As the new year begins, I look forward to another legislative session in St. Paul. The 2019 legislative session brings many changes and new faces to the state capitol.

From a new DFL-House majority to Governor Walz, I look forward to working across the aisle this session to accomplish the top priorities of Minnesotans. I would also like to welcome Representative Brad Tabke, D-Shakopee, to St. Paul. While I have known and worked with Brad for years when he was the mayor of Shakopee, we now get a chance to work together at the capitol representing all community residents in the southwest metro.

Over the last two years, I am proud to have authored into law numerous bills that make life better for our community, as well as Minnesotans across the state. Some of those bills include chief-authoring REAL ID legislation so that Minnesotans can fly domestically hassle-free, numerous consumer protection bills, and a fundamental restructuring of Minnesota’s teacher licensure process so that more qualified teachers can be placed in the classroom.

This session, the Legislature is tasked with balancing our state’s budget for the next two-year period. In December, the office of Minnesota Management and Budget released its budget forecast which projects our state to have a budget surplus of $1.544 billion. The state’s budget reserves, also known as the “rainy day fund,” total $2.075 billion, the highest number in Minnesota state history.

This is largely due to a responsible state budget that my legislative colleagues and I passed into law two years ago. We increased education funding across the board, made the largest ongoing investment in roads and bridges in a decade, and implemented the most significant middle-class tax relief package in nearly two decades, benefiting seniors, students, farmers, main street businesses, and working-class families across Minnesota.

Faced with more than a $1.5 billion surplus for this budget cycle, we are adequately prepared to accomplish the top priorities of Minnesotans while holding the line on taxes. It is important to note that while MMB projects a surplus for the next two years, the agency predicts the surplus will decline by over two-thirds in the following budget cycle due to slowing economic growth. This means any ongoing spending increases made by the Legislature this session could face uncertain funding circumstances in the very near future.

An early top priority of Minnesotans and the Legislature this session will be passing tax conformity legislation. Last session, the Legislature passed a comprehensive tax conformity bill to align Minnesota’s state tax code with changes made to the federal tax code. Since Minnesota’s state income tax is based off the federal government’s tax code, any changes made by the U.S. Congress directly impact our tax laws. Because the governor vetoed our legislation last year, our tax code is now unnecessarily complicated. It is critical we pass a tax conformity bill right away this session so that Minnesotans can avoid needless headaches at tax time.

In addition to being re-elected assistant Senate majority Leader, new this year, I will be chairing the Senate Committee on Jobs & Economic Growth Finance and Policy. Our focus as a committee will continue to be an expansion of Minnesota’s workforce and shrinking the “skills gap.” While Minnesota’s unemployment is the lowest in nearly two decades, employers are faced with under-qualified applicants for open positions. We will again look to support workforce training opportunities in our state, including apprenticeship and internship programs.

Finally, I will continue to champion ideas that will help address the growing special education cross subsidy. Special education costs continue to rise, with many schools facing budget difficulties. By assembling a working group comprised of stakeholders on this issue, we discovered several solutions to cut unnecessary red tape that special education teachers face every day in trying to educate our students. With these reforms, we can begin to bend the cost curve of special education funding downward.

As always, please reach out with questions, concerns, or for help with any issue. My number is 651-296-4123, my email is sen.eric.pratt@senate.mn, and my address is 95 University Avenue W., Minnesota Senate Bldg, Room 3219, St. Paul, MN 55155. Thank you for the honor of serving you in the Minnesota State Senate.

Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, is a state lawmaker who represents District 55, which includes Shakopee, Jordan and Prior Lake. He serves as assistant Senate majority leader and chairman of the Jobs & Economic Growth Committee.

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