State Legislators From Duluth Reflect on Recent Marathon Session

DULUTH, Minn. —

The podium was well-lit at “The Garage,” in the Kirby Student Center at University of Minnesota Duluth.

Students have recently departed for the summer, and just last week the Minnesota State Legislature completed a marathon session that included an overtime vote for a billion-dollar bonding bill.

Now, arriving early Tuesday morning at that podium at UMD, the three state legislators representing the city of Duluth reflected on this past session.

The tone was bittersweet.

“The party in control this year decided to reflect a set of values that I did not hear from my constituents in Duluth,” said first-year Rep. Liz Olson, referring to the Republican-controlled State House.

Olson says that despite a surprising amount of bipartisanship on the smaller issues, budget issues that called for a recent special session made her worry about Minnesota’s economy.

“It was really disappointing to see the process as it transpired towards the end,” said, after complimenting her colleagues’ hard work.

Late last week it took state representatives until after midnight at the end of their session to pass a bonding bill that would provide vital funding for a few projects in Duluth.

Just passing the bill was seen as a victory, but for these Democrats, this is far from a victory dance.

“To some degree this session obviously didn’t result in the catastrophic failure that we saw last year,” said Democratic Senator Erik Simonson.

Sen. Simonson remembers all too well when around this time last year, a $1.8 billion bonding bill failed by a single vote.

They weren’t above to call a special session in the few months that followed.

“I’m hopeful that we’re starting to learn our lesson that the more work you do on the front end, the smoother the end gets,” Sen. Simonson said.

Senator Simonson, Rep. Olson, and Rep. Jennifer Schultz all spent time lamenting the amount of money the new proposed budget would provide for higher education.

“I’m very disappointed because the lack of funding for the University of Minnesota overall could mean higher tuition for our students,” Rep. Schultz said.  “We’re already fourth and fifth in the country for the number of students with student and the size of that student debt when they graduate.”

UMD did get approved funding for a new building, but the $1.6 million that would be allotted won’t be enough to fund all of the school’s proposed projects.

All three legislators quoted the new tax bill as one obstacle in robust education spending for the state.

“If you’re going to take a pool of money and you’re going to give it back to folks – wealthy folks with state tax and corporate property owners – it makes it really difficult then to invest in education,” Rep. Olson said.

There were obvious disappointments and setbacks, but the message wasn’t entirely negative.

Senator Simonson did say that he believes there has been an incredible amount of community engagement from Minnesota voters.

“They want to make sure their elected officials reflect their values and their opinions and I think quite frankly I’d be surprised if you don’t see MORE people getting involved in the process than you’ve seen in the past,” he said.

The next legislative session in the Minnesota State House will begin at noon on February 20 next year.

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