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Column: Keeping promises holds early returns

As I knocked on doors and met people last summer and fall, there were a few issues that kept coming up over and over: health insurance costs, tax relief, Zip Rail and gridlock. The response to these issues was overwhelming, so I promised if you put your trust in me, that I would make these issues a priority.

In my house, that means something. From an early age, my mom and dad instilled in me the importance of keeping my word. It's something I still take very seriously.

I'm proud to report that we are already delivering results.

On Jan. 26, the governor signed our bipartisan health insurance relief bill, which provides emergency aid to people who are facing soaring premium increases caused by MNsure. The bill also makes it easier for sick patients to keep their doctor, and it begins the discussion of reform — the new law makes it easier for farmers to purchase cheaper group plans through agricultural cooperatives; allows for-profit health maintenance organizations to compete here, and improves transparency rules to reduce surprise billing and require early disclosure of premium increases.

These are only short-term solutions. Minnesota's health insurance market has been worsening for years, and it won't be fixed overnight. Next we'll have a discussion about long-term reforms that structurally lower costs, prioritize patients, and improve access to give Minnesotans peace of mind about their health care.

We also fulfilled our promise on another top early-session priority: tax relief. Minnesotans will be able to take advantage of several new tax breaks thanks to a federal conformity bill that passed the House and Senate unanimously and was signed by Gov. Mark Dayton. It includes relief for teachers' classroom expenses, for mortgage insurance premiums, and individuals facing a short sale of their homes. It also makes it easier for veterans to collect combat pay.

Like health insurance, the tax conformity bill is only the beginning. In the coming weeks, we'll unveil a larger tax bill with significant, meaningful relief for all Minnesota families.

If health insurance is the issue I hear about most, then opposition to Zip Rail is a close second. The Zip Rail project calls for a dedicated high-speed rail line to connect Rochester to the Twin Cities; eventually, it would run to Chicago.

Hearing your concerns, I introduced Senate File 254, which prohibits public funding from being used for any Zip Rail-related activity. It requires the state secure any state property that is made available for Zip Rail; it prohibits the state from using eminent domain to acquire land for Zip Rail; and it requires any private Zip Rail funder to purchase environmental insurance.

No matter how well intentioned, rail projects in Minnesota always require significant taxpayer subsidies. After working closely with Rep. Steve Drazkowski and Rep. Barb Haley, we came up with a solution to guarantee taxpayers will never be on the hook for Zip Rail.

As a freshman Senator, I still view the Legislature with the same frustrations as every other citizen — in recent years, gridlock has grown so bad that is has ground progress to a halt.

The Purple Caucus is trying to break through the partisanship and improve working relationships at the Capitol. The Purple Caucus, which was founded by Winona Sen. Jeremy Miller, is a bipartisan group of Senators who meet regularly to look at areas where Republicans and Democrats can find common ground. We already had our first introductory meeting, and I'm looking forward to even more constructive dialogue in the coming weeks.

We also introduced aggressive committee deadlines, which will require us to finish our work earlier than ever before. By building trust early in session through the Purple Caucus and requiring early compromise, I'm optimistic that gridlock and last minute lawmaking will be a thing of the past.

While it is early in session, these early victories for Minnesotans bode well for the rest of the year. I am committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle so we don't make the same mistakes that have been made in the past. This year we're going to get things done.

Mike Goggin is the Minnesota Senate District 21A representative.