|Champion: Senate DFL Moving Minnesota Forward|
The 2014 legislative session started six weeks ago with an aggressive agenda and the great news of a $1.2 billion budget surplus. After more than a decade of chronic deficits, the budget surplus provided us with opportunities to invest in things important to our communities.
In my opinion, we made great progress. We worked efficiently to pass our major bills that take a balanced and honest approach to balancing the budget. We made some strategic investments in education, health and human services and job creation. We also enhanced our budget reserve to protect the state against economic volatility.
Finally, we passed tax breaks for hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans that means more money in Minnesotans’ pockets, particularly 650,000 married couples who will start saving an average of $115 a year, beginning next year. We expanded the Working Family Tax Credit to reach 16,000 new Minnesotans and increased the credit by an average of $334 for the more than 300,000 other Minnesotans who already qualify. Students and parents paying for college will see tax relief in the form of student loan interest deductions and higher education tuition deductions, and K-12 teachers who invest their own money into their classrooms will be able to deduct some of those expenses.
It is important to note that unlike other years, the Senate budget does not include any accounting shifts or gimmicks--it’s an honest and efficient budget designed to move Minnesota forward. Some of the major accomplishments for the biennium include:
• $1.2 billion budget surplus: Minnesota has the first budget surplus for the current and next biennium in seven years. We passed a balanced budget package that included:
o Invested $210 million in early childhood education, workers, veterans and families.
o Increased the budget reserve from $661 million to $811 million. Every respected economist supports having a higher budget reserve to protect Minnesota from economic volatility.
o Provided $344 million in tax breaks for hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans.
• Gained more than 133,000 jobs: Minnesota has fully recovered all jobs lost during the recession. Making smart investments in our economy is paying off.
• Increased the minimum wage: At $6.50 an hour, Minnesota had one of the lowest minimum wages in the nation. We passed legislation to increase it to $9.50 and provide some inflationary increases starting in 2018.
o $9.50 minimum wage phased in for businesses with gross sales over $500,000 in 2016: $8.00 in August 2014 and $8.50 in August 2015.
o $7.75 minimum wage for businesses under $500,000 in gross sales in 2016: $6.50 in August 2014 and $7.25 in August 2015.
• Passed safe and supportive schools: Minnesota had the weakest bullying legislation in the nation. We worked hard to develop compromise language to protect our kids while respecting concerns school districts, school boards and parents asked us to address.
• Repaid our schools: Paid back $2.8 billion the previous administration borrowed from schools to “balance” the state budget.
• Funded all-day kindergarten: All-day kindergarten is now a reality for every Minnesota child -- saving some families $2,500 a year per child.
• Froze tuition for college students: Froze undergraduate tuition at public Minnesota colleges for two years. Also passed the largest investment in financial aid for college students in 25 years. This will help more than 100,000 Minnesota students afford higher education.
All those accomplishments really make me proud to have worked hard as your state senator for things I truly believe in. In addition to the accomplishments above, I have worked hard on the following bills:
Criminal Record Expungement. I am chief author of bipartisan legislation to require business screening services to delete expunged records if they know a criminal record has been sealed, expunged or is the subject of a pardon. Reliance on background checks have increased dramatically for housing and job applicants. Because one in five Minnesotans have an arrest or criminal record, many of these citizens cannot find a job or a place to live. Many times these records are inaccurate and have resulted in lost opportunities for those who were not even convicted of a crime or arrested but not charged with a crime. It is my hope that this legislation will take some important steps to rectify this problem.
Protections for Tenants who are Victims of Violence. I was proud to co-author legislation to remove barriers for tenant-victims to break a lease if necessary for their safety. It also prohibits a tenant from being evicted from their home if they were a victim of violence. Finally, the bill extends protections to tenant who are victims of sexual assault and stalking.
All in all, we are making some great progress this session. As we move into spring, our focus will turn to the 2014 bonding bill. The Senate’s bonding bill will make statewide investments in infrastructure projects, create jobs and strengthen Minnesota’s economy.