Posted 3/23/22

GUEST Column BY SENATOR KARLA BIGHAM Rising Surplus opens up opportunities to deliver for Minnesotans Two years ago, as the pandemic threatened the health and economic well-being of Minnesota …

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GUEST Column


Rising Surplus opens up opportunities to deliver for Minnesotans

Two years ago, as the pandemic threatened the health and economic well-being of Minnesota families, businesses, and communities, our state anticipated a massive budget shortfall due to the related business closures and a spike in unemployment. But as we fast forward to this year, we’ve seen Minnesota’s economic fortunes dramatically improve, and in February state budget experts predicted a record $9.25 billion surplus for this year. In short, we have a rare opportunity to address problems that Minnesotans tell me they face.

This year is a bonding session, which is an opportunity for Minnesota to invest in roads, bridges, and water infrastructure. I am advocating for bonding projects like two road design and construction projects in Cottage Grove and St. Paul Park that will connect our East Metro communities, serve new development, and address congestion. In Newport, reconstruction and road improvements are needed for safety and environmental concerns regarding the pollutants that stormwater is carrying into the Mississippi River. The Hastings Civic Center improvement project and the Hastings Veterans Home comprehensive renovation were included in the Governor’s bonding recommendations. I’ve supported each of these proposals as the chief author of the bills in the Senate.

Several key Senate committees have recently taken up three of my priority bills. In the Education Committee, Hastings resident and parent advocate Bridgette Norring gave a powerful testimony about the loss of her son Devin to fentanyl poisoning. She also discussed her work trying to bring awareness of the dangers of fentanyl to middle school and high school students. The bill I presented alongside her is because of her commitment to our community. The bill strongly encourages middle schools and high schools to provide instruction on substance misuse and discuss social media’s role in the distribution of drugs. The Education Committee members unanimously supported the bipartisan bill. I also presented my bill in the Taxes Committee that would provide tax relief for restaurants. The Hastings business owner of Kennedy Concessions shared with me their struggles staying in business during the pandemic and brought up that Minnesota would tax grants they received from the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund included in the American Rescue Plan Act. My bill would make those grants non-taxable income for restaurants. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce urged for early passage of the bill to help taxpayers with liability file their 2021 taxes with certainty. The bill has strong bipartisan support and will hopefully be included in the final tax bill.

In the Technology and Reform Committee, I discussed my bill that would move the responsibility of data storage and auditing of body cameras from local law enforcement departments to the state. The idea behind this bill came from conversations I’ve had with local sheriffs and chiefs of police. Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie and State Auditor Julie Blaha testified in support of the bill. The bill also intends to relieve police departments of the costs of data storage of body camera footage. This expense prevents smaller departments from having to carry the cost of this tool for community safety. The bill was moved to the Civil Law Committee to continue the discussion.

I am also pressing to repeal the state tax on Social Security benefits. In five sessions in the Senate, I have voted twice to raise the ceiling on the level of taxes paid on Social Security, meaning fewer seniors pay taxes on their benefits. Those provisions have been signed into law twice. I support continuing to raise that ceiling so that more seniors can have more money in their pockets every month.

As we move forward this legislative session, I remain committed to pushing my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to use the surplus to help lower costs for consumers. Minnesotans should benefit from this surplus through increased childcare affordability, healthcare cost savings, additional support for public schools, modernized infrastructure, and direct payments to frontline workers. Working Minnesotans built this surplus and working Minnesotans should be the first to feel the benefits of it.

If you have any questions or are facing issues that you would like to see addressed by our state government, please contact my office. You can reach me at sen.karla. [email protected] or 651-297-8060. I look forward to hearing from you.