Yesterday, we received the Minnesota Management and Budget Department’s (MMB) economic forecast that we will use to create a state budget for the next two years.
MMB’s forecast shows that Minnesota faces a projected budget deficit of $627 million for the 2014-15 biennium. This is an improvement of $463 million from November forecast that showed a project deficit of $1.1 billion.
This reduced deficit is a welcome development. It’s an indicator that Minnesota’s economy is improving and beginning to grow again.
However, our state still faces a deficit this year—underscoring a broader problem: during the past decade, Minnesota has had a total of eight budget deficits regardless of how the economy was performing.
Recently, we heard presentations from the nonpartisan House Research Department and the Minnesota Management and Budget Department about these recurring budget deficits and how they were balanced. Since 2003, research shows:
• Over 90 percent of the budget deficits were resolved with spending cuts, accounting shifts, and one-time money.
• Minnesotans have experienced a nearly 20 percent cut in state services.
• Property taxes have increased 86 percent.
• Tuition at public colleges and universities has nearly doubled.
We need to end this cycle of budget deficits, while still making smart investments in education, workforce development, and public infrastructure. These investments will help Minnesotans remain competitive in the rapidly changing global economy.
Now that we have the MMB report, my colleagues and I will begin the task of balancing the budget and priorities.
High school graduation
In 2013, a high school diploma marks the bare minimum of educational attainment required to be successful in the modern economy.
Despite the importance of education, far too many Minnesota children are not graduating from high school. Recent data even shows that roughly 13 percent of incoming Minnesota 9th graders are not graduating within four years.
To address this problem, I have introduced new legislation that will have the Minnesota Department of Education and state education experts develop guidelines for identifying off-track and at-risk youth and strategies to help them graduate.
I am hopeful that this initiative will help increase Minnesota’s high school graduation rate and help all of our state’s young people participate in the promise of tomorrow.
Social studies education requirement
The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 marks a complex and troubled time in Minnesota’s early history.
To help students learn about the conflict between white settlers and the Dakota people, I’ve introduced bipartisan legislation that would require it be taught in Minnesota schools.
Hopefully, we can learn from the conflict and better understand Minnesota’s complicated roots.
I am co-authoring legislation to add a third lane to I-494 between Trunk Highway 55 to the bridge over East Fish Lake Road. With 100,000 cars traveling the section every day, the highway has been long overdue for third lane.
The expansion will improve travel times and reduce the number of commuters who use Plymouth city streets to avoid the highway.
The project would widen the shoulder of the highway, so that it could be used during peak rush hour traffic. This solution also is more cost effective and will take less time to implement. MnDOT believes the project could be done by the fall of 2015.
You also can watch a KARE 11 News report from January about the proposed project.
More counselors, nurses, psychologists for schools
We all know what a difference a school counselor can make in a student’s life. Counselors help students navigate their way through school, prepare for college, and careers. Other staff such as nurses and psychologists also play integral role in our schools--addressing a variety of other issues like drug abuse and bullying.
Unfortunately, Minnesota has one of the worse overall ratios of counselors to students. Minnesota schools typically have only 1 counselor for every 771 students. The national K-12 average is 1-to-473 and the American School Counselors Association recommends a ratio of 1-to-250.
If you’re interested in learning more, the Pioneer Press did a detailed story about this problem last year. We can do a better job of supporting our kids.
To help students in Minnesota get the support they need to be successful, I am authoring legislation that would create a state grant program to assist school districts without enough counselors, school nurses, psychologists, and other support staff to properly help all of their students.
Dog, cat breeder legislation (update)
In January, I wrote and reintroduced legislation to regulate commercial dog and cat breeders. This legislation would ensure that unscrupulous breeders are not able to exploit dogs, cats, puppies and kittens for profit.
The bill (House File 84) recently was approved by the House Civil Law Committee and now will move the House Public Safety, Finance and Policy Committee.
I always am eager to hear your feedback, ideas and concerns. Please feel free to contact me.
Minnetonka – Plymouth