Guest Column: Legislative session featured positives, negatives
The 2016 legislative session came to a close Sunday, May 22, as the House adjourned for the final time just before midnight. While there is no doubt that the failure to pass a bonding bill in the final moments of session is extremely disappointing, I am proud of our accomplishments over the last two years.
We put money toward our nursing homes, passed life-saving mental health legislation, invested in our schools, made historic investments in broadband expansion and kept government growth at one of its lowest rates in 50 years.
In addition to this important work, the House and Senate passed a tax bill that will bring significant relief to Minnesotans across the state. In total, the legislation includes $801 million in tax cuts for veterans, college graduates with loan debt, farmers and small businesses.
As it relates to tax relief for veterans, a bill I authored provides a full exemption of veteran retirement benefits from state income tax that was included as part of the supplemental budget bill that passed both the House and Senate.
I am truly honored to have carried this legislation that represents an effort that was at least two decades in the making. Thanks to this bill, nearly 18,000 retired veterans living in Minnesota will no longer pay state income tax on these benefits.
For me, getting this done was not only the right thing to do for our veterans, it was the right thing to do for our state. Military retirees are well educated and equipped to start second careers, with many having taken advantage of educational opportunities during their time in service. This is a huge win for veterans in Minnesota.
Unfortunately with the good, there is also the frustration that all of us are feeling in regards to our transportation bill.
In the days leading up to final adjournment, the House and Senate agreed to a bonding and transportation package that was focused on roads, bridges and other critically important public works projects. In total, this compromise package would have injected $700 million into our road and bridge needs across the state.
Local projects that were in the bill include an expansion of Cypress Drive in Baxter, funding for the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area, as well as funds for county, township and small community road improvements.
So what exactly happened? How could such a good bill fail?
The House did its part, passing the bill on a strong bipartisan vote of 91-39. In a surprising move, one that broke the agreement between the House and Senate, a Twin Cities senator amended the bill to include a provision that would provide for expanded taxing authority to fund light rail train transit in the metro.
In doing so, funding for critical road and bridge infrastructure around the state has been put in serious jeopardy.
Later that night, the same senator who amended the bill commented, “No light rail funding, no bonding bill. When will the House figure this out?”
Just to put this into perspective, light rail passenger trains are a bad deal for Minnesota taxpayers. Not only do they cost billions of dollars to build, they are heavily subsidized.
So where do we go from here?
House leaders have already called on Gov. Dayton to call a special session so we can fix the Senate’s mess and get the transportation bonding bill passed. Whether or not the governor calls a special session remains to be seen. Stay tuned.