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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Cheryl Youakim (DFL)

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Legislative Weekly Recap - May 3-8, 2016

Monday, May 9, 2016

Hello Everyone,

Last week we spent time on the House floor on Monday, Thursday and Friday. Floor sessions were relatively short with non-controversial bills. This week will be much of the same as conference committees continue to work. I liken this time to being in the eye of a hurricane; things are quiet now but are going to get just a little crazy very soon. We only have two weeks left during this session to complete the work before us. And as you have seen in the news, folks are still very far apart with their approaches. But, I still have hope that cooler heads will prevail and there will be some compromises found to move our state forward.

Minnesota Needs a Comprehensive Transportation Bill

One area where you find folks who agree on the need but not on how to fund that need, is in the area of transportation. Across the state our entire road infrastructure and transit system is badly in need of repair. Studies indicate a funding shortfall of $16.3 billion during the 20-year period of 2018 to 2037 just to maintain our current infrastructure and to position our state to be economically competitive.

Unfortunately, the partisan divide between the Republican-led House, DFL-led Senate, and DFL Governor Dayton has so far resulted in an impasse on roads and transit funding this legislative session. In order to create a viable, long-range solution, any comprehensive funding package needs to be equitable across all transportation modes, address transportation needs state-wide, and be supported by a cross section of Minnesotans. One key group--the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, along with 44 of its affiliates across the state--recently called for a “new, long-term funding package for Minnesota’s transportation infrastructure.” You can find their letter here.

In the West Metro, one of the things I hear the most about from constituents is the need for the SouthWest Light Rail Transit (SW LRT) project to be completed. Funding for the SW LRT project is broken down into these funding streams: 50% federal funding, 30% from the County Transit Investment Board Tax (funds from the seven county sales tax), 10% from Hennepin County and 10% from state funds. At this point, money has been committed from all of the sources except for the remainder of the State share which is $135 million. Keep in mind, if we do not invest at the state level, we lose the federal funds. Those federal funds are our tax dollars that will then go to other states instead of staying here in Minnesota. Last Saturday a group of CEO’s from some of Minnesota’s largest companies wrote an editorial stressing the need for investment in the SW LRT within a comprehensive transportation package. You can read the article here.

Minnesotans are frustrated by the gridlock on their roads and in St. Paul. They expect their leaders to work together and compromise in order to do something we all recognize is necessary – fix our state’s deteriorating transportation system once and for all. With a $900 million budget surplus, we have an opportunity to begin to do the heavy lifting on our crumbling roads, bridges and highways but that is not nearly enough to meet the need. Using one-time budget surplus dollars and bonding does not meet our sustainable, long-term needs. The need will only increase for the stable, adequate, and dedicated stream of revenue that comes with a gas tax and transit tax. It is easy to talk about supporting transportation investments, leadership is figuring out how to pay for it. I support a balanced, compromise plan that will solve our state’s transportation problem; not an unrealistic approach which sounds good in a news conference but does nothing to address our long-term transportation needs.

Still Available for Minnesotans to Pay Their Energy Bills

Flowers are blooming and snow is a memory, but many Minnesotans are still struggling to pay their winter heating bills. The Cold Weather Rule ended on April 15 and some homeowners may face disconnection of their utilities because of unpaid bills.

Help is available from the Energy Assistance Program (EAP) until July 1st, according to the Minnesota Department of Commerce. The program helps homeowners and renters earning less than 50% of the state’s median income obtain grant money to help pay their energy bills.

An estimated 70 percent of Minnesota households eligible for energy assistance have not applied.

Funds are still available, and if you are having difficulty paying your energy bills you are encouraged to apply. In households with children under age six, anyone with disabilities, veterans and seniors are especially encouraged to apply.

New applications will be accepted until July 1. Funding is administered on a first-come, first-served basis, so if you are eligible, you are urged to apply as soon as possible.

To apply for assistance through the local service provider in your area call 800-657-3710 or visit the Energy Assistance Program section of the Commerce Department’s website.

Committee Business

As session nears the end, there are few standing committees that will hold hearings unless they are addressing late bills. Government Operations & Elections Committee met once last week. We heard a variety of late bills, those that have not met policy deadlines. So far, there are no further committee times scheduled for this group to meet before the end of session but stay tuned.

Constituent and Organizations Visits

As session winds down to a close, fewer constituent groups are meeting with legislators. There are occasional rallies held by groups to express their viewpoints on issues or individual bills. Last week I met with former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. She was here discussing universal background checks. As a gun owner herself, she founded “Americans for Responsible Solutions” after she was shot hosting a Town Hall meeting in her home state of Arizona. It was inspiring to listen to her courageous story.

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Survey Results

If any of you had difficulty viewing the survey results I sent out last week from my legislative survey, I am attaching the results to this email for you to view again. Hopefully they will be more readable this time!

With two weeks left of the legislative session, bills will be moving quickly in conference committees and onto the House and Senate floor. Please feel free to contact me if you have specific questions on bills or issues. As the pace quickens, e-mail is the best way to contact me. Thank you to all those who have contacted me to date. I am doing my best to keep up with the volume.

Have a great week!