Legislature makes progress on many issuesPublished 3:33pm Saturday, April 26, 2014
Senate Report, by Dan Sparks
The 2014 legislative session has proven to be a fast-paced and productive session. Right before the halfway point of the session, the Senate successfully passed a package of bills that build on Minnesota’s recent economic progress.
This includes broad tax relief for thousands of Minnesota families and businesses, an enhanced budget reserve to protect the state’s fiscal future, new investments in business development programs, early childhood education and an increase in funding for residential care providers.
In March, the state Senate and House of Representatives sent Gov. Mark Dayton a tax bill, which he gladly signed. It aligns Minnesota’s tax laws with the federal government’s and repealed the business-to-business sales tax increase passed last session.
These changes mean up to 400,000 Minnesota taxpayers will see lower tax bills and, in some cases, higher refunds. Along with the changes to the marriage penalty, which will lead to a savings of $115 on average beginning next year, the legislation also 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.
Locally, the second tax bill passed this session included a provision to extend the Albert Lea sales tax. This local sales tax is used to raise money for lake improvement projects in the Shell Rock River Watershed District plan. The timeline for this provision is nearing its expiration date and the project is falling short of the voter-approved funding goal. With this extension, the sales tax will continue until the target amount is reached.
Also included in this session’s budget plan is an increase in the state’s budget reserve. As our state’s economy continues to grow and add jobs, we have ensured that our state budget has adequate revenue for future years that will support our schools and other essential services.
Much of the heavy lifting is done this session, but there are several more important bills we will be working on in the coming weeks. Two bills we will be paying great attention to are the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council Appropriations (Legacy/Outdoor Heritage Fund) and the Capital Investment (Bonding) bills.
This year’s Legacy Bill includes $109.3 million in appropriations for outdoor and conservation projects. Included in the Senate’s legislation is an appropriation of $700,000 for the Shell Rock River Watershed District. This funding will be used for the Albert Lea lake management and invasive species control structure. The benefits of this project will include improved aquatic and waterfowl habitats, invasive species management and improved desirable fish population.
I hope to include two local projects in the Senate’s capital investment bill. The first appropriation would provide $7.5 million for the restoration and dredging of Fountain Lake. This project is critical to the lake’s boating, swimming, waterskiing, fishing, canoeing and kayaking.
Freeborn County is also asking for $500,000 for the Blazing Star Trail. Completion of this project will enhance the recreation and tourism possibilities for southern Minnesota residents and communities.
I thank everyone who has taken the time to call, write, email or visit my office this session. Public involvement is a crucial piece of the legislative process and I appreciate our districts local efforts to make Minnesota a better place to live. Please continue to stay in touch as we continue our work in the 2014 Legislative Session.
Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, is the state senator for District 27.