Will this Legislature Solve Problems?

One thing I’ve learned in office these past two years is that a good legislator is, fundamentally, a good problem solver. In turn, a good legislature is one that solves problems.
Following a decade of recurring state budget deficits and short-term decision-making, in 2013 the legislature solved Minnesota’s ongoing – or “structural” – budget problems. Since then, and due in no small part to Minnesota’s resilient economy and private sector, we’ve made great strides in adding jobs, promoting growth, and restoring our state’s strong budget and economic outlook.
Of course, much work remains in extending this economic prosperity throughout Greater Minnesota.
Just last week, though, we received more good news that our state budget and overall economy are stronger than expected. Although a good portion of our projected $1.9 billion surplus will be eaten up by inflation or devoted to budget reserves, the better-than-expected forecast is welcome news that our state is on the right track.
While Minnesota’s recurring state budget troubles dominated discussion back in 2013, neglected roads and bridges have been the talk of the 2015 legislative session.
Experts suggest that we underfund our roads and bridges by as much as $1 billion annually. The senate, house, and governor have all introduced plans to devote additional funds to our crumbling transportation infrastructure. Given the magnitude of the problem – and the level of interest in this issue among Minnesotans across the state, I sincerely hope we’re able to work out a compromise that solves this problem not just for the next year or two – but for the foreseeable future.
Although it’s not receiving as much attention at the Capitol, another ongoing problem facing our state is the deteriorating condition of public school facilities – and the ongoing budget crises facing our school districts. Simply read the headlines of newspapers across the state; the problem is real.
Over the past 20 years, Minnesota’s commitment to its per-pupil school funding formula has risen approximately 1.5 percent per year. During this same time, inflation has increased roughly 3 percent annually.
In just the past decade alone, inflation has wiped out the “purchasing power” of nearly $1,200 in per-pupil funding. In nominal terms, we may be spending more on education. Consider inflation, though, and our schools are getting less – much less.
In fact, in 1995 state and local funding for education accounted for approximately 5 percent of Minnesota’s total personal income. In 2015, that number is roughly 4 percent – resulting in a loss of nearly $2.8 billion in school revenue statewide.
Despite various compelling ideas regarding what Minnesota ought to do for its public schools, I’d like to see our state get back to basics and focus on improving per-pupil funding and better maintaining deteriorating school facilities.
Given the pressure on local property tax payers in recent years – especially in areas where agricultural land values have increased dramatically, the legislature has a unique opportunity to create a win-win for our schools and property tax payers alike.
In maintaining a responsible state budget, addressing our crumbling transportation infrastructure, giving our schools the resources they need to perform, and addressing concerns over property taxes, this legislature has a unique opportunity to be real problem solvers. I hope we can deliver.

Senator Matt Schmit
Matt Schmit is from Red Wing and represents District 21 in southeastern Minnesota. He is the vice chair of the Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee.

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