Legislature passes sound, balanced budgetPublished 8:47am Monday, May 27, 2013
Column: Senate Report by Dan Sparks
We came into this session with a commitment to stabilize Minnesota’s budget honestly and to finally end the decade-long roller coaster of nearly constant deficits. Not only did we erase the state’s $627 million deficit, but we funded critical investments in education, economic development and property tax relief. These are priorities people across Minnesota share, and this year we delivered.
We made a historic $725 million investment in education for all learners — from early education and all-day kindergarten, to reduced class sizes and restored equity in our K-12 system, to lower tuition and debt reduction for our college students and their families.
Senate District 27 school districts will receive a 1.5 percent increase each year in per pupil funding under our education plan. Additionally, Albert Lea School District is included in the Compensatory Revenue Pilot Project and will receive a $470,000 grant.
Out of the $725 million invested in education, $250 million of that goes toward new investments in higher education. With this money, we are freezing tuition for all University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities schools for the next two years.
The bill provides increases to state grant programs, expands aid eligibility to part-time students and raises the award total available with the average grant increased by more than $180. Changes to the state grant formula means more money in the hands of our students and families.
The Legislature’s plan will provide nursing homes with their first increase in four years and their largest in the last decade. The 5 percent nursing home rate increase, the elimination of the 1.67 percent rate cut, the 1 percent rate increase in our elderly waiver program and the Home and Community Based Services rate increase will all infuse much needed dollars into this important industry that serves our elderly population.
This year’s budget package includes $441 million in property tax relief to begin to remedy policies that have caused Minnesota property taxes to more than double over the past decade.
This property tax relief is supplied by increases and reform to aids for local governments: $80 million increase in local government aid to cities, which includes formula reform to stabilize funding and better matches funding amounts to a city’s needs, $40 million increase in county program aid, $10 million township aid reinstated; new formula based on percentage of agricultural land and other factors. We also created a sales tax exemption for cities and counties, which is expected to save $172 million in the first year and a $38 million K-12 levy reduction across Minnesota.
Other property tax provisions that will provide direct relief are an $86 million increase to the Homestead Credit Refund program and a $15.5 million increase to the renter’s property tax refund program.
A few local projects that also passed this year were funding for the Albert Lea Lake project and a Freeborn County lands provision.
The Albert Lea Lake Management and Invasive Species Control project is expected to result in improved aquatic habitat, improved waterfowl nesting, breeding and feeding habitat, an increase in desirable fish populations, and improved water quality and clarity.
At the request of Freeborn County, I authored and passed a bill this year allowing for the public sale of some tax fortified land. This is land they had previously planned to sell, but discovered they would need legislative action due to the shore land in this area. Freeborn County determined that its land management interest would be best served if the land was returned to private ownership.
I am confident that we passed a fair budget that will create long term economic stability, values education and will help stimulate economic growth across the state.
Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, is the state senator for District 27.