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Sen. Terri Bonoff: Focused on Balancing the State Budget

"Leadership from both sides of the aisle spoke of the need for respectful, constructive debate as we address the issues facing our state."

The following comes from Sen. Terri Bonoff, who represents Minnetonka, Plymouth and Woodland:

2013 Legislative Session 

Senators returned to St. Paul on Tuesday to kickoff the 2013 Legislative Session. Opening remarks were offered on the Senate Floor by newly-elected Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, who welcomed 20 new members to the Senate Family. Leadership from both sides of the aisle spoke of the need for respectful, constructive debate as we address the issues facing our state.

Chair of the Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee 

Since first joining the Senate in 2007, I have made Education a focal point. When I was appointed Chair of the Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee, I was both excited and yet not quite ready to leave the E-12 discussion that I have spent so much time in. Therefore I requested and now have the opportunity to continue serving on the E-12 committee. I have already seen how very important and integrated the two worlds are. I look forward to a strong partnership with that community as well as with our business community. I am very clear about the critical role Higher Education plays in creating a climate for economic growth and prosperity. I will be sharing our work in the weeks and months ahead and hope you will be my partner with ideas and suggestions. 

As many of you know, I approach my position as a legislator by gathering input from stakeholders on all sides. Since learning that I would be Chair of this committee, I have met with higher education and business leaders. I have learned that there is a big disconnect between the skills that students have after graduating and the skill that businesses need from employees. As a result, there is a huge problem for students seeking jobs and there is an equally large problem for companies that needing to set aside resources to do their own training. 

It is estimated that 70% of jobs in the United States going forward will require a post-secondary education. My goal as Chair of this Committee is to see that 100% of students who attend a state post-secondary school (two year college, vocational, or a four year university) in Minnesota graduate. 

You may have read about the University of Minnesota’s rising administrative costs. As the incoming chair I immediately reached out to Dr. Kaler to discuss. He was extremely open and responsive. We asked the University to provide us with an objective data driven analysis of their cost structure by March 15th. The University has accepted this request. I will do everything in my power to provide the level of oversight I know you rightfully demand. I am heartened by and appreciate the strong partnership between University leadership and myself. 

My Priorities 

This session, I will be focused first and foremost on working with my colleagues to balance the state budget. Our state faces a billion dollar deficit and a billion dollar debt to our schools. Before we can address the other pressing issues facing our state and our community, we must balance the budget. I believe we will solve our budget deficit by making strategic, informed cuts to government and by reforming our outdated tax system. I continue to advocate for a balanced approach that includes lowering our business taxes and expanding the base of the sales tax. There 

will be lots of public discussion on this subject and we welcome your thoughts. We need to take advantage of new technologies, low interest rates, and the minds and ideas of the public. 

In addition to balancing the budget, I will champion things important to our community such as widening Highway 494, making the Southwest Light Rail possible, stopping the spread of AIS, solving the language immersion teacher training issue and continuing to work on education reform efforts including support for early childhood education, and really doing everything possible to create a climate for job growth. 

Although many issues are sure to hit the Senate floor during the 88th Legislature, balancing the state’s budget is reserved – by law – for the first year of the biennial session. Our state constitution declares that we must not run a deficit at the end of a budget period (this is why we had to borrow money from our schools last session). Therefore, we must resolve our one billion dollar deficit no later than May 20th. My colleagues and I have accepted this challenge – we must have honest and open conversations and resolve our differences in order to avoid another government shutdown -- that’s exactly what we intend to do. 

Hollydale Update 

The northwestern part of Plymouth is facing a significant issue that we have been grappling with for some time. I will use this newsletter to provide updates for those who are affected by the proposed Hollydale transmission line project. There is a section on my website that also has more detail about this issue. I have secured a meeting with Commissioner Rothman and his staff from the Dept. of Commerce to discuss our position opposing using the increased voltage power lines in our neighborhoods. This meeting is scheduled for early next week. I will report on the outcome. 

Office Changes 

We have moved offices. Staff transition as well. 

Brad Shapiro, my legislative assistant for the past several months, will be serving as the New Media Specialist to the Senate Majority Caucus. Since 2010, Brad has helped bring my office into the 21st Century with new technologies and methods of communicating. I am happy to report that he will continue to work with my office on these initiatives from his new position. 

Please join me in welcoming Sean Oyaas to his new position as my Legislative Assistant. Sean recently graduated from the University of Minnesota. He served as an intern in my office last session and assisted me in my campaign efforts this summer. His experience and wonderful personality will be utilized to serve you. Please do not hesitate to contact Sean (Sean.Oyaas@senate.mn) with questions, concerns, or ideas. We welcome your input and feedback. 

Finally, I am privileged to welcome Dave Kornecki to my office as the Higher Education and Workforce Develop Committee Administrator. Dave previously worked as a chief of staff to a State Representative in the Illinois legislature. In addition, Dave was a faculty instructor at Northwestern University. We are lucky to have him and appreciate that his Minnesota wife made sure she brought him here. 

Stay tuned to my Facebook and Twitter for updates throughout the week. I also sincerely appreciate hearing from you via email. Please do not hesitate to contact my office by emailing sen.terri.bonoff@senate.mn. 

Best Regards, 

Terri Bonoff

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