Column: Minnesota at a crossroads this legislative sessionThis is a critical legislative session. Our great state is at a crossroads.
By: Erik Simonson, For the Budgeteer News
This is a critical legislative session. Our great state is at a crossroads.
It could continue to go down the path that Republican lawmakers have led it. We know what lies ahead on that road: continued structural deficits, more givebacks to millionaires and huge multinational corporations, stagnant economic growth, skyrocketing property taxes and further cuts to programs that aid middle-class Minne-sotans, such as education and health care.
We could opt for a brighter future. For the first time in a generation, a DFL governor and a DFL legislature will be working together.
Cooperation produced the health insurance exchange that is a key component of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA). Thanks to the DFL legislators, Minnesota will have its own state exchange that allows us to control the products, services and systems so that Minnesotans’ needs are best served. Minnesota is uniquely positioned to be a national leader on health care exchanges.
If we had failed to pass legislation by March 31, we would have been stuck with a federally mandated one-size-fits-all exchange, at an increased cost to Minnesotans.
This legislation will save Minnesota families more than $1 billion by using the exchange to purchase insurance — with the average family saving $500 and a lower-income family saving approximately $1,800. The exchange
is expected to help roughly 300,000 uninsured Minnesotans gain coverage by 2016.
This is a fraction of the work that the Legislature is facing this year. Lawmakers have challenges ahead if we are to repair the damage done to the state over the last 10 years.
We need to expand economic opportunities for middle-class Minnesotans. We will do this by focusing on priorities that will grow our economy from the middle out, provide all Minnesotans the economic security they deserve, and create more opportunities to expand the middle class. We must strategically invest in areas that will help our small businesses thrive and create more jobs.
We need to balance the budget honestly without gimmicks and with a balanced approach that makes middle-class Minnesotans the priority. Minnesota faces serious and structural budget challenges. We have a $627 million deficit and we owe our schools another $801 million. We need to make serious choices to get our state back on a sound footing. A forward-looking budget will mean prioritizing investments in world-class schools, a strong middle class and a thriving business climate to make Minesota successful down the road.
We need to invest in our future with a world-class education system. If we don’t invest in
our students, then our long-range economic prospects are dim. Yet, past legislatures have borrowed billions from our schools and made record cuts to higher education. We need to work together to pay back our schools and make education at all levels — from pre-K to higher education — a priority at the state legislature once again.
We need tax fairness for middle-class Minnesotans. Our current, outdated tax system currently favors big corporations and the wealthiest Minnesotans. We need a tax system that protects middle-class families. In 2012, property taxes increased by $375 million for Minnesota’s homeowners, small business owners and farmers, while big corporations kept their big tax breaks. I am focused on tax reform that reduces property taxes for middle-class Minnesotans, seniors and small businesses because more money in middle-class pockets will help Minnesota’s economy thrive.
I want to move Minnesota forward toward a brighter future for
our middle class, school children and school teachers and seniors. You are the people who sent me to the Legislature, and I promise that as long as I serve in St. Paul, I will never lose sight of that fact.
Erik Simonson (DFL) is the Minnesota state representative for district 7B.