The 2015 Legislative Session started a little more than three months ago ago. In February, the budget forecast set the parameters for the biennium with a $1.9 billion budget surplus. An improved state economy, more people working, and the budget we passed last biennium all contributed to our positive budget numbers.
It is important to remember that last biennium we took an honest approach to balancing the budget by passing tax breaks for hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans, enhancing our budget reserve to ensure future economic stability, and making wise investments in our supplemental finance bill to stimulate the economy. Contrary to past budgets that put us in deficits, the current state budget does not include any accounting shifts–it’s an honest and efficient budget designed to move Minnesota forward.
So where do we go from here? While the budget surplus is a great sign Minnesota is on the right track, we must continue our path of fiscal responsibility and investing in initiatives that grow our economy. The Senate will start with modest budget targets as the framework for the next two years that will focus on the long term fiscal health of the state. Proposals to dramatically increase spending and calls to “give it all back” will both be mediated by the Senate as the upper chamber prepares itself to take on the difficult task of treading a path of fiscal responsibility while making key investments in shared priorities.
This session I am working on many bills. Some of the higher profile bills I’ve authored include:
Rural Loan Forgiveness Program – I am chief author of legislation to expand the state’s Health Professional Loan Forgiveness program. Under this excellent program, health care professionals willing to practice in high-needs areas have some of their student loan debt forgiven. The purpose of the Health Professional Loan Forgiveness program is to recruit and retain quality health care professionals to needed areas and facilities in Minnesota. Expansion of the Loan Forgiveness Program will make it less burdensome for physicians to practice in under-served areas, providing much-needed health care access to rural Minnesota. My bill will improve health care across the state by encouraging medical professionals to stay in rural Minnesota or in other high-need areas.
Pathways to Postsecondary – I am chief author of bipartisan legislation to invest $24 million over two years to allow more schools to offer dual enrollment programs. The Pathways to Postsecondary Program allows high school students to take free college-level courses through partnerships between Minnesota high schools and colleges. Students take college classes at the high school, are taught by specially trained high school teachers, earn college credits, and still maintain their involvement in school activities. Dual enrollment programs help bridge the gap between high school and college, students who participate in these classes are more likely to graduate from college. Students can save thousands of dollars by earning college credit while in high school. In addition, school districts win with my bill. When high school students take classes at a college campus, the higher education institution receives most of the state funding the school district would otherwise receive. Some schools face financial hardship when large numbers of their students attend college during their junior and senior years of high school. The Pathways to Postsecondary program would help alleviate that problem in many districts.
529 Savings Plan – I am working to reinstate a state match of up to $500 for the Minnesota 529 Savings Plan. My legislation provides tax breaks for families trying to save for future higher education expenses, and it will bring down the cost of student college loan debt. My bill would allow up to $3,000 in contributions (or $1,500 if not filing married/joint) made to a Minnesota college savings plan to be deducted from federal taxable income. While this plan currently only covers contributions to the Minnesota 529 plan, I am currently working to explore expanding this legislation to cover private 529 plans as well.
This is just a snap shot of what I have been working on for the past 12-weeks. I’m proud of the work we’ve done so far this session. After more than a decade of chronic deficits, the budget surplus presents us with an opportunity to make Minnesota work better for the people I am honored to represent.