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Guest Commentary...Legislature on the fast track to getting things done

Minnesota House Representative Mike Sundin

You know the old saying, “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon?” Well, that certainly does not apply to the 2014 legislative session.

From Day One, when the House of Representatives took quick action to provide $20 million emergency relief to households struggling with skyrocketing propane prices, lawmakers have wasted very little time conducting the business of Minnesota.

Since then, we’ve passed bills providing $443 million in tax cuts for Minnesotans and businesses and $150 million to bolster the state’s budget reserve.

The first week of April was a good example of the rapid pace of the session. Over the course of two long days in full session, the House passed a supplemental budget that specifically targets rural Minnesota and a tax bill — the second of the session — which will provide property tax relief to nearly 900,000 Minnesota households.

On Thursday, we debated the $332 million supplemental budget. It makes investments in priorities important to all Minnesotans — transportation, education, public safety, job creation and health care.

The two most significant aspects to the bill are the increase in funding for home- and community-based health care workers who provide care for the elderly and disabled and the investments in economic development programs tailored toward Greater Minnesota.

I am particularly pleased by the 5 percent raise provided for our home- and community-based health care workers. Over the past several years, these caregivers have seen their wages stagnate. The 2011 legislature cut funding to caregivers by 1.67 percent. Many, unable to care and provide for their own loved ones, have been forced to leave the field.

That is a tragedy. The care that these workers give our loved ones is precious and special. That’s why the 2013 budget passed by the DFL-led legislature “bought back” the 2011 cut and increased funding by 1 percent for caregivers. This revised budget target means an increase of 7.67 percent over what they would have received under the past budget.

It is still just a fraction of the raise they deserve.

The supplemental budget also includes $170 million for economic development programs through the Greater Minnesota Initiative. It invests $25 million to expand broadband access in Greater Minnesota and $10 million in economic development resources to support rural job growth and the business sectors critical to rural economies.

On Friday, it was time to cut taxes again, and we approved a $103 million tax cut bill.

The bill gives every homeowner receiving a Homestead Credit Refund a 3 percent increase in their refund. For renters, it means a 6 percent increase in their Renters Credit Refund.

It also enhances the market value credit for homesteaded farms. That means an immediate $18 million in property tax relief to more than 90,000 homesteaded farms. An average family farmer in Minnesota will see $460 in property tax relief.

There’s a lot to get done before we adjourn. Our bonding bill — which includes $4.5 million to allow the Big Lake Area Sanitary District to construct a pressure sewer system and force main to convey sewage to the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District connection in the city of Cloquet — has yet to hit the House floor. It will in the coming weeks.

And by the time you read this, we should have passed legislation raising the minimum wage to $9.50 by August of 2016.

I’ll keep burning the midnight oil here in St. Paul, because the work to keep Minnesota on the right path may require overtime but, as our current roaring economy will attest, it is worth every minute.

Minnesota House Representative Mike Sundin represents District 11A and can be reached at 800-788-1329.