Goals met during first part of session

The Legislature has been in session for more than a month, and in that time, we’ve made good on commitments to address some of Minnesotans’ biggest concerns right away.

In the first week of the session, both houses of the Legislature worked speedily to pass historic legislation that will give Minnesotans a choice about investing in things they love most about this state. The legislation proposes an amendment to Minnesota’s Constitution that will dedicate three-eighths of 1 percent of additional state sales tax revenue for outdoor and cultural heritage.

If voters approve the amendment on the November 2008 ballot, about $276 million a year for the next 25 years will be invested in the cleanup of polluted lakes and rivers, the protection and preservation of outdoor recreation and natural resources, and the enhancement of arts education and cultural programs.

I’m very excited about what came in week two. The House and Senate passed a bipartisan, comprehensive transportation investment package that will help restore our whole transportation system, including a metro-wide transit network, over the next decade. The governor hastily vetoed that bill, but overwhelming public concern about our state’s transportation future convinced Republicans and Democrats to stick together and override the governor’s mistake.

Tremendous economic opportunities from creating jobs, easing congestion and gridlock, and helping to combat global warming will result from our action. A Trunk Highway Bridge Improvement Program is created to ensure that Minnesota’s bridge repair and replacement is prioritized according to safety.

Also on the transportation front, embattled Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau was removed from her job when the Senate denied her confirmation in February. This opens the door for a qualified engineer or transportation expert to lead the department. Also, a bill to compensate I-35W bridge survivors is progressing quickly through both chambers. The bill likely is headed for a conference committee, where a compromise proposal can be developed to ensure those affected by August’s tragedy receive support.

A significant capital investment bill, as well as a tax bill, has passed the Legislature. The bonding bill focuses on using bonding dollars to spur economic development and new jobs throughout the state by bolstering our higher education institutions, transit projects, cultural amenities, clean water facilities. The tax bill is significantly pared down from the version the governor vetoed at the end of the 2007 legislative session, but it does contain important provisions that line up Minnesota income tax deductions up with federal deductions so that filing 2007 taxes is streamlined. We are very hopeful the governor will sign both of these bills.

The focus for the rest of the session likely will be on the budget.

February ended on a sour note, revealing a $935 million budget deficit for the rest of the 2008–2009 budget cycle. That is $562 million more than was projected in November 2007, and quite close to the catastrophic 2003 budget deficit that yielded major budget cuts to vital safety net services.

The forecast highlighted the dire need for job-creating policies and long-term investments in Minnesota’s economy. We are just beginning to analyze whether the governor has addressed this need in the budget proposal he released on March 7. The Legislature is committed to thoroughly reviewing his recommendations and identifying areas where we can agree to move forward to create budget-balancing policies and responsible, long-term investments that will position
Minnesota for future success.

State Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-60) represents neighborhoods in Southwest and Downtown.