Dan Sparks: Session had bumpy landing but summer’s here

Published 11:06 pm Friday, May 26, 2017

Senate Report by Dan Sparks

We have finally wrapped up our regular session and short special session to end this year at the Legislature. After a chaotic final few days, leaders were able to reach an agreement with the governor that he could sign into law. It’s frustrating that it seems like everything happens at the very end, but the budget process is complex, and it takes more time when we are under divided government. However, I wanted to highlight the good things that we passed that will benefit Albert Lea this year.

The tax bill will increase local government aid for the entire state by $15 million. Of that amount, Albert Lea will see a $100,000 increase in 2018. This will ensure that the city can maintain essential services, but will ease the burden on property taxes. Freeborn County will also see an additional $100,000 per year thanks to a statewide increase in county program aid of $25.5 million. Furthermore, I’m proud that Albert Lea’s local option sales tax has been included in the tax bill. This money will be used to continue to restore and maintain the Shell Rock River Watershed, an important project to our entire region.

Dan Sparks

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I am pleased to report that the education bill maintains funding for Albert Lea’s voluntary free preschool for 4-year-olds. This was a new program last year, and it was at risk of being cut under the first education bill that the governor vetoed. In fact, we increase money for school readiness, which is a flexible program that the district can use to fund initiatives that help low-income students get ready for kindergarten.

More good news for the district is a 2 percent increase each year in the funding formula for education overall. This helps ease the budgeting crunch for the district and reduces the need for teacher lay-offs or program cuts. Also, the Compensatory Pilot Revenue Program has finally been made permanent. This is a proven program that Albert Lea has grown to rely on for its success in closing the achievement gap by targeting funds at those who need it the most. I’m glad we can count on having this program in the future.

Transportation was a main focus for much of the legislative session in 2017, and Albert Lea will benefit from a $300 million statewide increase in transportation funding. I am hopeful we can continue to work on how we fund transportation, and next year provide a more substantial increase. Minnesota’s transportation network is vast — and many of our roads and bridges are significantly aged.

Thank you to everyone who visited the Capitol or called or emailed to let me know their opinion on an issue. We’re here to do the people’s work and your involvement in that is critical. Please stay engaged, and never hesitate to call or email me your thoughts or questions on a piece of policy or any kind of legislative question.

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