The 2014 Legislative Session began with the news of a positive economic forecast for Minnesota and a $1.2 billion budget surplus. Just 12 weeks later, at the conclusion of a historically short session, Senate Democrats have enacted a series of common sense measures to continue the state’s job growth and create an economy that works better for everyone.
After more than a decade of facing deficits, the responsibly balanced budget put in place last year— together with Minnesota’s improving economy—resulted in a budget surplus and provided an opportunity for a wide range of investments aimed at building on the state’s recent progress.
Most significantly, the legislature approved more than a half billion dollars in direct tax relief for nearly two million Minnesotans statewide. The tax breaks came in the form of income, property and sales tax relief and will put more money in the pockets of Minnesota homeowners, renters, businesses, farmers and local governments. Specifically, Senate Democrats supported targeted tax relief for working families, college students and recent graduates, teachers, and married couples. By creating a tax system that is fair for everyone, Minnesota can stimulate a healthy business climate and a growing middle class.
These tax cuts come just over a year after this same legislature was staring down a $627 million deficit and a massive I.O.U. to our schools. With this in mind, the tax relief package also included a $150 million appropriation to the state’s budget reserve account and established a mechanism to maintain a robust “rainy day” fund to help Minnesota weather future economic ups and downs.
Finally, Senate Democrats passed a $276 million supplemental budget package to address most of what remained of the projected surplus. The bulk of these investments focused on enhancing education opportunities from pre-K to college and providing much needed support for home and community-based healthcare providers. Additional funding went to repairing roads damaged over the long winter and bolstering job growth initiatives around the state.
No less important, the budget will be structurally balanced in the long-term, with a $604 million positive balance projected for FY2016-17.
Aside from the budget surplus, the primary task for the 2014 Session was to craft a capital investment bill, or bonding bill, to put thousands of men and women to work improving deteriorating public infrastructure across the state. The $1.17 billion package addresses years of neglected maintenance of public assets and funds dozens of shovel-ready building projects, though it only accounts for a fraction of the more than $4 billion in bonding requests. The final bonding package includes investments in housing infrastructure across the state, roads and bridges, local economic development projects and improvements at public colleges and universities. Not only will these building projects create jobs now, but they will sustain local economies and enhance the quality of life in Minnesota for years to come.
The legislature also made great strides this session to ensure Minnesota workers are treated fairly. The Women’s Economic Security Act, signed into law in early May, mandates employers contracting with the state provide women equal pay for equal work and creates better workplace protections for pregnant women and nursing mothers. By supporting women in the workforce, all Minnesota families benefit.
And for the first time in nearly a decade, minimum wage workers in Minnesota will see a raise. Senate Democrats approved a minimum wage increase to $9.50 by 2016 that will help more than 300,000 Minnesota workers have the dignity of a decent wage for a day’s work. Low wage workers and the children they support deserve a living wage, and raising the wage is a significant step toward creating greater economic opportunities for thousands of families.
Before the 2014 Session began, Minnesota was already seeing the results of the progress made during last year’s session: the state is in its strongest financial position in more than a decade, jobs numbers have exceeded pre-recession levels and communities across the state are experiencing new economic growth. The measures enacted by the DFL legislature and Governor Dayton this year will build on this momentum and ensure a brighter future for our children and grandchildren.