Jobs will be focus of 2010 session

Published 7:02 am Friday, January 29, 2010

The 2010 legislative session officially begins Thursday, Feb. 4. Given the amount of work facing legislators this year, however, many committees already have started meeting and processing as much work as possible before the official start-date. We want to be ready to pass bills as soon as the session begins.

If I could sum up the focus of the 2010 session in one word, it would be: Jobs. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about the recent economic downturn, it’s that growing jobs and putting Minnesotans back to work are the best things we can do to spur rapid and long-term economic recovery for our state. I am Vice Chair of the Economic Development and Housing Budget Division, which will spend much time working on this job-creating legislation this year.

I also serve on the Capital Investment Committee, which will play a key role in 2010. This year is billed as a “bonding year” for the legislature, meaning much of our time will be dedicated to approving low-interest borrowing for infrastructure projects across the state.

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Previous bonding bills have been credited with creating more than 10,000 new Minnesota jobs. During tours of contending cities this fall, the committee also learned there are dozens of projects that are ready to begin as soon as the frost lifts this spring. That means in the matter of a couple months, we could put thousands of people back to work through one piece of legislation.

The committee also learned this fall that now is the best time to bond, as the economic downturn has meant significant savings to taxpayers on things like building materials and labor. For example, a major construction project at Bemidji State University will be completed for nearly $3 million less than originally budgeted. The state would be very misguided to not take advantage of this opportunity to improve Minnesota’s infrastructures and create new jobs at such a low cost.

In November, state economists told us the state has a $1.2 billion budget shortfall for the current fiscal period. That means one of the main priorities of this session will be finding money to fill the gap to make sure the state’s programs and services don’t run out of money.

The first option we will consider to save money is streamlining government. There is much inefficiency that can be eliminated in order to reduce costs at the state level — identifying those options is one of the main tasks committees have started to address in their early meetings.

The legislature also will be considering several spending reductions to save money. The state has made some serious budget cuts in recent years, and all of those have consequences — in many areas, state cuts have meant less snow-plowing this winter, or higher fees for some licenses, or maybe even reduced health care services. The legislature needs to be extremely careful in considering other budget cuts that are available, since every dollar has the potential to impact people across the state.

Finally, reforms will be a big part of the 2010 agenda. It’s clear that the current economic downturn is producing long-term changes in the way the state, nation and world conduct business. Old rules simply don’t apply anymore, and it’s time for Minnesota to adapt to this new economy and find ways to move toward success in the future.

Aside from the economic development committee, I also serve on the Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee; the Business, Industry and Jobs Committee; the Capital Investment Committee; and the Energy, Utilities, Technology and Communications Committee. Please feel free to contact me anytime this session with questions related to these or any other issues at the Capitol. You may reach me at (651) 296-9248;; or Room 317 State Capitol, St. Paul, MN 55155.

– Dan Sparks, Minnesota State Senator