The House DFL leadership last week announced a plan to fund Greater Minnesota, including two high priority education needs: high-speed broadband Internet expansion and Ag2School tax credits. MREA members identified both of these as top issues for the 2016 legislative session that convenes March 8.
This package includes $100 million for high-speed broadband Internet access to rural parts of the state, $50 million in agriculture property tax credits which could come in the form of an “Ag2School” bill, $45.5 million in additional Local Government Aid to municipalities, and $40 million in County Program Aid.
The “Ag2School” tax credit will provide a credit against agricultural land property taxes equal to 40 percent of the school general debt service tax. Eighty-five percent of the credit will be funded through a state appropriation and the remaining 15 percent will be funded through a uniform statewide tax applied to all agricultural land.
“It’s time to level the playing field for Greater Minnesota and that won’t happen unless this Legislature truly makes greater Minnesota a priority,” said House Deputy Minority Leader Rep. Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth), noting that a number of the DFL proposals for the 2016 session have been introduced previously.
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This proposal aims to address a major challenge in rural Minnesota: a lack of broadband Internet access. Marquart said it is not fair that 94 percent of Twin Cities homes have access to high-speed Internet while just 61 percent enjoy it in rural Minnesota.
Both DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and House DFLers want the state to pay $100 million to expand broadband. House Republicans passed just $10 million last year, which Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, said attracted $86 million of federal funds.
House Republicans have also touted a focus on helping greater Minnesota; Republicans recaptured control of the House last year after flipping nearly a dozen rural seats during the Nov. 2014 election. In this election year, Republicans are trying to maintain control of the House, Democrats see an opportunity to regain the majority by taking a handful of rural GOP seats. However, neither side wanted to explicitly talk about how rural Minnesota could flip power in the House.
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Republicans are determined to keep the House, to prevent complete DFL control of state government. The Senate map currently favors the DFL and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton will remain in office through 2018. The race for the White House could also have a yet unknown influence on local legislative contests, which so far have been fruitful enough for unconventional candidates to keep campaigning.
The 2016 Legislative Session begins March 8th and is constitutionally bound to adjourn by May 23rd.