This year’s legislative session startup was nearly two weeks ago, but that’s much later than we traditionally start because of the ongoing restoration of the century-old State Capitol Building.
The session has also been shortened to 10 weeks, so representing you in Saint Paul will be filled with long days of committee meetings and late night floor sessions.
Prior to opening day, we learned that our state budget surplus dropped from $1.2 billion to $900 million. Minnesota’s economic outlook still remains positive for the foreseeable future, but larger economic forces have slowed growth expectations. While the overall economic picture is good for the state, far too many Minnesotans are being squeezed by an economy that’s leaving them behind.
Too often, those who have money and access to lobby can swing things in their favor. In a democracy, the purpose of government is to do the things that we can’t do on our own, those that require collective action. It’s also to make sure people are treated fairly and have opportunities to prosper. That’s why my continued focus at the Capitol will be on making sure the economy works for everyone, not just those who can hire someone to be at the Capitol on a daily basis.
The first thing we can do to achieve that is to continue investing in education, including expanding early childhood education and making it easier for students to go to college without crippling debt. Expanding early childhood education helps our youngest learners get a jump start on learning and allows families to save money on childcare. As a retired teacher, I see firsthand how important education is, but also see the incredible burden students and their families are saddled with when it comes to affording college. That’s why we should freeze tuition, strengthen the state grant program and expand Minnesota’s student loan refinancing program.
Investing in our transportation and transit infrastructure is another area that’s essential to people’s livelihood. For a decade we’ve underfunded transportation improvements so much so that we now need to invest $6 billion over the next 10 years. Rather than using a stable and reliable funding source, some legislators want to pit these needs against other priorities like education. Those who can’t afford a car or can no longer drive depend on transit. The elderly and those with lower incomes need the help of public transportation to get to doctor, school and the grocery store. Just as I won’t support taking money away from education, I also won’t support a bill that ignores the needs of people who rely on transit.
Education and transportation are just examples of how government improves the daily lives of people. Another might be to follow the lead of other industrialized countries and assure paid family leave and earned sick time.
It is an election year. Often that is a signal that things can break down into partisan political games. For the good of our state, I’m hopeful we can do some great things for Minnesotans and do what’s best for ordinary Minnesotans.
It’s my honor to serve you at the Capitol and I look forward to hearing from you over the coming months. Please fill out my legislative survey to let me know what you think we should focus on during the 2016 session: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Bly2016Survey