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Rep. Jay McNamar: Three bills will have big impacts on community

ST. PAUL -- We had three bills come through the House floor this week that will each have huge impacts on our communities. We voted on the Health and Human Services bill on Monday, the Education bills on Tuesday and Thursday, and the Taxes bill on Wednesday.

The major concern I had throughout this session with Health and Human Services was the need to get nursing home and long term care workers a pay increase. The work these people do is honorable and it requires a lot of sacrifice. After fighting for them the whole session, I’m happy to say nursing home workers will receive a 3 percent increase and long term care workers will receive a 2 percent increase in pay. They deserve even more, but this is a good start, especially in a tough budget year. I also personally put an amendment on the bill that would reduce nursing home per bed taxes by $440 starting in the next biennium.These surcharges are really tough for our nursing homes and my plan is to eliminate them all together over time. 

Even with these positive provisions, I wanted to make a point and vote against this bill. I voted against it because a surcharge is being assessed on hospitals and it may put their financial stability at risk. Other new positive revenue may also come in from the federal government, but it’s still going to be very tough. We’re going to work hard to ensure we fix it in the future, but I couldn’t support that kind of financial uncertainty for our local hospitals. Overall, there are still many positives for workers and nursing homes in particular. But we need to do better for our hospitals. 

The two education bills, covering early education all the way up to higher education, were both passed this week as well. I’m extremely excited about these bills. The bills include scholarships for early childhood education, funding for every day kindergarten, an increase in the funding formula for grades 1-12, and increased funding for colleges that will freeze tuition for the next two years. Education has been kind of neglected the past few years and this is the session where we put it back on top of the list of priorities. If you’d like to know how your specific school will do in terms of new funding, let me know.  We have numbers for each school district and I can tell you, they are all very positive. And now, when students graduate from high school, they won’t be facing tuition increases at our state colleges.  

Lastly, I have to talk about Local Government Aid (LGA). In our tax bill, there are some increases. But nearly every single person in our district is going to come away with a lot of benefits. Only those making more than $400,000 a year will pay more in income taxes. Meanwhile, cities and counties are seeing big increases to their local aid. Many of our communities will see increases in the double digits.  Elbow Lake for example will see an increase of 15 percent, and they aren’t alone. We’ve also simplified the formula that determines what everyone gets because it used to be overly complicated. These increases to local aid will help communities bring their local property taxes down and the new formula will help them set their budgets much easier from year to year. On top of that, we’ll be funding renters credits and property tax relief for homeowners. The bottom line is this: our communities did very well this session. This being my first term, I couldn’t be more proud of our work.