Sen. Dahle: Reflections on the 2015 Legislative Session
(Northfield, MN)- When the Minnesota Legislature started its business several months ago, the state had a nearly two billion dollar surplus, but the House and Senate disagreed on many fiscal and policy issues. This year saw plenty of drama, including a special session, but compromise was the key to avoiding a government shutdown, resolving our state budget, and finding bipartisan support on many issues that affect all Minnesotans.
I am thrilled that Minnesota has increased our state’s support for education. After tough negotiations with the House, we were able to secure a 2% increase on the funding formula for all schools in the state in each of the next two years. Along with my initiative to fix aging school buildings and make them safer for students, the funding attached to this legislation will ensure Minnesota schools remain among the best in the nation, keeping valued programs running and vital staff in the classroom.
Unfortunately, working with a divided government means that you can’t win every battle. I voted against the Agriculture and Environment Omnibus bill, and I believe Minnesota will regret the decisions that were made by the legislature in passing this bill. The legislation now being written into law renders “pollinator-friendly” labels virtually meaningless, eliminates the Pollution Control Agency Citizens’ Board, and rolls back decades of protections for fragile ecosystems in this state. I will be working hard with my colleagues in the coming session to undo some of the harm caused by this bill. Minnesota deserves better.
Of course, plenty of bad legislation was defeated, including a proposal to eliminate Minnesota Care, a health insurance program for working Minnesotans that helps 90,000 of our friends and neighbors. Over two billion dollars in unsustainable tax breaks were also defeated, most of which were promised to the very wealthiest Minnesotans and out-of-state corporations. With strong leadership, we will make sure the state’s carefully balanced budget remains strong and focused on what’s best for all Minnesotans.
It never seems like quite enough, but there was progress made this year, though it was often hidden behind dramatic headlines. The Senate Rural Task Force, of which I served as a member, put forward a strong proposal to build jobs and establish workforce housing to boost Greater Minnesota’s economy. The first major nursing home payment reform since the 1990s will better reimburse the cost of care to our communities, and child protection legislation improves a complicated system that contained far too many loopholes for vulnerable children to slip through.
Many of my own bills were also passed this year. As the chief-author of the Avian Influenza emergency funding last April, I worked with industry leaders and state experts to push a rapid response to this ongoing outbreak. I also championed grants for Ignite After School; after-school programming shows great results for at-risk youth in improving grades and overall graduation rates. Local students will benefit significantly from this program. Additionally, an appropriation of $167,000 has been awarded to education partnership pilot grant programs in our district.
After a tough session, the Senate will reconvene in March 2016. In the meantime, I will go back to my job as a civics teacher at Northfield High School. During the interim, I am always accessible by phone or email, and would be happy to listen to your comments, answer any questions you have, or sit down with you to discuss the difficulties and opportunities in front of us as we continue fighting to move Minnesota forward.