May 25, 2013
I believe that investing in our children's education means investing in our future. Whether it is expanding early childhood education, lowering class sizes in K-12, or making our higher education system more affordable, the return on our investment means a win/win for Minnesota’s future productivity and economic prosperity.
Despite the continued research that investing in early education yields the biggest return, it is still less than 1% of our educational budget. Reaching children early, before they hit the K-12 system, is the most cost effective way to close the achievement gap. We must do better.
During the 2012 special session that followed a historic shutdown, I voted against the final education bill that borrowed $1.2 billion from our schools with no specific plan to pay them back. We cannot continue to balance the budget on the back of our children and our teachers. We need to reform the way we invest in our schools and in some cases, the way that they function. We do not do that by painting targets on our teacher’s backs, but by including them in the discussion on how best to educate our children.
A strong Higher Education system has long been an economic driver for Minnesota. It has brought us companies like Medtronic, innovation at the Mayo Clinic and has made our state a magnet for Fortune 500 companies. Over the last decade our continued disinvestment in our higher education system has driven up tuition costs and jeopardized the reputation of our research institutions. Unless we turn this trend around, our colleges will no longer attract the best and the brightest students, faculty and researchers from around the world.
Education is one of the few things that our State constitution mandates that we fund, along with transportation. If we continue to disinvest in the important areas of early childhood, K-12 and higher education, we risk our students being unprepared to compete in the global market. I have always placed a very high priority on funding our public schools and I will continue to do so.
Our Main Street businesses took a hit in their pocket books this year with the elimination of the Market Value Homestead Credit and the implementation of the Market Value Exclusion. I did not vote for this Republican-led initiative that artificially deflated homeowners property values, causing a greater burden of property taxes to be place on commercial and industrial properties and throwing local governments and school districts' tax capacities out of whack. Not only did homeowners not get a property tax refund, they saw their homes' values drop. I support revisiting the property tax formulas to make them fairer to our homeowners and small business owners.
I continue to pursue a piece of legislation that I introduced that would help businesses on our main streets. "This Old Shop" would give owners of small, older commercial and industrial buildings a property tax break when they make structural improvements to their property.
This year, Rep. Simon and I were successful in helping Jason Alvey, a business owner in St. Louis Park, expand his business. We introduced legislation that was passed into law to allow a liquor store owner to sell merchandise with their store logo on it and to charge a small fee for beer/wine tasting classes.
I will continue to push for investment in the Southwest Light Rail Transit Line that is proposed to run through our communities. Not only will it decrease congestion on our roads, but it will serve the over 65,000 new jobs expected in the corridor by 2020.
I took a strong stand against the Right to Work "for less" bill that would have reduced pay for our hard working middle class employees. No employee who chooses to work in a unionized business should be able to receive the benefits of the union-negotiated contract without paying union dues. That "opt-out" provision would weaken unions and reduce the good-paying wage levels they get for their members. For every $1.00 a union member makes, $.75 goes back into the local economy. When paychecks are smaller, people have fewer of those dollars to spend.
An excellent transportation network can further Minnesota's economic development and improve the quality of life for our state's residents. Advancing this fundamental component for the betterment of our families and the business community is essential. I strongly believe that our state's current investment in streets, highways, and rail systems have not adequately reflected development and housing pattern changes—especially in the Twin Cities Metropolitan area.
Unfortunately, the Southwest Light Rail Transit (SW LRT) was not included in this session's final bonding bill funding. I am a strong advocate for this line and will continue to push for its advancement as your Senator. This passenger line has the support of the business community including TwinWest Chamber of Commerce because of the potential benefit for their many members.
The SW LRT line has been intricately planned over many years and would strongly benefit the residents of the southwest suburbs that I represent. The project is estimated to create over 3,500 jobs and—with the substantial investment from the federal government—the state's investment will only be a fraction of the total cost. The federal investment is of course conditional on the project moving forward which is why we must show our commitment now or risk being left out.
As your Senator, I will continue to advocate for transportation projects that reflect the reality of our metropolitan area. The daily gridlock and pollution must be reduced with multi-modal system that includes passenger rail and other forms of public transport.
I am very proud that legislation passed this session making it a felony to criminally neglect a vulnerable adult (S.F. 1586). The final bill incorporated significant portions of a bill I had introduced (S.F. 1659). This criminal negligence has been an underreported phenomenon that has devastated those individuals who need care and their families.
The "vulnerable adults" bill will establish a new felony-level crime for an operator or caregiver who intentionally deprives those under their supervision of the food, clothing, shelter, health care, or supervision they need.
Arguably no greater issue regarding public safety was more important this year than the "shoot first" bill or Castle Doctrine Plus. Whatever nickname given to the bill, it ultimately would have had unintended negative consequences for our residents. I believe that lowering the standards for the use of deadly force in defense of one's home would have unnecessarily endangered citizens and law enforcement officers. Also, lowering the firearm permit requirements would only have had negative consequences for the citizens I represent in the Senate. I joined in opposition with the MN Chiefs of Police, MN Sheriffs Assn., and rank-and-file police officers (MPPOA).
I played a leading role fighting this bill in the Senate. With the national attention recently on the states that had passed very similar legislation (such as Florida and the shooting of the young teen walking home there), I am pleased that the Governor wisely vetoed the bill.
In a recent Federal analysis, Minnesota was ranked #1 in the Nation for our health care system. That did not happen overnight; it has taken years of investment and foresight to keep up with our changing demographics. While we need to control costs, we also have to make sure that cuts in this area do not will have a devastating impact on our seniors, our children and those in our communities with disabilities and mental illness.
I will continue to support the implementation of a Minnesota Healthcare Insurance Exchange that lives up to the high standards our State has set in the healthcare field. I will also support programs that help our seniors age in place and those that increase investment in our home healthcare settings.