Senator Chuck Wiger: Mixed Results for the 2017 Legislative Session

The 2017 Legislative Session began with the announcement of a $1.65 billion surplus. In the end, it was up to Gov. Dayton to negotiate budget deals with the GOP majority leadership in the House and Senate. This led to mixed results for the 2017 session.

Here are some of the positive measures that made it into law:

  • Funding formula. The basic education funding formula was increased 2 percent per year for an increase of $121 per student each year for two years. Total increase: $371 million.
  • Early education/Pre-K: $50 million, one-time money.
    • A new program called “School Readiness Plus” was created for free-reduced priced lunch students. Other students will be charged on a sliding fee.
  • Early Learning Scholarships
    • The Early Learning Scholarship Program will get an additional $21.6 million added to its $100 million budget.
  • Century College
    • Century will receive state bonding dollars to replace windows, repair masonry and roofs and make other campus improvements.
  • Intermediate District Mental Health Grants
    • An additional $4.9 million will give staff members needed training, and students needed support.
  • Reading and Math Corps
    • Reading Corps received $13.9 million additional funding
    • Math Corps received $100,000 additional funding
  • Additional Grant Programs:
    • Race2Reduce water conservation program $307,000 for FY 2018 only
    • Rock N Read literacy program $500,000
    • Dyslexia reading special for MDE $247,000
    • Recovery programs $500,000
    • AP/IB STEM grants $500,000
    • Parent-child home visiting $1.1 million
  • Perpich School
    • The Arts School remains open with school reforms.
      • The director must be a school superintendent
      • All teachers must be licensed
    • Crosswinds School will be sold
    • Perpich will no longer operate the Crosswinds School in Woodbury

There are two major policy provisions included in the Omnibus Education Bill that greatly concern me:

  • Four-tier teacher licensing system
    • The entry-level tier allows individuals to teach if they have a bachelor’s degree and no training in teaching.
  • Last-In, First-Out
    • The Education Bill repeals teacher layoff protection based on seniority.

The teacher licensure change allows unlicensed community experts to instruct our youth without any incentive to further their teaching credentials. Courses on classroom management and pedagogy are absolutely necessary for all teachers, and it is a disservice to students to normalize allowing sub-standard educators into our classrooms.

This is doubly disappointing because these teachers are not allowed to collectively bargain, meaning they will be the first ones to be laid off when schools need to make cuts. We need real teacher licensure reform that puts people on pathways to full licensure in order to reduce our state’s teacher shortage, and I look forward to working on this next session.

The other troubling policy provision is the repeal of teacher seniority in state statute. The institutional memory of career educators is invaluable. But that does not always matter when school districts have to balance a budget. Educators who have been teaching for decades can now be laid off simply because of budget cuts. This change does away with decades of precedent and puts the careers of lifelong educators in greater jeopardy.

Trails, Railroad Tracks and More

Other topics of area interest include:

  • Lake Links Trail- passed
    • The State Bonding Bill includes $255,000 for this project, which I chief authored.
      • $125,000 for preliminary engineering to develop three different segments of a multi-use pedestrian and bicycle path around White Bear Lake.
      • $130,000 to complete the Lions Park segment of the trail.
      • Special thanks to Steve Wolgamot and Mike Brooks for their tireless work on this project. Great bi-partisan, coordinated community effort!
    • White Bear Lake-Hugo Shortline Railway Track Repair – passed
      • The State Bonding Bill includes $1.5 million for repairing 6.5 miles of freight railroad track that will keep 500 jobs in the area. Businesses such as Polar Plastics depend on this track for their daily operations.
    • Rice Street Interchange and Bridge over I-694 – passed
      • The State Bonding bill includes $20.5 million for completion of the Rice Street interchange and bridge over I-694 at Rice Street. This will improve the traffic flow in the area.
    • Disabled Veterans Property Tax Exclusion – passed
      • The bill I authored to help the surviving spouses of disabled veterans qualify for property tax relief for the entire time they remain living in their home is part of the Omnibus Tax Bill. Christeen Stone, 96, of Maplewood, provided moving testimony that played an important part in this bill becoming law.
    • Sunday Sales – passed, effective July 1
      • The governor signed a bill allowing liquor stores to be open on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The new law will go into effect on July 1.
      • Bill supporters argued that prohibiting Sunday liquor sales limited the ability of Minnesota businesses to compete with neighboring states.
    • Real ID – passed
      • The Real ID law brings Minnesota into compliance with the federal Real ID law.
      • Minnesotans can choose (1) a Real ID license, which allows access to airports and federal facilities by providing greater documentation than currently required; (2) a standard license, which wouldn’t allow access to airports and federal facilities; or (3) an enhanced license, which is currently available to Minnesotans for an additional cost and also requires greater documentation.
      • Real ID and standard driver’s licenses will have the same renewal fees.
    • Preemption – vetoed by the governor
      • Preemption means a loss of local control for cities. Gov. Dayton vetoed a bill that would have kept local governments from regulating wages, benefits, terms of employment, working conditions or attendance policies for private employers.
    • Small Cell Wireless – passed
      • A provision allowing small cell wireless equipment to be placed on city-owned infrastructure in the public right of way was passed by both the House and Senate.
    • Internet Privacy
      • A bipartisan Senate provision that would have protected people’s private online activity from being sold to internet providers was removed in conference committee.
      • We will work on reinstating this privacy provision next session.
    • Taxes
      • Everyone loves tax cuts, but $657.9 million in tax cuts for 2018-19 may be putting the state into financial jeopardy.
      • Included in the final bill this session:
        • Social Security
          • Married couples earning between $32,000 and $115,300 could qualify for a maximum tax subtraction of $4,500
          • Single people with that same income could qualify for a subtraction of $3,500
        • Estate Tax
          • Minnesota’s estate tax exemption is increased from $2 million to $3 million, phased in over the next four years.
          • About 1,100 taxpayers are subject to the estate tax
        • Transportation
          • Provides $747 million in new money for the transportation system. But only $204 million goes to roads, and the need, everyone agrees, is $400 million to maintain our current assets, and another $200 million to make improvements.
          • Public transit is hurt by this bill. It allocates $70 million to the Met Council for FY2018-19, which leaves the agency with a $15 million funding gap.
          • Expect cuts to service and fare increases.

Elected members of both the Senate and the House, with the help of dedicated staff members, did a lot of good work together this legislative session. But, as always, there is more work to be done.

I look forward to hearing what ideas you have before we begin the 2018 session next February.

Please contact me with questions or suggestions regarding any issue. I encourage you to visit me at the Capitol, or let me know if you would like me to stop by your home or apartment. I can be reached by email at sen.chuck.wiger@senate.mn, and by phone at 651-296-6820. My cell is 651-770-0283.

Senator Chuck Wiger
Chuck Wiger represents District 43, which includes portions of Ramsey and Washington counties in the northeastern Twin Cities metropolitan area.

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