Editor’s note: The following editorial appeared in the Marshall Independent on Tuesday.
Unless you’re a rural city government leader or someone who adamantly wanted a hockey/soccer facility built quickly in Marshall, there’s a general consensus the results of the 2008 legislative session were good for the state.
And lawmakers, too — after weeks of bickering, they pulled together for two firm weeks of talks that led to a bipartisan agreement on the budget and other issues to wrap up the session over the weekend.
Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, both marveled at the outcome. Pawlenty called it a “sight for sore eyes,” and Kelliher told the Associated Press the session will be remembered as ”the most productive legislative session in a very, very long time.
”We got the job done and we have produced results for Minnesotans,” she said.
Big winners in the session include users of the state’s roads, who will see a dedicated gas-tax increase lead to more road improvements; and property owners, who will see a bigger pool of money for property tax refunds, and a 3.9 percent cap on property tax increases — meeting the goals of both parties to rein in rising property tax costs. More property owners will be eligible for refunds, and the maximum refund will be $2,300.
Good news for health care
Health care advocates also fared well. Nursing home workers should get pay increases and about 12,000 more Minnesotans will be extended health insurance. Also, patients will be able to more easily find information about the cost and quality of health care — perhaps helping them make more competitive choices — and how to promote healthy lifestyles.
A drawback on the health care side is that some hospitals may see state reimbursements reduced.
Locally, Southwest Minnesota State University did very well in the bonding bill passed last month: SMSU will receive about $9 million for science and hotel/hospital labs renovation and expansions.
SMSU also got another $200,000 for planning for another phase of science lab work and about $1.6 million in asset preservation/maintenance money — funds that will go toward completing a central chiller system, and toward the greenhouse and planetarium.
“We did well,” said SMSU assistant vice president Bill Mulso.
One other local bonding request didn’t do as well: Community leaders had sought $100,000 for planning of hockey/soccer facilities to further Marshall’s efforts to be host to regional amateur sports events.
The request was line-item vetoed by Pawlenty, setting back Marshall’s plans.
Hockey/soccer request will return
Yet, the community will try to line up other events using existing facilities and go back to the Legislature for the funds in the next bonding session. Marshall already has the official stamp of approval as a regional amateur sports center from the state amateur sports commission, because of its proven track record of hosting events and existing facilities. The commission had said the only area lacking in Marshall is more facilities for soccer and hockey, two of the biggest participation youth sports.
There’s also a worry that the property tax cap will hamper city services or force cuts to those services — “we are going to put some stress” on local governments, state Sen. Tom Bakk, the DFL chairman of the Senate Taxes Committee predicted.
Lawmakers tried to ease that concern by allowing for leeway if a levy is increased for more law enforcement or firefighters, but lawmakers like state Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, have said legislators had to respond to a tide of complaints about property tax increases.
The AP reports the reforms will save property taxpayers about $78 million in 2009 and more than $460 million over the next three years.
That’s not bad money, the kind that should ease most of the complaints lawmakers have gotten.
In the end, a lot of bills were passed with bipartisan support and the session was done on time — no special session needed. Right there, that makes the session better than most recent years’ have been. Hopefully, the results — a nearly billion-dollar bonding bill, property tax refunds and more — will prove to be economic stimuli to a state sorely in need of them.
That would make the session truly memorable.
Reprinted with permission of the Marshall Independent.
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