Divide still exists between House, Senate proposals

Published 5:37 pm Saturday, May 9, 2015

With only a week left of the 2015 Legislative Session, bills have moved into conference committee to resolve differences. The House and Senate are facing large divisions between their budget proposals. I’ve been appointed by Senate leadership to two conference committees — the Jobs, Commerce, and Energy Committee and the Environment and Agriculture Committee. Being named to both of these conference committees means I will have a voice and a say in the negotiations with the House as we work to get these bills to the governor.

We need the governor and legislative leaders to agree to budget targets, so we can assemble the final language and specific budget items. With that in mind, I thought I would highlight areas in which the Senate bill has focused on helping rural Minnesota. Let’s start with legislation that specifically addresses workforce housing and workforce development needs in rural communities throughout the state. The Senate tax bill includes $5 million for 2016 and $7 million in 2017 for the workforce housing tax credit, which I was proud to chief author. This new program incentivizes developers to build in low-vacancy communities that have a real need for market-rate housing. The Senate jobs bill also helps on this front by investing in a Housing Job Growth Initiative, which is used for grants to Minnesota communities experiencing low vacancy rates and anticipated job expansions.

When it comes to jobs and economic development, the Senate DFL made a big push. We fund a brand new program for rural career counseling coordinators to help connect job seekers in rural parts of the state with jobs in their communities. The Senate jobs bill also makes an additional investment in the Adult Workforce Development Grants program, which helps people find and retain employment.

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The Senate’s commitment to rural Minnesota can be seen throughout our budget. From prioritizing our aging school buildings by adding $31 million for repairs and maintenance, to increasing protections for rural land owners when the value of their ag land increases by more than 8 percent in a year — we’ve put together hundreds of provisions that show our commitment to rural Minnesota.

In addition to the conference committees I sit on, there are many other budget bills being negotiated between the Senate and House. In the Health and Human Services bill, the House has chosen to eliminate MinnesotaCare, leaving behind 90,000 low wage workers who through this program are able to access affordable health care insurance. The House has also moved to stop the past few years of tuition freezes at MnSCU and University of Minnesota campuses across the state, which is likely to force the schools to raise tuition as much as 3 percent. They also provide no new funding for the U of M Medical School, in sharp contrast to the Senate’s $25 million investment to support more research.

Time is short and a lot will happen in the next week, but I promise my constituents I will always be fighting for them.

If there are any other issues you’d like to see addressed, please feel free to contact my office at 615-296-9248.