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Viewpoint: 'Education session' was a successful one

I am proud of the work that was accomplished during my first term as state representative. Minnesota has been in an ongoing cycle of budget deficits for the last decade, due to one-time money, spending shifts and gimmicks. This session, we delivered an honest solution to fund Minnesota's priorities and close the $627 million budget deficit. Our budget puts an end to these gimmicks to put our state on stable financial footing into the future.

This year has been "the education session" and we are making major reforms and investments in our schools. As you may remember, the previous Legislature borrowed $2.4 billion from our schools. We will fully pay back our schools by 2014 through an accelerated repayment plan. Our education budget fully funds optional all-day kindergarten, which will free up money for families with small children, and also provides early learning scholarships which have been proven to raise test scores and help our kids succeed later in life.

After a decade of disinvestment in higher education, we are freezing tuition at the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) for two years for undergraduates. Tuition has nearly doubled at our public colleges and universities in the last ten years, and freezing tuition is a direct way to help students and families pay for their degrees. In addition to this freeze, we are implementing new reforms to make sure taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely at our higher education institutions. This increased oversight of state funding to MnSCU and the U of M that will keep tuition from rising and prevent the ongoing fee increases we have seen in recent years due to administrative spending.

As you may have heard, the Crosswinds East Metro Arts and Science School is likely to close. I worked closely with legislative leadership, education leaders, parents, instructors and students to find a workable solution, but unfortunately, no legislative action was taken this year. I am continuing to work with the East Metro Integration District (EMID), the Minnesota Department of Education, and Perpich to find a viable solution for Crosswinds.

Economic development is vital to our future, and our jobs legislation provides Minnesota employers with a $346 million tax cut. This historic cut will save employers an average of $150 per employee. We implemented a variety of jobs and economic development initiatives this year that include job training, apprenticeship programs, and incentives to attract new businesses to Minnesota. In addition, we are creating thousands of permanent and construction jobs throughout the state by funding the Rochester Destination Medical Center, 3M expansion, and Vikings stadium projects.

As a member of the Environment Policy and Energy Committees, I worked on many green issues this session, including combating aquatic invasive species and terrestrial invasive species. We appropriated funds to monitor, research, and prevent the spread of Asian carp and zebra mussels.

Another important environmental issue we worked to address is the water shortage faced by many Minnesota communities. The most evident local example is in the city of White Bear Lake, where the lake has shrunk 25 percent. We passed legislation that will allow the DNR to install monitoring wells around Minnesota that will give us better insight to the water levels of different aquifers and depletion rates.

This year we are taking a big step forward to diversify Minnesota's energy sources. This includes a solar energy standard of 1.5 percent by 2020, with a goal of 10 percent solar by 2030. The cost of solar is almost 100 percent up front and once installed, a solar panel requires no fuel and minimal maintenance to produce power. As gas prices continue to rise, it's important that we continue to work to reduce our dependence on oil.

There is more work to be done, but I believe that these initiatives will help to move our state forward and strengthen the middle class. I want to thank those of you who have contacted me this session, and encourage your input as I work on legislation for next year.

Ward, a Woodbury Democrat, represents House District 53A in the Legislature