Dan Sparks — Bonding bill will create jobs for Austin area
By Dan Sparks
Gov. Pawlenty signed the Legislature’s bonding bill this week — something I probably don’t need to tell you, since he picked Albert Lea as one of his signing spots and traveled to Austin later in the day to speak more about the bill.
The reason everyone is so excited about the bill is because of the potential it holds. Bonding bills typically create thousands of new jobs — this one is expected to create upwards of 10,000. In a struggling economy, nothing could be better news. This is one of the most efficient tools the legislature has to invest in needed projects throughout the state and spur economic development in some of the areas that need it most. I’m very happy we were all able to work together and get this bill signed this year.
Specifically, Albert Lea will receive it’s much-needed and much-anticipated $2.5 million to complete clean-up of the old landfill at Edgewater Park. Riverland Community College campuses will benefit from $3.2 million for a new roof on an Austin facility, and $3 million for a new heating and cooling system in Albert Lea. Austin also could receive part of the $30 million appropriation for flood hazard mitigation grants. A regional training facility for public safety officials in Southeast Minnesota will get $3.7 million, and Nicolville, Myrtle and Manchester will see funding to help improve their wastewater treatment systems.
There was a lot of good news delivered to our local areas in the past two weeks. The Senate also passed a tax bill last week that will mean property tax relief for homeowners across the state. The relief is delivered through increased state aid to local governments, which will make up for the drastic aid cuts that have been delivered since 2003.
That was the year when the state essentially pulled the rug out from under many local governments. This caused huge holes in local budgets, which forced most cities, counties and towns to increase property taxes to help pay for things like police and fire services.
In the Senate’s tax bill, almost every local city, county and town will have some of this funding restored, which should take the pressure of local property taxpayers. For example, Austin will see $104,000 more in Local Government Aid; Albert Lea will see $136,000 more in LGA; Mower County will receive $183,000 more in County Aid; Freeborn County will receive $196,000 more in County Aid; and Fillmore County will see $131,000 more in County Aid. In addition, our townships finally will see some restoration of state aid that was completely cut out of the 2003 budget.
Another big part of the Senate tax bill will close a tax loophole that has allowed companies to create off-shore "shell" corporations to avoid paying their fair share of Minnesota taxes. Closing this loophole and increasing corporate tax compliance raises $109 million, which will help close the nearly $1 billion budget deficit facing the state through 2009.
Focusing on closing that budget deficit is what probably will consume the most time between now and the end of session. A conference committee already has started meeting to compare the House and Senate budget-balancing bills. They are working with the governor’s staff as well to develop a compromise solution that will keep program cuts to a minimum and help solve the deficit. The committee has met every day this week and will continue that pace until a solution can be found.
Sparks, DFL-Austin, represents District 27 in the Minnesota Senate.