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VIEWPOINT: Money is better in hands of individuals

The 2016 legislative session kicked off earlier this month, and we are set for a fast-paced, 10-week session.

With a $900 million surplus available, I will be working with House Republicans to get a comprehensive road and bridge bill passed, as well as middle class tax relief legislation. But in addition to those large ticket items this year, I also am advancing several other pieces of legislation that will benefit people in Woodbury and around the state, streamlining local government, expanding education options for families and helping more than 2 million Minnesotans keep more of their hard-earned money.

First, I hear over and over again from constituents that we need to streamline and reform government to eliminate redundancies, save taxpayer money and remove barriers to economic growth. Washington County government is doing just that, and with my legislation to give the Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) economic development authority, we're allowing two areas of local government to streamline into one, share resources and eliminate a local tax levy.

This change was requested by the county and will rename the entity the Washington County Community Development Agency (CDA). The CDA will work to coordinate county-level economic development, adhering to guiding principles including that the private sector is the lead driver of our local economy and that business attraction and retention in our communities is essential.

We all want Woodbury and the east metro to be a place for investment and growth, and this plan is a win-win for local taxpayers, for local businesses and for our community.

In addition to streamlining government, this session I also want to put parents in the driver's seat of their child's education. My legislation to create an Education Savings Account (ESA) for students with special needs will empower parents to choose education options that best fit the needs of their child, offering them more choice and flexibility, as well as removing financial constraints.

I am proud of the public schools we have in our state with dedicated educators committed to helping our children learn and grow. However, schools do not always have the resources to meet the needs of every child with special needs or learning challenges. When parents find that traditional special education models don't work for their child, they want other options.

My pilot project legislation would allow parents to use the student's allocated funding provided by the state and put that into an ESA, allowing them to spend those dollars on education for their child including tuition, education-related therapies, textbooks and tutoring. Whether the child has Down syndrome, autism or another learning challenge, the ESA program, which has been implemented in other states, will help increase opportunities for children with special needs and help them thrive academically.

Finally, to put more money back in the pockets of Minnesota families, I am advancing a state personal exemption tax credit bill this year. The credit can also be extended to dependents and reduces a taxpayer's taxable income equal to 25 percent of the federal exemption. A family of four could save around $300 a year if this becomes law and in all, it would benefit 2 million Minnesotans statewide.

Money is always better in the hands of individuals and the private sector instead of government, and I am hopeful that my legislation becomes law this year for the hardworking taxpayers and people in our community.

If you have thoughts on these bills or other things happening at the State Capitol, I welcome you to share thoughts with me, as your input is valuable and guides me toward supporting legislation that best serves our community. Please don't hesitate to call, email or stop by my office. I am here to serve you!

Kelly Fenton represents Minnesota House of Representatives District 53B. She can be reached at 651-296-1147 or rep.kelly.fenton@house.mn.

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