Senator Tony Lourey: Mixed Results from Legislative Session
On Friday, May 26th the Minnesota Legislature concluded its work for the legislative session. This year there were mixed results. The legislature was tasked with the responsibility of setting the state budget for 2018 and 2019. Some important investments were made, but other essential changes have been left uncompleted.
One of the important investments the legislature was able to make was properly funding our schools. The education budget will provide an additional $483 million in new funding for Minnesota school districts for the next two years. This is a great step toward making sure our kids get the best start possible in life.
There were also important provisions in the tax bill that will help farmers across the state. The tax bill included an agricultural bond property tax credit. This will provide real savings to farmers who are impacted by local school bond referenda. Now, the state will pick up 40% of the property taxes linked to local levies. Another important new tax provision is the beginning farmer tax credit. Current agriculture land owners may apply for up to $5 million in tax credits available. Beginning farmers (someone with up to 10 years farming) will be able to access a new tax credit for participating in an approved financial management program, equal to 100% of program costs for up to three years of participation.
However, critical funding for other programs has been left by the wayside this year. For example, there was limited investment in expanding broadband across the state. From attracting and retaining businesses and talent to improving student success, investment in broadband is essential in establishing a level playing field for all Minnesotans, particularly those living in greater Minnesota. Despite its importance, the legislature only invested $20 million in expanding broadband, this is less than a quarter of what was needed to make a meaningful impact for communities in our region.
Another disappointment is the lack of investment in transportation. While I am pleased the legislature was able include funding for transportation, the funding we did appropriate is less than what is necessary to simply maintain our current transportation system, it does not provide enough funding to make strategic improvements that would make our communities and state more business and driver friendly.
The session began with a $1.65 billion surplus – as the former Chairman of the Health and Human Services Finance Committee I know the importance of ensuring the long term fiscal health of the state. This is an essential responsibility of the legislature. While the budget the legislature just completed does provide important tax relief to some in our community and funds many important state services, I am concerned that too much of the tax relief was targeted toward big businesses and the states spending will soon out pace its revenue. This has the potential to, once again, lead Minnesota down a road of financial instability, resulting in the state cutting important programs and borrowing money from schools or hospitals. Our families have to balance our budgets every month, I believe it’s important our state do the same. Despite the important investments made, the state budget just passed doesn’t balance the books.
This column was first published in the Pine City Pioneer.