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Column: Movement moving forward on key initiatives

By Mike Goggin, R-Red Wing. He can be reached at sen.mike.goggin@senate.mn or 651-296-4264.

In last month's column I laid out our vision for the state of Minnesota and the principles that will form our budget — what we are calling our Advancing Minnesota agenda. This month I thought it would be helpful to provide a status update.

Senate Republicans made big promises when session began. After years of gridlock, we pledged to get things done that improve the lives of families; things that have a direct impact on your day-to-day life.

This has been the focus of our first set of budget bills. If you want to learn more about any of these bills, we have full write-ups on our website at www.mnsenaterepublicans.com.

Higher education: Our bipartisan $3.17 billion higher education bill is a $100 million increase from the last budget, with a focus on making college more affordable. It includes $10 million to the state grant program for financial aid and a tuition freeze at Minnesota State schools. It also provides crucial funding to spur medical breakthroughs, including spinal cord, traumatic brain injury and advanced cancer research.

Public safety: This $2.2 billion commitment to public safety, the Department of Corrections and the courts also passed with strong bipartisan support. The theme here is safe communities — we include funding to strengthen supervision of offenders on probation, add more Bureau of Criminal Apprehension experts and investigators, and boost violent crime enforcement teams. In addition, we provide more money for law enforcement officer training, nonprofit security grants to combat terroristic threats, and critical technology upgrades at the Department of Corrections.

Jobs, energy, commerce: We're facing a workforce shortage, and demographics challenges on the horizon. Our $1.64 billion jobs bill, which passed with strong bipartisan support, provides funding to prepare us to meet these challenges — including $72 million for the Workforce Development Fund, $1.5 million to the Minnesota Investment Fund, and $3 million to the Job Creation Fund. It also includes $20 million for broadband to communities who need it most.

I'm particularly proud my Helmets to Hardhats program was included in our jobs bill. For years, Helmets to Hardhats has successfully connected veterans to a new career in the trades. I'm glad more vets will be able to take advantage of this resource in the future.

State government finance and veterans: Over the last few years state agency budgets have increased steadily, and hundreds of new bureaucrats have been added to the payroll. Our state government finance bill works to bend the cost curve down, reducing government bureaucracy by 3.6 percent. By eliminating this waste we were able to fund crucial areas like cyber security, elections equipment and Amber Alert infrastructure upgrades.

The veterans portion of the bill fulfills forecasted obligations to the Department of Military Affairs and the Department of Veterans Affairs, with funding for important programs like Support our Troops, veterans' homes, the Minnesota GI bill, combating veterans' homelessness, veterans' counseling.

Environment: Our environment bill pauses buffer strip implementation in order to protect Minnesota farmers from Palmer amaranth. In addition, it consolidates funding and eliminates wasteful redundancies to free up $90 million over the next four years — all while increasing aid for conservation and recreation by providing money for forest management, parks and trails, snowmobile, and all-terrain vehicle accounts.

By the time this goes to print, we'll have finished our work on a comprehensive roads and bridges plan, as well as an agriculture finance bill that keeps our agriculture economies strong. By next week, we'll complete our budgets for taxes, education, and health and human services.

When we set our aggressive deadlines early in session I received feedback from people wondering if we would really be able to change anything. I'm proud to say that we have kept our promises and we're continuing to get our work done ahead of schedule; it has been years since the Legislature passed budget bills this early. Stay tuned to see how the rest of session unfolds.

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