Halfway through the 2016 legislative session
It's hard to believe, but we are already nearly halfway done with the 2016 legislative session. It has been a fast and furious pace this year. The pace and timing has forced legislators, staff, interest groups and constituents to be both disciplined and realistic about what can be accomplished in this very narrow window. While challenging, I am reminded that for nearly the first 125 years of Minnesota state history, the Legislature was truly part-time and only met for five months every two years.
Lately, both legislative bodies have had committee deadlines on their minds. In a two-year period, more than 3,000 bills will be introduced in each body. Committee deadlines are essential to turning that bulk of introductions into the 200 or so that actually get signed into law.
On April 8, the Senate reached its second committee deadline, which means bills must have received a hearing in a policy committee in both the House and Senate in order to continue moving through the legislative process. On April 15 the third committee deadline hits, which means all bills must have been heard in a finance committee and either passed to the floor of the House and Senate for a vote or be sent to the tax committee.
As the session progresses, my top priorities remain passing a significant bonding bill, a comprehensive and sustainable transportation bill and an updated tax bill. These are major pieces of legislation and Minnesotans expect the Legislature to work on these fundamental issues. At this point in the session, none of these bills are guaranteed passage. Most concerning is the potential for current tax revenue to be diverted to transportation and the potential for the bonding bill to become essentially a transportation bill.
The purpose of a bonding bill is to preserve state-owned assets. Minnesota is a large state with thousands of buildings, water treatment systems, universities and colleges, parks and prisons. If the majority of a bonding bill is dedicated to transportation, many important projects won't get the funding needed for critical repairs. Closer to home, that could mean repairs to Superior Street in downtown Duluth may not move forward, or the Lake Superior Zoo's vacant Polar Shores exhibit would continue to languish. Bonding bills help create jobs and spur economic development. They work best when they support a broad range of projects.
To truly address Minnesota's aging transportation infrastructure system we must pass a comprehensive transportation funding plan. Simply diverting existing tax revenues and using one-time bonding dollars will not cut it. In 2015 — a budget year for the State of Minnesota — we did nothing. Minnesotans know that each year we fall further behind in maintaining our transportation infrastructure. We know what we need to do here in Minnesota to care for our roads, bridges and transit systems because we are confronted with the deferred maintenance daily. Let's put partisan politics aside and pass a comprehensive and sustainable plan.
There are five solid weeks ahead of us before the Legislature must adjourn. These will be long weeks with plenty of negotiation, but I remain optimistic the Legislature will do the work Minnesotans sent us to St. Paul to do and pass legislation that matters and moves Minnesota forward.
Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, represents District 7 in the Minnesota Senate.