The 2020 session is now underway! It remains such an honor to represent your interests in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

There is plenty to do at the Capitol this year. Even though a budget was approved last session, we now have a projected $1.3 billion surplus to allocate before session ends. One of my top priorities this year will be to look at ways to give surplus funds back to the taxpayers — especially senior citizens.

I’m chief authoring a bill that would do just that by ending the taxation on Social Security benefits — a move that would benefit every Minnesota senior citizen. Besides tax relief, another option would be to use some surplus dollars to pay cash for statewide infrastructure projects — such as road and bridge projects — to reduce the amount needed in this year’s capital investment bill.

Along those lines, Sen. Karla Bigham and I have each filed bills that would secure the remaining funding needed to complete the Highway 316 renovation project in Hastings. The proposal would dedicate $800,000 from Minnesota’s projected $1.3 billion budget surplus for this specific purpose.

As you know, I’ve been exploring multiple ways to fund Highway 316 since I reached an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation in 2017 to leave speed limits alone and increase driver and pedestrian safety. Recently the City of Hastings announced that it successfully obtained an additional $1 million through a Department of Public Safety program to help fund Highway 316 improvements, leaving an $800,000 funding gap.

I continue to look for creative ways to help the City of Hastings find the funding it needs, and to me, utilizing one-time surplus funds for Highway 316 safety improvements is a common-sense option.

Another is securing proceeds from this session’s capital investment bill. The only portion of this project where capital investment dollars can be used is for the creation of bike and pedestrian paths, so I am seeking bonding funds for this purpose.

I’ll also continue pushing to secure $2 million in bonding proceeds to assist with the Hastings City Hall project, as the building needs numerous repairs and updates. As a member of the House Capital Investment Committee, I’m happy to carry these two bills for the city and will work hard to keep these projects at the forefront.

The governor’s office has also requested $500,000 in capital investment funds to study law enforcement training centers, the first step in addressing the growing need for training facilities for first responders. This gave me the opportunity to once again tout the HERO Center in Cottage Grove, which has become a model, state-of-the art facility that would not have occurred without state investment. Many other cities want what Cottage Grove has, and everyone who helped make it reality should be proud of the local accomplishment.

Speaking of local issues, I’m also looking into a matter involving the Hastings School District and MnDOT.

Prior to the renovation of Todd Field last year, the district had a 50-year lease agreement with MnDOT at $1 per year for use of land owned by MNDOT and used by the district.

Improvements to this area forced a change in the lease agreement. MnDOT cannot lease property with building structures so the land that was being leased was assessed to be conveyed or sold to the district at fair market value of roughly $137,000.

In addition, details are still being worked out between MnDOT and the district on the terms for the use of MnDOT owned land for the parking lot west of the field. Rather than the previous $1 per year lease, MnDOT policy now requires fair market value, which could mean the school district would pay over $10,000 per year for the use of the parking lot.

MnDOT has also noted that some of the property may be needed for an upcoming Highway 61 improvement project. Once that determination has been made, it could then renew the lease or possibly sell some of the property — or the remainder of it — to the district.

These unanticipated expenses could cost the Hastings School District — and ultimately taxpayers — nearly $200,000.

I’ve discussed this issue with a number of school board members and have also had multiple conversations with MnDOT to see what can be done. I’m told talks remain ongoing, and I’ll keep you updated as things move forward.