helps Minnesotans care for disabled family members. In addition, emergency cancer and dialysis treatment for very poor, sick Minnesotans is restored for one year. The bill also includes somewhat technical language for the state’s health-related agencies that wasn’t passed last year. It was important to pass this language, however, to keep government running efficiently and to ensure these agencies are being receptive to the public.

Of course, the Vikings stadium took much attention away from other issues at the Capitol this year. There is much to say about this proposal – and I appreciate hearing from so many constituents on this important issue – but my bottom line: The legislature did not negotiate the best deal possible for the State of Minnesota. Not even close. The cost is tremendous, a $77 public subsidy for every ticket sold at every, single game, over the entire 30 years of the proposed lease.

I’m glad for the jobs that will come. I do believe that the Vikings are a critically unifying, cultural and economic force in our state. In addition, I understand and respect the incredible passion the supporters of the stadium feel. But I am extremely troubled by the corrosive expansion of gambling throughout our communities all over small-town Minnesota, its affect on our families, our community institutions, and its insidious affect on the operation of our state finances.

The legislature is adjourned until Jan. 8, 2013, but please continue to contact me with any questions or concerns. I may be reached at sen.tony.lourey@senate.mn, or 651-296-0293, or at 75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155.

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Senator Tony Lourey
Tony Lourey represents District 11, which includes portions of Carlton, Kanabec, Pine and St. Louis counties in the northeastern part of the state.

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