A balanced budget that addresses priorities

Published 5:48 pm Saturday, June 1, 2013

By Dan Sparks

DFL-Austin District 27

We came into this session with a commitment to stabilize Minnesota’s budget honestly and finally end the decade-long rollercoaster of nearly constant deficits.

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Not only did we erase the state’s $627 million deficit, we funded critical investments in education, economic development and property tax relief. These are priorities people across Minnesota share, and this year we delivered.

First, we made a historic $725 million investment in education for all learners — from early education and all-day kindergarten, to reduced class sizes and restored equity in our K-12 system. Senate District 27 school districts will see an increase in per-pupil funding under the basic funding formal. This budget also includes a new student achievement levy, reform and reinstatement of the integration aid program, and targeted investments in special education and career and technical programs.

Out of the $725 million invested in education, $250 million of that goes toward new investments in higher education. With this money, we are freezing tuition for all University of Minnesota and MnSCU schools for the next two years. The bill also provides increases to state grant programs, expands aid eligibility to part-time students, and raises the award total available with the average grant increased by more than $180. Changes to the state grant formula mean more money in our students’ and families’ hands.

The Legislature’s plan for the next biennium also provides nursing homes with their first increase in four years and their largest in the last decade. The 5 percent nursing home rate increase, the elimination of the 1.67 percent rate cut, the 1 percent rate increase in our elderly waiver program and the Home and Community Based Services rate increase will all infuse much needed dollars into this important industry that serves our elderly population.

This year’s budget package also includes $441 million in property tax relief to begin remedying policies that have caused Minnesota property taxes to more than double over the past decade.

Other property tax provisions that will provide direct relief are an $86-million increase to the Homestead Credit Refund program, and a $15.5-million increase to the Renter’s Property Tax Refund program.

Also through reform and increased aids to local governments: $80-million increase in Local Government Aid to cities, which includes formula reform to stabilize funding and better matches funding amounts to a city’s needs; $40-million increase in County Program Aid; $10-million Township Aid reinstated; and a new formula based on percentage of agricultural land and other factors. We also created a sales tax exemption for cities and counties, which is expected to save $172 million in the first year and a $38-million K-12 levy reduction across Minnesota.

We accomplished a great deal this year, and I am confident in the budget we passed for Minnesota.

It is not only fair and honest, but it creates long-term economic stability, values education and helps stimulate economic growth across the state.

The legislature has adjourned now until late February 2014, but if you have any questions or concerns during the interim, you may still contact my office at: sen.dan.sparks@senate.mn or 651-296-9248.