JoAnn Ward is the District 53A representative.
While there were certainly some positive results from the 2017 legislative session such as a nearly $1 billion bonding bill for projects around the state, resolving the Real ID issue, and providing a 2 percent increase in E-12 per-pupil funding in each of the next two years, I have concerns over other legislation passed this year.
From the beginning of the session, I supported a responsible tax package that would positively impact students and middle-income families. Spending too much on tax cuts, some of which went to the wealthiest 1,100 families in the state and included cuts for the tobacco industry, can exhaust our hard-won surplus and leads to insufficient funds in case of economic downturn.
While a transportation bill was passed, it is far from the solution our state deserves. It dips deeply into the general fund, siphoning resources from higher education, health and human services, public safety,and other important areas. It is another short-term fix when we should be looking at comprehensive solutions that do not rely on economic performance in keeping our roads, bridges, and transit safe and operational.
I was pleased at the progress made in education funding; the original Republican bill would have funded only a 1.25 percent increase per pupil, which is below the rate of inflation. The final bill Gov. Mark Dayton signed continues the 2 percent increase in each of the next two years. This is barely adequate to keep our school districts budgets even with inflation and helps to keep our schools from falling backwards. As an educator, I know firsthand the importance of adequately funding our public schools and setting our students up for success later in life.
One of the most significant problems with the budget bills is the underfunding of higher education. Minnesota higher education students already carry the 4th highest loan burden in the country, meaning substantial efforts must be made to control tuition. Unfortunately, the Republican bill will result in tuition increases, faculty and staff reductions, and program cuts. To force this type of action in a time of economic surplus forces too great of a burden onto the backs of students of all ages seeking higher education.
Bright spots from this spring include resolving our state's Real ID compliance, meaning Minnesotans will be able to board flights and enter federal facilities with their driver's license in 2018, and a $1 billion bonding bill that advances important projects in every part of the state. But too often, partisan bickering and the blame game halted progress in other critical areas.
In a difficult session, I'm glad we were able to find common ground on some issues. A Legislature that dedicates itself to the common good and working together to bridge ideological gaps is far more effective than one hampered by partisan gamesmanship and backroom decisions by a few people. The people of Minnesota deserve better than they received this session.
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