Column: A session of progress for Minnesota and Duluth

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There are two ways to fairly judge the work of the DFL-led Min-nesota Legislature over the past year and a half.
One way is to examine what we accomplished since we first convened on Jan. 8, 2013. The list is quite long. Under DFL leadership, we:
• Invested nearly a billion dollars in Minnesota’s education system, from our earliest learners to those in college.
• Fully funded all-day, every-day kindergarten for every Minnesota child.
• Invested in early learning scholarships aimed at closing the achievement gap.
• Paid back in full the billion dollar IOU that previous legislatures borrowed from our children’s schools to balance their flawed budgets.
• Froze college tuition for students going to the University of Minnesota and MnSCU schools after a decade of historic tuition increases.
• Made critical investments to grow our economy in Greater Minnesota, such as broadband infrastructure, economic development resources and farm-to-food shelf legislation.
• Put middle-class Minnesotans first with the $1.2 billion surplus, providing $550 million in tax cuts to more than 2 million Minnesotans.
• Passed $178 million in direct property tax relief, which allowed property taxes to go down statewide for the first time in a decade.
• Balanced our budget honestly — asking wealthiest Minnesotans and corporations to pay their fair share to make investments in education, job creation and property tax relief.
• With the help of our budget and a growing economy, turned a $627 million deficit into a $1.2 billion surplus.
• Raised Minnesota’s minimum wage to $9.50, raising the wage for over 325,000 Minnesotans.
• Passed the Women’s Economic Security Act, which aims to close the gender pay gap and strengthen workplace protections for pregnant mothers.
• Provided the first increase in funding for nursing homes and long-term care providers in more than four years.
• More than 200,000 Minnesotans have obtained high-quality, affordable health insurance through MNsure, many of them for the first time in their lives — and at the lowest rates in the nation.
• Gave everyone the freedom to marry the person they love.
• Passed legislation that will give law enforcement and prosecutors more ammunition to tackle the growing problem of synthetic drugs.
• Invested in several important Duluth projects through a robust capital investment package like the planning and design of a new Chemical Sciences and Advanced Materials Building at the University of Minnesota Duluth and an Allied Health Science Building at Lake Superior College.
That is quite a list. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t tell the story of a fourth-grader who is finally shining in class because his teacher has more time to give her a little attention due to a smaller classroom size.
It doesn’t tell the story about the UMD student who now might be able to graduate a couple of quarters early because he doesn’t have to work a part-time job to meet the cost of rising tuition.
It doesn’t tell the story of the family that was able to put a few extra bucks in their savings because property taxes declined.
It doesn’t tell the story of the worker who found one of the more than 50,000 jobs created in Minnesota in the last year and a half.
But there is another way to judge our stewardship of the state, and that’s by looking at where the state was two years ago. I encourage everyone to do just that.
What they will see is a Republican-controlled Legislature that:
• Shut down our state government for a record 21 days in order to protect corporate special interests.
• Borrowed over $2 billion from our schools, refusing to balance our budget honestly.
• Protected tax breaks for corporations at the expense of property tax relief for Minnesota homeowners.
As a result of the elimination of the Homestead Credit, property taxes increased in Minnesota by over $300 million.
• Voted to raise taxes an average of $213 on senior renters and disabled renters who make less than $55,000 per year.
• Voted for the biggest cut in funding to higher education in our state history.
• Cut funding to seniors and Minnesotans with disabilities by millions — all while protecting every penny from the wealthiest Minnesotans and big corporations.
This is not spin; this is the record.
We’ve gone from job losses to job gains. We’ve gone from budget deficits to budget surpluses. We’ve gone from skyrocketing property tax rates to declining property tax rates. We’ve gone from starving our children’s schools to investing in their classrooms again.
We have a lot more to do to make sure that we continue moving in the right direction. I encourage all Minnesotans to look back at where we came from. The key is to just look back, not go backward.

Erik Simonson (DFL) is the Minnesota state representative for District 7B.