Congratulations to Isaac Asuma, junior point guard at Cherry High School, for his commitment to the University of Minnesota basketball team! Isaac, a three-star recruit, is the number 2 ranked player currently in the state and is the currently the 18th ranked player as a point guard nationally. We’re all proud of Isaac and can’t wait to watch him play in maroon and gold starting in 2024.
Activity at the Capitol is hectic with a loaded schedule of committee hearings that have full agendas. I’m working with my colleagues to help address challenges Minnesotans are facing, including increasing costs, while helping everyone succeed and thrive in our state. Here’s an update from Saint Paul.
Minnesota seniors have worked hard and have made contributions to their communities and state their entire lives. As they enter their golden years, they deserve to do so with economic security. Yesterday, I presented my bill to fully exempt Social Security benefits from state income taxation in Minnesota. This topic is consistently one of the issues I hear about most frequently and passionately, and I know folks expect action.
Minnesota is one of only twelve states to tax Social Security benefits, impacting roughly 348,700 seniors. In recent years, there has been incremental progress toward eliminating the tax, including the creation of the income-based Minnesota Social Security Subtraction in 2017. My bill would expand this subtraction, allowing Minnesotans to subtract the full amount of their taxable Social Security benefits. A lack of fiscal resources is no longer a barrier to getting this done, and with an unprecedented budget surplus, we should finish last year’s bipartisan work and eliminate this tax once and for all.
The Iron Range has been an innovative leader for generations, helping win world wars and going from no cars, to cars, to mars. However, the methods of moving taconite haven’t changed much, using 240-ton trucks to get the job done. Last week, I presented a bill to the House Climate & Energy Committee to invest $10 million in a pilot project for mine truck electrification at MinnTac.
According to U.S. Steel’s analysis, adding a trolley-assist line to mine trucks powered by 100% renewable energy will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 14,359 metric tons, an equivalent of 3,122 gas-powered passenger vehicles. The project would save 1.4 million gallons of diesel fuel annually. As committed as U.S. Steel, Minnesota Power, and other companies are toward renewable energy goals, upfront infrastructure costs present a significant barrier. I’m incredibly excited about this project which will modernize mining and help our region play a part in our clean energy future.
I also presented a bill to invest $25 million toward upgrades of the 465-mile direct current transmission line from Minnesota Power’s Bison Wind Energy Center in North Dakota to Duluth. In 2015, the Bison Wind Energy Center became the largest wind-generating facility in North Dakota, and the upgrades would reduce congestion in the electrical grid. Both of these investments are likely to receive a matching grant from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Monday, the Minnesota House approved two pieces of capital investment legislation, delivering nearly $1.9 million for local jobs and projects throughout the state. In a bipartisan fashion we delivered approximately $50 million worth of important projects for the Iron Range. I’ve heard from small business owners, college students, workers, community leaders and residents who are counting on us to deliver critically important investments in local infrastructure. Among all of our other work down here, capital investment is one of those key, fundamental government responsibilities, and, it’s been almost 30 months since we’ve come together to enact a bonding bill into law.
The bill funds water mitigation for the St. James and Canisteo open pit mines, water and electrical infrastructure at Giants Ridge, a new ice plant and other improvements at the Chisholm Ice Arena and Curling Club, road improvements for the city of Biwabik, updates to the Aurora Community Center, Hibbing’s proposed regional public safety and training center, renovation of Grand Rapids’ water treatment plant, and funding for parks and trails including the Gitchi Gami State Trail.
These votes made it a great day in the Minnesota House. As significant as this package was, the legislation we passed yesterday is only the beginning toward meeting our infrastructure needs, and I’m committed to continued collaboration toward important investments in clean water infrastructure, safe roads and bridges, higher education facilities, new trails and other recreation opportunities, and so many other projects to ensure our communities and region can thrive. A full list of the projects is available here.
Yesterday, I presented a bill to the House Transportation Committee to create a new special permit type for certain forest product loads, allowing a larger width of up to 9.5 feet, up from the current limit of 8.5 feet. There are a couple of major reasons the industry is seeking the change. First, the standard ceiling height for a home has increased to nine, and to build a house with nine-foot ceilings, you need lumber that’s also nine feet. Additionally, the standard size for a pallet is three feet. Raw lumber with a size of 8.5 feet subsequently limits the productive amount of wood available and results in increased waste. The industry estimates that less than 4% of truckloads hauling timber would be wider than the standard 8.5 feet.
This legislation helps our loggers, truckers, and forest product manufacturers here in Minnesota. These are all vital industries for generations, providing countless jobs across our state. Thanks to Rick Horton, the Executive Vice President of Minnesota Forest Industries, and Ray Higgins from the Minnesota Timber Producers Association for joining me to present the legislation.
In case you missed it, laid-off employees at Northshore Mining in Babbitt and Silver Bay have received letters calling them back to work in April as Cleveland-Cliffs previously promised. Earlier this session, I was proud to work alongside Sen. Grant Hauschild to fast-track legislation extending Unemployment Insurance benefits for these workers.
This UI extension served as an economic bridge for the workers and their families, and Northshore resuming operations is extremely encouraging. The Iron Range has experienced no shortage of tough times, including in 2001 when I lost my job after LTV shut down. At the Governor’s bill signing for the UI extension, I held up a newspaper article telling my family’s story of adversity at the time.
Northshore resuming operations is extremely encouraging, benefitting not just the workers, but our entire region.
You’re invited to contact me to share your input and ideas, or if I can ever be of assistance. Please contact me anytime. It’s an honor to serve you at the State Capitol.