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Difficult session has some bright spots for region

Sen. Dan Skogen, DFL-Hewitt, said he was disappointed that the 2009 Legislative Session ended without a budget deal with the governor, but was proud of the Legislature's efforts to responsibly balance the state's historic $6.4 billion deficit.

"What we saw during the 2009 session was two very different visions for how the state should respond to the most difficult budget deficit in a generation," Skogen said. "In January, the governor released a budget proposal that relied on one-time accounting shifts and expensive borrowing schemes to mask the real problems facing our state. In response, the Legislature laid out a more responsible approach, which sought even more cuts than proposed by the governor, along with permanent revenue increases to bring long-term stability to the state's finances. Unfortunately, the governor refused to even negotiate with lawmakers on a plan that could have protected schools, nursing homes, and hospitals."

The 2009 Legislative Session met under the cloud of the biggest deficit in Minnesota's history. At $6.4 billion, Minnesota's deficit was one of the largest per-capita deficits in the nation. When adjusted for population, it was even larger than the massive $41.5 billion deficit facing California. Per capita, California's deficit was $1,129. Minnesota's is $1,226 -- nearly a hundred dollars higher for every man, woman, and child in the state.

While the scope of the state's budget deficit required lawmakers to make many difficult funding decisions, Skogen said he was pleased that several initiatives he worked on were signed into law. This includes:

• A $300,000 appropriation to fund the design and construction of a highway overpass over U.S. Highway 10 and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad tracks in Staples. City officials say building an overpass is integral to public safety in the area, as emergency vehicles often wait considerable periods of time when trains are passing through the intersection. In addition, the project will provide a north-south corridor between Todd and Wadena counties. Federal funding is available to help pay for the project, but is contingent on the city securing a financial commitment from the state.

• A compromise proposal to allow the use of mini trucks on county, city, and township roads, if approved by the local authority. Mini trucks are small, compact pick-up trucks which feature four-wheel drive, high fuel efficiency, and safety features similar to a full-size automobile. They are commonly used on farming and hunting land, but are currently prohibited on Minnesota roads.

• The creation of special Gold Star motor vehicle license plates for family members of military service personnel who have died in active military service. Skogen carried this measure in the Senate, and was able to include it in an omnibus veterans' bill.

• Establishment of a new rebate program to help homeowners and small businesses to undertake wind, solar, and geothermal projects.

• Approval of nearly $400 million for the environment, wildlife habitats, and arts and cultural heritage projects, funded by the voter-approved Legacy Amendment. Skogen chaired a Senate subcommittee on the arts and cultural heritage portion of the spending, and was successful in directing nearly three-quarters of the money for regional art councils and statewide historic sites.

"This was an extremely difficult session, and many tough decisions had to be made," Skogen said. "While I'm disappointed we couldn't come to terms on a long-term budget balancing solution with the governor, I am pleased we were able to move forward on some important initiatives for our region."

For more information, contact Skogen's Capitol office at (651) 296-5655 or