Tricounty News

Michelle Fischbach - Week in review: Feb. 17-20

The one and only budget plan The House and Senate DFL began a series of hearings on the Governor's budget last week. Meetings were held in Albert Lea, Alexandria, Bemidji, Brainerd, Duluth, Little Falls, Mankato, Marshall, Moorhead, Rochester, St. Cloud, Virginia, Willmar, Winona and Worthington over the weekend. Meetings in Bloomington, Burnsville, Coon Rapids, Forest Lake, Minneapolis, Plymouth, St. Paul, White Bear Lake and Woodbury will take place this week. "Green jobs" Last week, some lawmakers introduced a plan to develop and expand "green jobs" in the state by laying the groundwork for spending federal stimulus dollars on energy-efficiency projects for state and local governments and school districts. One of the group's goals is to create a state body that would help workers looking for green jobs. In addition to funding energy conservation projects for government offices, the bill would direct some of the stimulus money toward weatherizing the homes of low-and medium-income Minnesotans, loans for renewable energy projects and incentives for water recycling. They estimate that 20,000 new jobs would be created and 50,000 jobs would be retained by 2020 if their proposals are adopted. Federal Stimulus Funds We are starting to get more information about funding specific to the states under the federal stimulus package signed into law last week, and what the one-time funding to states may mean to individual Minnesotans. According to Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Tom Hanson, who is coordinating the receipt of funds for the state, Minnesota could receive more than $4 billion in funding through 2011, not counting tax cuts and credits for individuals and families. As state lawmakers, our first concern is what we can do for the gap in the state's budget, which is now approaching estimates of $7 billion. About $2.8 billion will impact our general fund, including $1.8 billion in dedicated medical assistance and Medicaid matching funds. However, much of the federal aid comes with strings that prevent cuts in health-care eligibility. There is also funding intended to delay school-related cuts, possibly pumping $1 billion into Minnesota schools and work-training programs. We have yet to sort out where that funding will go, but expect well over half to go directly to public schools, colleges and universities. It is also expected that 100,000 Minnesota college students will qualify for higher Pell Grants. More than $550 million is earmarked for transportation projects, mostly roads and bridges that are "shovel ready," or ready to go in 120 days. Fortunately MnDOT has been preparing for an influx of federal funds and should be able to take advantage of the full offering. Other funds are targeted to energy programs, sewage treatment and clean drinking water programs. Most Minnesotans will qualify for the "working family tax cut" for up to $800 this year and next, which will be received through lower withholdings on paychecks. You may also qualify under an expansion of eligibility for the child tax credit, a first-time homebuyer credit and a $2,500 college tax credit. In addition, the package contains credits for business losses, extension of deductible capital depreciation, and a deduction for state sales tax on vehicle purchases. Other federal assistance is under "competitive grants" for state programs, organizations and businesses. One of the biggest concerns is that state lawmakers take seriously that the money we get from the federal government is one-time and only serves to partially cushion the blow of the struggling economic situation in the next few years. We cannot make future commitments that will hurt our economy again as we work for long-term recovery. Senator Michelle Fischbach is serving in her 5th term in the Minnesota Senate. She encourages and appreciates constituent input and can be reached at (651) 296-2084, by mail to 145 State Office Building / St. Paul MN 55155 or via e-mail at.