While $650 million in tax relief and a historic investment in roads and bridges may be the signature achievements of the 2017 legislature, District 16A Rep. Chris Swedzinski said there is more worth noting.
“From new K-12 education funding to local bonding projects, broadband expansion in Greater Minnesota and support for our local governments, this session has a wide range of successes,” Swedzinski said. “The more the dust settles after adjournment, you start to realize just how many good bills we passed to help Minnesotans.”
A few other highlights Swedzinski pointed to include:
• K-12 education – The state’s new two-year budget features $1.35 billion in new K-12 education money for the upcoming biennium – a 2-percent increase in each of the next two years.
Meanwhile, House Republicans successfully championed smarter investments for our children by targeting dollars toward proven early-learning initiatives while also advancing policies to address the state’s teacher shortage – primarily in rural Minnesota.
• Agriculture – An emphasis this year was placed on combatting emerging noxious weed threats – palmer amaranth in particular – along with an investment in the future of ag practices and technologies. There also is $35 million for Rural Finance Authority loan programs to support beginning farmers, agricultural improvement, debt restructuring and livestock expansion.
• Environment/natural resources – A new law is geared toward streamlining environmental review, implementing new agency efficiencies and protecting landowners from government overreach.
Soil and Water Conservation Districts, along with counties, have the ability to issue waivers on compliance with new buffer laws for up to eight months.
Swedzinski said new buffer zone regulations are simply not ready for enforcement as scheduled this November, but added this provision gives landowners more time to meet compliance guidelines.
“In a perfect world we would have been able to take stronger action against buffers,” Swedzinski said, “but this is a pet project of the governor’s and he was not willing to compromise on this legacy project of his, despite its serious flaws.”
Legislation Swedzinski authored to place a moratorium on state agencies implementing ditch-mowing policies was enacted.
• Bonding – The bonding bill that was enacted provides $987 million in capital investment for projects throughout the state, with the vast majority going toward infrastructure – $254 million for roads and bridges, $172.9 million for water/sewer and $112 million for asset preservation. Some regional projects also are funded in the bill, including:
• A $270,000 grant is provided for the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute to make upgrades at its Marshall and Waseca facilities.
• $1.95 million for Pioneer Public Television to construct a new facility and purchase/install operational equipment in Granite Falls.
• Brawner Lake at Camden State Park receives a share of $4.4 million in emergency funding for state-owned dam repairs.
Aside from these bills, legislation also passed to provide $20 million more for broadband expansion in rural Minnesota, to freeze tuition at two- and four-year colleges and universities in the 2018-19 school year, to stem the opioid epidemic and more.
County Program Aid is funded at $25 million each of the next two years, while another $15 million is provided for Local Government Aid in both years as well.
“There always is more you wish could have gotten done, but I’d say we did well to support our priorities, especially with divided government in St. Paul,” Swedzinski said. “Now we’ll spend the next several months meeting with folks back in our districts to put together a blueprint for 2018.”