Column: Out of political frustration come results
When the 2017 session began, I was one of 12 freshmen who were part of the new Republican majority in Minnesota Senate. Each of us ran for office in large part due to frustration with the lack of results and the constant bickering that was a hallmark of the previous Legislature, so we were committed to getting things done. We had a long to-do list when session began, but we checked off every item.
It was one of the most productive sessions in recent memory. There's far too much to summarize in only one column, but here is what we did on a few of the big issues.
Health care — The individual market was on the brink of collapse in the fall of 2016 thanks to MNsure and Obamacare, so addressing the urgent health care crisis was our top agenda item when session began. We quickly passed emergency premium relief, and followed it with a premium security plan to stabilize the market.
Our reforms are already having incredible results, as 2018 premiums for Minnesotans on the individual market are holding steady and even decreasing in many cases. We still have more work to do, but this is a remarkable reversal from the 67 percent increases only a year prior.
Tax relief — This year we passed the first significant tax relief bill in nearly two decades.
Our plan helps middle-income working families, senior citizens, farmers, mom-and-pop business owners, and more. We created the first-in-the-nation Student Loan Tax Credit to help college graduates who are struggling with high student loan debt. And we passed relief to help school districts pass bond referendums easier, while easing the disproportionately high burden on farmers. There's something for nearly every taxpayer in our tax relief package.
Education funding — We increased funding for education by $1.3 billion over the last budget — a total investment of $18.7 billion. The centerpiece of our education plan was a 2 percent annual increase to the per pupil formula. Education groups had made this a priority, and we delivered.
Republicans also made it a priority to improve the way schools operate. We did this by reforming our teacher licensing system to address our teacher shortage by getting more qualified experts into the classrooms, and by giving schools more flexibility to retain the best and most energetic teachers when budgets are tight.
Bonding — We also passed a major bonding bill focused on infrastructure improvements, like a safer rail crossing at Sturgeon Lake Road in Red Wing and funding for the River Town Renaissance.
Usually the Legislature passes bonding bills in even-numbered years, but after the previous Senate leadership failed to deliver a bonding bill, there were several projects that required urgent attention.
I already have preliminary requests in for next session for funding to help rebuild Old West Main Street and the Upper Harbor in Red Wing, as well as the Goodhue County Historical Society and Mississippi Blufflands State Trail in Red Wing, and the Wabasha Rivertown Resurgence project. I am also currently preparing another request for a whistle-free zone along the railroad that runs through Goodview, which I supported last session. I'll advocate for these projects strongly.
My first session was a great experience, but I've enjoyed being back with my family and at my regular job over the summer and fall, and I've had a great time attending events around the district. If you see me somewhere, please stop me to say hello. I'd love to hear your feedback about the issues we are working on and your ideas for the future.