Minnesotans won’t pay a higher gas tax, schools will have a little more money per student and recently released inmates could get job skills training under legislation that passed the Minnesota Legislature supported by Shakopee Sen. Eric Pratt.
Pratt and fellow Republican Rep. Tony Albright said they’re particularly proud of what Republicans were able to block during the recently wrapped-up session: Gov. Tim Walz’s proposed 20-cent increase on gas taxes over several years.
Republicans held fast to objections that the tax increase was too big or unnecessary. Albright noted the the tax hike was just one of many proposed.
“There was a whole host of taxes and fees that amounted to billions of dollars, and those weren’t enacted,” he said.
The proposal will remain dormant until at least Feb. 11, the start of the next legislative session.
Pratt said he felt the Senate found good compromises at the session’s end. Though he didn’t agree with everything in them, Pratt voted for all budget bills. He was particularly pleased with the education bill, which increases per-pupil funding by 2% each year in the upcoming biennium.
House Democrats originally aimed to increase the formula by 3% in 2020. School districts around the state, including Shakopee, have cut millions of dollars in spending on teacher salaries and athletic and academic programs to balance their budgets.
Pratt said the 2% increase was a good compromise.
“The session had its challenges, but we worked through them in such a way that we came out without a government shutdown,” he said. “When you’re the only politically divided state in the country, you have to find some compromise.”
Pratt said one bill he wanted passed would have made one of a schools’ five annual fire drills a non-evacuation drill, allowing students to stay in place during the alarm. The bill, which he authored, was in response to gun violence in U.S. schools, notably the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018.
In the Parkland incident, the gunman pulled the fire alarm to draw students and teachers out of their classrooms. Jordan Superintendent Matt Helgerson supported the bill.
The bill passed the Senate Public Safety Committee but stalled in the House despite bipartisan support.
“Sometimes provisions fall off, especially when you start working on the budget,” Pratt said. “It wasn’t so much that the House hates the bill rather than it was just a victim of the process.”
Pratt said the bill will come back, however. Albright authored the House companion bill.
This session Pratt served as chairman of the Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy Committee for the first time.
“We have a 3% unemployment rate and a 70% labor participation rate, which is good, but it still means we have a lot of unemployed Minnesotans. We looked at removing (that) barrier,” he said.
That includes pushing for multiple grant appropriations for workforce development, like job training for recently released inmates.
“I like to think the Legislature has provided a second chance for people who have hit their lows,” Pratt said.
Albright said his personal best this session was, in part, memorializing a route between Jordan and Highway 61 near Miesville as the Richard J. Ames Memorial Highway after Dick Ames, founder of Ames Construction.