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

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Legislative Update - May 20, 2016

Friday, May 20, 2016

Hello Everyone,

We have less than three days left in this year’s legislative session and I wanted to give you a quick update. We are in a holding pattern while we wait for Governor Dayton, Senator Bakk, Rep. Kurt Daudt and a few other legislative leaders to set final spending targets and come to a compromise. The most frustrating aspect of this part of session is that much of the discussion is behind closed doors. Things move so fast and are so fluid that this information may be out of date by the time you read it. Below is where things stand on the larger items left in session currently.

Transportation Bill

This is one area where I have heard the most from constituents. And, it was the one area where I had been hopeful for compromise. But, with less than 65 hours left in session we are still waiting for that compromise. Last year the legislature passed a lights on bill with hopes for doing a more comprehensive bill this year. There have been proposals traded back and forth, but no final deal as of yet.

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. In order to create a viable, long-range solution, any comprehensive funding package needs to be equitable across all transportation modes, address transportation needs statewide, and be supported by all Minnesotans. On Tuesday, House Speaker Kurt Daudt demanded that transit be taken “off the table” until there was a compromise on roads and bridges. He also repeated his insistence that Southwest Light Rail Transit (SW LRT - that runs from Minneapolis, through St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and ends in Eden Prairie) not be funded. Rep. Daudt has drawn a line in the sand despite support from the business community and all of the cities along the line. You can find their letters of support here. You can also watch my quick video on my support for the SW LRT project.

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. Rep. Peggy Flanagan, Rep. Yvonne Selcer and I have been meeting with members across the aisle about the SW LRT project and transit funding in general. We will continue to fight for this project and I want to thank you for your advocacy!

Bonding Bill

Traditionally, the State Legislature passes a bonding bill on the even numbered years of the two-year biennium. It is usually a bipartisan bill, with funding that maintains our infrastructure across the state. Because it authorizes the sale of bonds to pay for capital investments, it needs a 60% vote of the body instead of a simple majority. One of the larger parts of the bonding bill, historically 30%, is the group of projects at the University of Minnesota and the State College system. There are also projects across the state that communities would not be able to complete without a little help. It is rounded out with about 20% transportation projects. All projects meet a regional standard. You may remember that a few weeks ago the Senate proposed a bonding bill that failed by one vote. Wednesday night, the House majority finally unveiled their bonding bill and we were asked to vote on it on Thursday. It was almost half the size of the Governor’s and the Senate’s proposal and was put together with no input from the DFL side of the aisle. The House bonding bill failed as well and by a wider margin (69-64).

I voted no on the House bonding bill for many reasons. It did not fund the priority projects for the University of Minnesota or the Minnesota State College & University systems. It did not include any funds for workforce or affordable housing. It did not do enough to improve clean drinking water and waste water systems. And frankly, it was overloaded with transportation projects in place of a comprehensive transportation bill. Despite the fact that both bills failed to pass the House and Senate floor, a conference committee of House and Senate members was appointed and they will meet to work out the differences and it is my hope that it comes back to the House floor in much better shape.

Tax Bill

Although the House and Senate passed tax bills last session, there was never an agreement on a final bill. A conference committee was appointed but they never met. The Tax Conference Committee did not begin to meet until this week and are currently trying to work out a deal. I am anxiously awaiting to see what will eventually come to the floor and hope that it will be a balanced bill. Late this afternoon, Star Tribune reporters stated that a compromise was reached, which you can read about here, but that compromise must first pass the conference committee and both chambers of the legislature.

Supplemental Budget Bill

We came into session with a $900 million surplus due to our strong economy and some money we left on the bottom-line from last year. Individual committees met and put their bills together and those bills hit the House and Senate floor rather early in session. Unfortunately, the bill has stalled as leadership came to an impasse on how much money to spend on the Transportation and Tax bills. This conference committee has met in public meetings to talk about the policy provisions that are in the House and Senate bills, but there is still little agreement. Without knowing how much money they can spend, they have not been able to have thorough discussions or make any headway.

As you can see, with less than 65 hours left in session, we still have a lot of work left on the table. It is still my hope that there is a compromise in sight. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns. At this point, the easiest way to reach me is through e-mail at .

Have a good weekend!