Last fall I went door-to-door in our community asking for your support. I promised I would seek a balanced solution to a balanced budget without relying on gimmicks. I promised to focus on funding for schools that was directed towards closing the achievement gap. I promised to end the decade of rapid tuition increases in higher education. I also promised to focus on growing middle class jobs and property tax relief for homeowners and renters.
I can report back to you that, along with Governor Dayton, the legislature delivered on those promises this session.
We passed a budget that erased our $647 million budget deficit, and remains balanced into the next biennium: no gimmicks, no short term solutions.
Included in our budget was a $356 million tax cut to businesses making it less expensive for them to hire and create jobs.
And, unlike 2 years ago, we finished on time.
In addition to reforming areas of the budget and targeting cuts to wasteful spending or programs that no longer are effective, we raised revenue by closing corporate loopholes, raising the tax on cigarettes, and asking the wealthiest 2% of Minnesotans to pay a little bit more (joint filers with taxable income > $250,000).
The new revenue we raised will go primarily to four areas Minnesotans strongly support.
First, we fully fund all-day, every day kindergarten and invest $40 million in early learning childhood scholarships, two tools proven to improve test scores, close the achievement gap and prepare students for future academic success. We also accelerate the pay back of the money borrowed from our schools and add 3% to the formula over two years.
Second, we make investments in higher education. Our Higher Education Finance Bill provides a $250 million funding increase for higher education. That money will be used for tuition relief and reducing student debt. As a result, Minnesota will freeze in-state tuition at the University of Minnesota and MnSCU system for the next two years.
Third, we provide $400 million in property tax relief, much of which will go directly to homeowners and renters by establishing the homestead refund credit and improving the renters' property tax rebate. The rest will go to cities and counties and to reducing school district levies. For this additional aid, cities and counties will be forced to freeze property taxes for the next year.
Finally, some of the new revenue will-along with our targeted spending cuts and elimination of ineffective programs-go towards eliminating our deficit. It is significant that since our plan does not rely on accounting gimmicks and shifts, our budget is structurally balanced into the next biennium for the first time in memory.
Reforms are a big part of our plan. New spending always deserves oversight, accountability and an expectation of results. For instance, in K-12 education, we are setting standards for schools in our state that are bold but achievable. We want to close the achievement gap and achieve 100 percent high school graduation, 100 percent literacy by third grade and 100 percent career and college readiness - all by 2027. While we may not reach these goals, we send an important message to students, parents and businesses that we will strive to help all to reach their potential to create the world's best workforce.
This summer I will be available to meet with individuals or groups of constituents by appointment. Please contact my Legislative Assistant, Kathy Anderson, if you would like to set up an appointment in the district. I will also be going door-to-door to tell the story of this session and get feedback from the people I represent. If I don't see you, please feel free to continue to e-mail and call. It's been an honor to serve this year. I look forward to continuing to build a better Minnesota in 2014.