Scalze, Isaacson discuss 2014 legislative session

Around 50 people braved ice-coated roadways on Saturday morning to attend a town hall meeting at the Roseville Public Library, hosted by State Representative Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview, and State Senator Bev Scalze, DFL-Little Canada.

The District 42 lawmakers provided a preview of some of the issues being addressed this legislative session and discussed what their priorities would be, prior to opening up the floor for questions from constituents in the room.

Isaacson and Scalze fielded questions from the crowd on a myriad of issues being debated at the Capitol, from tax reform, water conservation and a proposed minimum wage hike, to affordable housing initiatives, anti-bullying legislation, the controversial Polymet mine proposal in northern Minnesota and the problematic MNsure rollout.

The 2014 legislative session commenced on Tuesday, and has been labeled an “unsession” by Gov. Mark Dayton, who wants legislators to focus their efforts on eliminating outdated and redundant laws to increase government efficiency, rather than creating new laws.

“You won’t see a lot of new initiatives,” Scalze said. 

Being an even year, it’s also a traditional bonding year, and both legislators said passing a bonding bill would be a top priority.

Dayton introduced his nearly $1 billion bonding proposal last month. The $986 million bonding bill would be used to fund several major infrastructure improvement projects across the state, including $29 million to revamp roadways near the 427-acre Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP) site in Arden Hills.

A bonding bill requires a two-thirds super majority vote in the House and Senate, and both chambers will draft their own versions of the bonding bill this legislative session before coming together in a conference committee to approve a final draft.

“We think we will have an $850 million bonding bill,” Scalze said.

Isaacson concurred, but said it could inch up closer to $1 billion. Isaacson also noted that for the first time in 10 years, the state has a balanced budget and is projected to have an $850 million to $1 billion budget surplus going into 2015.

“We don’t need to spend the entire surplus. I repeat we do not need to spend the entire surplus,” Isaacson told the crowd, who applauded the statement.

He said the state is looking into doubling or even tripling its reserves over the next five years, so if another recession occurs the state will find itself in better footing.

Priorities this session

Scalze said her top three priorities during this legislative session would be to work to ensure that a bonding bill gets passed, to secure funding to replace the Rice Street Bridge over I-694 and for road improvements around TCAAP.

The proposed TCAAP bill, if passed, will secure $35 million in state funding for construction and reconstruction of highways around the TCAAP site. The proposed bill for the Rice Street and Interstate 694 interchange, if approved, would appropriate $2 million in state funding to complete that project.

Besides passing a bonding bill, Isaacson said his top priorities would be securing funding for the Rice Street Bridge over I-694, the passage of a bill he authored to provide customized training at four community colleges to prepare students for skilled manufacturing jobs and a new bill he will introduce this session to bring vocational training back into high schools.

Isaacson -- who is a college professor -- said there has been a big push at high schools over the past 20 years for college readiness with four-year liberal arts degrees, but he believes there needs to be more options for students who may not fit that mold but still want to gain valued skills needed in today’s workplace.

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824.

 

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