The 2014 legislative session convened this week with the state in much better financial shape than a year ago. In spite of inheriting a $627 million deficit and an additional $801 million debt to schools, we passed a fair and balanced budget last year that’s positioned Minnesota for continued economic growth. Last year we took critical steps to grow jobs, strengthen the economy and invest in priorities that matter to Minnesotans. As Chair of the Capital Investment Committee, I am committed to build on our momentum by passing a responsible bonding bill and supporting government reform on the behalf of all Minnesotans.
In addition to bonding, economic development and jobs for Northwestern Minnesota, one of my top priorities is addressing our serious housing shortage. Last year, we passed a $10 million Challenge Fund Initiative which encourages public-private partnerships to increase the supply of affordable housing that helped some rural communities. But for communities like Thief River Falls and Roseau, more still needs to be done. One solution is to increase the housing infrastructure bonds in our Capital Investment Bill. This investment will increase affordable housing and rental supply. It will also help local industries draw employees to our area with decent and affordable housing for their employees.
As Chair of the Senate Bonding Committee, I’ve viewed and visited hundreds of great projects that will help Minnesota grow jobs and protect our infrastructure. One of the projects in Northwestern Minnesota that I’m particularly impressed with is Northland Community and Technical College’s Aviation Maintenance program. There are only a few other programs like it in the country – students there are trained in the fast-growing Unmanned Aerial Systems and Imagery Analyst Programs. The school is requesting bonding dollars to design and renovate a space to meet their growing workforce training needs. This is a good investment that will allow the school to expand this curriculum, draw more students to the school and encourage growth in technology. This project would also likely require an extension of Thief River Falls’ sewer lines to the airport area.
Flood mitigation is always a priority and a real concern in Northwestern Minnesota. A few years ago Roseau reached a federal spending cap that stopped their flood mitigation project just a half mile short of completion. As a result, the town faces flood damage every year. This year the bonding bill will hopefully help finish the flood mitigation project.
The propane shortage affecting Minnesota has made this particularly tough winter that much worse. A number of steps have already been taken to provide assistance through the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), but the winter is long from over and more money is still necessary to ensure all Minnesotans are staying warm. The legislature will be taking up a bill this session that addresses this critical need for Minnesota families. I will keep you posted on the status of this legislation and encourage you to contact my office at 651-296-8660 if you need information or assistance with this issue.
If you want to follow the bonding bill, I encourage you to view the Senate’s bonding site at build.mn. In addition, I encourage folks to sign up for my periodic Capitol Report at firstname.lastname@example.org, which provides you some insider information on what’s happening in St. Paul. As always, I am honored to serve as your Senator at the Capitol in St. Paul.