Stimulus package will mean jobs for Minnesota

Published 4:51 pm Saturday, February 21, 2009

As you’ve likely heard, President Obama signed a federal economic stimulus package into law this week. There are many different opinions about the package, but I think almost everyone agrees it was time to do something to stop our country’s economic slide. More people are losing their jobs, their houses and their nest eggs every day, and unless leadership took some drastic measures, we would have been guilty of sitting idly by and watching the slide continue.

As you’ve probably also heard, the federal stimulus package holds significant, direct benefits for the state of Minnesota. In total, it’s estimated the state could receive a significant sum of funds, although the exact number is changing daily as experts examine the bill’s details.

What we know for sure is that there are some very important provisions included in the package. It will provide more than $1 billion to Minnesota for “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects that can be up and running quickly. This is a key piece of the package that will most quickly translate into new, good-paying jobs for thousands of Minnesotans.

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I also am working with many of our local communities to help ready wastewater treatment improvements and other vital projects that hopefully will be able to benefit from the federal money.

Preliminary details signal that unemployment benefits will be extended through the end of 2009 with a $25 per-week increase in benefits. The bill also temporarily suspends the taxation of the first $2,400 in unemployment benefits. This should provide extra support to the thousands of job-seeking Minnesotans who need help to endure this ongoing recession. Minnesota also will be the beneficiary of the $45 billion set to help build and repair schools and improve higher education facilities. Our state will also benefit from new Byrne grant funding, which will keep police officers working across the state.

While most lawmakers are very grateful for this infusion of money and projects, we’re also very aware that this is a one-time delivery. We cannot count on more money coming our way anytime soon so we have to make these dollars last as long as possible. The $4.8 billion state budget deficit still exists — a very small portion of the stimulus money is specified for helping solve immediate budget deficits that many states are facing.

That means that as we continue this legislative session, we must keep focusing on long-term fiscal policies that will not only solve this immediate budget gap, but create a sustainable economic future that will allow us to continue reaping the benefits of this federal stimulus package well into the future.

The Legislature’s pace will be picking up in the next few weeks. On March 3, we are prepared to hear the February economic forecast, which will provide an update of how the state’s economy has fared since the November estimate.

It’s largely believed this report will show an even larger budget deficit, which compounds the work that we must accomplish at the Capitol before the May 18 deadline. Committees should become much busier hearing bills and drafting budget proposals after March 3 since we’ll finally have a secure handle on the economic situation the state is facing.

I have been traveling around the district this month, listening to your comments on the budget and other issues. Rep. Poppe and I were on the Mower County side of the district last weekend, and I will be in Freeborn County this weekend with a larger delegation of senators and representatives from across the state. These are part of the Minnesota Town Hall Meetings, intended to collect input and suggestions from the people who will be most impacted by our budget decisions. All of your comments are being taken very seriously, and I truly appreciate your participation.

As always, please feel free to contact me at 651-296-9247;; or 317 State Capitol, St. Paul, MN 55155.

Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, is the state senator for District 27.