Viewpoint: Legislative session exceeds expectationsThere is something special about the State Capitol in the evening that never fails to humble me.
By: Marsha Swails, Viewpoint Writer, Woodbury Bulletin
There is something special about the State Capitol in the evening that never fails to humble me.
The dome fairly glows from the inside and out, and the sense of history when I walk down the steps at the end of the day is palpable. It always gives me a feeling of connection with the Minnesotans who have shared the unique privilege of representing our state.
The sense of history was even more prevalent as the Legislature finished our business against the backdrop of the Sesquicentennial events on the Capitol grounds celebrating the state's 150th anniversary of statehood. It seemed only fitting that as we celebrated our state's past, we worked together to secure Minnesota's future.
As the 2008 Legislative Session came to a close in the late Sunday hours, the long list of accomplishments included meaningful health care reform, essential funding for education, property tax relief, a significant transportation package, increases in nursing home funding long overdue, ground breaking environmental and energy policy, and a balanced budget that closed a $935 million budget deficit without raising taxes.
Unquestionably, the biggest challenge of the session was to balance the state budget deficit. Through the use of spending reductions, revenue increases that came from closing loopholes on foreign operating corporations and the limited use of budget reserves, the budget-balancing bill closes the state's nearly $1 billion budget deficit without a general tax increase.
Remarkably, we were able to include modest funding increases for schools and nursing homes in the budget bill, a recognition of the financial pressures they face and a reflection of our commitment to students and seniors.
As a result, South Washington County schools will get nearly $1 million in additional state funding this year, in addition to funding increases we passed last year, and nursing home workers who care for our aging citizens will get a cost of living increase — something many thought unlikely when the state budget deficit was announced in February.
The final days of session also included agreements on significant health care reform that expands health coverage to Minnesotans who don't have health care and focuses on chronic disease prevention to bring down rising health care costs for those with insurance.
A tax bill passed on the last day will send property tax relief to Minnesotans through an expanded property tax refund program, local government aid (LGA) to cities and counties, and levy limits that cap city and county property tax increases.
During the shorter-than-usual session, we also enacted a comprehensive public works or bonding bill to create thousands of new jobs to jump-start the flagging economy, a constitutional amendment that lets voters decide if they want to fund preservation efforts for the environment and natural resources and a comprehensive transportation bill decades in the making that will deliver safer roads, bridges and expanded transit options for the east metro.
I'm especially pleased that on the last day of the session, we were able to secure funding for the Central Corridor light rail line that will connect Minneapolis and St. Paul, forming the backbone of a regional transit system for the entire metro area.
At the start of the session, I said building a better future for Minnesota would demand ingenuity and cooperation from everyone — young and old, private citizens and elected officials, Republicans and Democrats. At the end of the day, I'm proud to say, that's what happened.
Our work this session, guided by input and support from thousands of Minnesotans will protect the health and safety of our citizens, create good jobs and a secure infrastructure, and strengthen our state's long-term economic competitiveness.
It was a privilege to be a part of that and an honor to represent Woodbury and Landfall at the Capitol.
Swails (DFL-Woodbury) represents District 56B in the Minnesota House. To contact her, call (651) 296-1147, 409 State Office Building, 100 Martin Luther King Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org