Column: 2017 was historically productive session

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Barb Haley represents District 21A in the Minnesota House of Representatives

Earlier this month, Gov. Mark Dayton signed the budget into law, putting an official end to the 2017 legislative session. I spent the following two weeks hosting multiple town halls throughout our district, providing detail and answering questions regarding the results of this session. I heard from some folks who were wondering if the budget was not complete due to Dayton's line-item veto of the Legislature's operating funding.

To clarify: the budget is complete and the legislative funding issue will be resolved separately.

I am very proud of what was accomplished this session and I would like to highlight some of what was done that will benefit our communities.

When the session started, our priorities were to work to stabilize the health insurance market, provide tax relief, transportation funding, education funding and reforms, as well as secure a bonding bill. I am pleased to report that we achieved all of these goals through a lot of hard work, bipartisan compromise and end-of session negotiations with the governor.

• This session, we passed the largest tax relief bill in nearly two decades.

The tax bill provides $650 million in middle-class tax relief over the next two years (2018-2019) and $790 million in 2020-2021. This bill is focused on helping seniors, students, and in general, middle-class Minnesotans.

Under this bill, nearly 284,000 senior citizens will receive tax reductions on their Social Security benefits. Additionally, a family of four making $50,000 a year will receive an additional $1,200 towards child care expenses and 65,000 students will receive, on average, a $414 tax reduction through a new credit for student loan payments.

The bill also contains two significant property tax relief provisions specifically benefitting our community: reducing the property tax burden for farmers paying school construction levies and for small-business owners.

When I talk with constituents, I often hear concerns about Minnesota's crumbling transportation infrastructure that is not only in desperate need of repair, but also expansion.

• The transportation budget prioritizes Greater Minnesota's need of road and bridge repairs and improvements responsibly by using existing transportation-related revenue sources.

In the next two years alone, an additional $300 million will be invested in the state's transportation infrastructure with an additional $16 million for small cities' road projects. Also, through the creation of a new local bridge account, 97 bridges will either be repaired or replaced statewide. Altogether, this is the largest investment in our roads and bridges in state history without raising taxes.

Over the next four years, Goodhue and Wabasha counties will receive over $3 million in increased transportation funding, and Red Wing and Lake City will receive nearly $350,000 in new local street aid. Over the next two years, Bellechester, Goodhue, Wabasha and Cannon Falls will receive over $140,000 in small cities assistance.

Education has long been one of my interest areas; being able to serve on both the Education Policy and Higher Education Committees, I was able to advocate for the importance of properly funding our schools, and most importantly, supporting our students.

• The K-12 education budget that was passed this session invests an additional $1.3 billion in our students statewide.

Locally, Cannon Falls will receive an increase of over $475,000, Goodhue almost $275,000, Lake City over $500,000, Wabasha-Kellogg over $250,000, and Red Wing over $1.1 million.

The bill also includes some significant reforms: ending the default "Last In, First Out" layoff policy to ensure schools can keep the best teachers in the classroom, expanding pre-K scholarships and overhauling the broken teacher licensure system in order to help schools address teacher shortages.

You probably heard from me frequently on the campaign trail discussing the importance of building our workforce, providing students with postsecondary education options and work experience, and needing to expand workforce housing. Huge strides were made this session to begin to tackle these issues.

• A new program was established aimed at helping schools fund career and technical education and on-the-job training courses to help more students obtain professional certifications. I authored legislation to provide postsecondary scholarships to students going into high demand fields like advanced manufacturing, information technology, healthcare and agriculture. I also co-authored legislation that provides grants for manufacturers to work with high schools in order to establish apprenticeships for student workers.

Lastly, we passed a significant bonding bill which secured funding for some very important projects in need of completion in our community:

• a new rail grade overpass for Sturgeon Lake Road, Port Authority funding, as well as levy wall improvements and further restoration of the Sheldon Theater.

This session was historic in the amount of work accomplished for Minnesotans and included a lot of local wins for our community. I am humbled and grateful for the trust you placed in me to be your representative in St. Paul.

As always, if you ever have any questions or comments please do not hesitate to contact me at rep.barb.haley@house.mn or 651-296-8635. I appreciate your calls and emails as they help me be a better representative.