Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, represents District 7 in the Minnesota Senate. He may be contacted at (651) 296-4188.
- Member for
- 3 years 9 months
We are eight weeks into an 18-week legislative session. With the release of the February forecast showing yet another strong set of financial signs that Minnesota's economy is recovering and improving, there will be a flurry of activity as the Legislature works to finalize the state's two-year budget.
There is an exciting and tangible sense of revitalization in Duluth today. We have come a long way from the days of dim prospects and dire projections. Our unemployment numbers are low, our economic development partners are making key and strategic decisions and we have made huge progress in transforming our city into a diverse and successful regional hub. We have accomplished much under the direction of strong, progressive leaders who recognized the opportunities of building relationships on behalf of Duluth.
As you read this article, the 2015 Minnesota Legislature has begun its work. Newly elected members of the House have been sworn in and a new speaker of the house has been elected. The committees charged with putting together the state budget for the 2016-17 biennium have begun their work. As a Democrat, returning to St. Paul in the minority brings a new perspective to me. My first term was spent in the majority, a term in which so much work on behalf of all Minnesotans was accomplished. In fact, that session was one of the most productive in decades.
With all the discussion about transportation needs across the state, one would conclude that surely the upcoming legislative session will prioritize them. After all, between crumbling state roads and bridges, county roads, municipal streets and township roads, it is fairly easy to demonstrate the very critical infrastructure issues. But as usual, politics will be interjected. Hard to believe, I know, but the tired debate about whether there is a need for transit spending in the metro area will take center stage.
Winston Churchill famously said democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. Some of us may have felt that way as we watched the election results pouring in last week. I am greatly honored that you again put your faith in me and reelected me to the state House of Representatives. But I am, at the same time, saddened that many of my colleagues from around the state won't be returning with me. But I respect the process and the voice of the voters.
The United States is finally beginning to emerge from the Great Recession. The last jobs report had U.S. employers adding 248,000 jobs last month, well over the expected 215,000 economists were predicting. The unemployment rate dropped from 6.1 percent to 5.9 percent, falling below 6 percent for the first time since before the recession. Minnesota has fared better than most states. Our unemployment rate in August was 4.3 percent, the lowest it has been in nearly eight years. But it took almost six years to get back to where we were before the housing bubble burst.
High-quality access to the Internet is easy to take for granted, especially in our area, where it is readily available. But we shouldn't. It is more than a distraction for many, especially those in our business community. For them, it is a significant engine of economic growth.
In the 1970s, our state was the envy of the nation. Our "Minnesota Miracle" gave local municipalities relief from skyrocketing local property tax rates by sending them state dollars — aka Local Government Aid (LGA) — to help them pay for essential city services while freeing up more aid for education. It was a system that worked for decades.
When it comes to taxes, everyone fixates on that April 15 deadline. And while you do need to make sure that you get your federal and state income taxes in by that date, it’s easy to neglect filing your property taxes — especially if you assume you’re not eligible for a refund. That would be a shame, because thousands of Minnesota families might be throwing away money they’ve earned. The legislature made great progress in the last year and a half on one of our top priorities: reining in rising property taxes. We were reminded this month of that progress.
I have watched with interest the community discussion on how Duluth should fund its transportation needs into the future. I give credit to the City Council and to Mayor Don Ness for taking on this issue. Funding a well-maintained transportation network is one of those necessary functions that no one enjoys, but at the same time, it benefits everyone. Duluth is like many other cities across our country — suffering from deferred maintenance, funding shortfalls, industry needs and public demand.