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Column: A great session for Greater Minnesota


DILWORTH — We face unique economic challenges in Greater Minnesota that are too often ignored by our policymakers in the State Capitol. But these last two years were different. The Minnesota State Legislature has just completed the 2014 session, and it was an excellent session for us in Greater Minnesota.

Just look at the progress that was made — for our rural schools, for our rural small businesses, for our seniors and for hardworking families.

Property taxes in rural Minnesota dropped in 2014 for the first time in over a decade due to the new Homestead Credit Refund and important investments in our local communities. That’s a big difference from 2012, when property taxes went up eight times more on rural homeowners than those in the metro after the Homestead Credit was eliminated. Farmers will receive new property tax relief to help offset increasing land values and resulting property tax increases.

In total, more than 2 million Minnesotans will see a smaller tax burden due to our actions to reduce tax burdens for Minnesotans.

We did raise taxes in 2013 to balance our budget and invest in education, but we raised them in a way that was pro-Greater Minnesota. The majority of our taxes were raised on the wealthiest 2 percent of earners and by closing corporate tax loopholes. There’s no question that reducing property taxes while closing corporate tax loopholes is a good tax policy for Greater Minnesota senior citizens, families and businesses.

Strong schools in Greater Minnesota are the backbone of our community, but underfunding, cuts and borrowing have threatened the health and sustainability of our rural schools in recent years. This legislature made education its top priority. Not only did we fund all-day, every day kindergarten across the state and completely pay back our schools, we narrowed the gap in funding between metro and rural schools. After a decade where the funding equity gap between metro and rural schools increased by 67 percent, we enacted legislation that cut this unfair funding disparity by a third in just two years.

After a decade where college tuition doubled, we said enough is enough and froze tuition for two years at our colleges and universities to help families and students.

Rural nursing homes and home-based care receive a 5 percent funding increase after years of cuts and disinvestment that will help assure high quality care for our senior citizens and persons with disabilities.

The unique challenges facing our economy in Greater Minnesota have meant our economic recovery has been harder to come by. We took direct steps to accelerate our economy in Greater Minnesota, create jobs and build for an economy to last in the future.

This year we invested $20 million to expand Broadband Internet access in Greater Minnesota. Expanding high-speed Internet to rural Minnesota will help local businesses grow and compete with companies around the globe, improve educational opportunities and help people lead healthier lives.

We also put an emphasis on attracting and retaining new businesses. We invested in programs like the Minnesota Investment Fund, which will help local businesses expand and bring new jobs to Greater Minnesota. Our statewide bonding bill was another key victory for Greater Minnesota, putting people to work repairing roads, bridges, schools, and important local infrastructure in communities across Minnesota.

We have been fighting for Greater Minnesota these past two years, but we have much more to do. Our economy still lags in some areas of Greater Minnesota. Many rural schools continue to play catch-up after a decade of under-funding. And our local businesses face unique challenges.

We can keep moving forward by focusing on the basics that matter to Greater Minnesota. Things like further work to reduce funding gaps in our schools, additional investment in broadband infrastructure and job creation, and keeping our budget balanced into the future. What we can’t do is go backwards. We don’t need a return to borrowing from our schools, higher property taxes and the gridlock-style of politics that shut down our government.

Let’s go forward instead of in reverse. Greater Minnesota will grow stronger as a result.

State Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL – Dilworth, is the chair of the House Education Finance Committee.