The 2016 legislative session ended at midnight on Sunday. Almost all of the major legislative action for the session was packed into the final few hours before that deadline. (See "Reforming the Process" below.) When the dust settled, the House had been presented with and passed three major bills in just a few hours: an omnibus tax bill (left over from the 2015 session), an omnibus supplemental budget bill (covering education, health, public safety, agriculture, and more), and a "bonding bill" for long-term capital investments.
Governor Dayton is currently considering whether to sign the tax and supplemental budget bills. The two houses passed different versions of the bonding bill, so that last bill is dead unless the governor calls a special session. In the meantime, it's clear that this session's theme of missed opportunities has continued right to the end.
The biggest missed opportunity is the failure, again, to make any progress on our massive transportation needs. With maintenance alone requiring $600 million per year of new investment, we need a long-term, sustainable funding plan that supports a truly multimodal transportation system. That didn't happen.
But there was more: Even in good economic times, our public schools are continuing to receive a real (inflation- and per-pupil adjusted) cut. The tax bill, while incorporating some good provisions (see "Silver Linings" below), provides no direct property-tax relief for homeowners or renters, even as it contains a major giveaway to tobacco manufacturers and sets us up - through permanent tax changes - for potentially destabilizing fiscal crises in the future. And all of this is on top of the inaction on so many of our shared priorities: paid family leave; action against climate change and gun violence; disclosure requirements for dark money in campaigns; and so much more.
Against this, there are a few bright spots. The tax bill contains some modest tax relief for middle-class families, including the working tax credit, expansion of the child and dependent care tax credit, and a new student loan tax credit to help address the student debt crisis. Among other worthy causes, the supplemental budget bill contains some funding - though not nearly enough - to address the persistent racial inequities experienced in our state.
Locally, my provision to provide for flexibility in the possible use of tax-increment financing at the Ford site is included in the omnibus tax bill.
That bill also includes the tax exemption sought for the proposed Midway soccer stadium, an issue of interest to many constituents (both for and against). I also had some success in expanding our state's work to combat sexual exploitation; more details to follow.
Reforming the Process
For the second consecutive year, the session concluded under a process full of last-minute backroom deals, with essentially no opportunity for public input. The Republican majority gave my colleagues and me just a couple of hours to read the 600-page budget bill, and about ten minutes to attempt to digest the contents of the bonding bill. This video of the bonding-bill debate will give you a good albeit appalling sense of the final 45 minutes of the session. We need reforms to the process - more transparency and timeliness - for the 2017 session. More on this to follow too.
I'll provide further updates once we know the Governor's plans. In the meantime, don't hesitate to reach out with questions as to specific pieces of legislation or issues.
Thank you for the honor of serving our community,
State Representative, District 64B
321 State Office Building