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Paul Marquart: Giving thanks for economic progress

The holiday season is a time of year when Minnesotans pause to reflect on what we’re thankful for.

As a member of the Minnesota Legislature, three things come to mind: an honestly balanced state budget, new investments in education to help every child reach his or her full potential, and a steadily improving economy thanks to hard-working Minnesotans and businesses throughout our state.  

To truly appreciate the progress we made in 2013, it’s important to take a step back and look at where we were roughly one year ago.

Before the 2013 Legislative Session kicked off on Jan. 8, Minnesota faced a $627 million budget deficit, owed debts totaling over $800 million to our schools, and shouldered one of the worst achievement gaps in the entire nation. We suffered a decade of disinvestment, damaging our ability to compete for good jobs and give our kids the tools needed to succeed in the classroom.

The new DFL-led legislature didn’t waste any time addressing those challenges. We rolled up our sleeves and got to work on Day One.

After countless hours of talking with constituents, listening to public and expert testimony in committee hearings, and debating dozens of bills on the House floor, we wrapped up the 2013 Legislative Session on time and passed an honest state budget that sets Minnesota up for economic success.

The results speak for themselves.

First, take a look at the current state of Minnesota’s finances.

The DFL budget paid off the $627 million deficit we inherited from Republicans and established a plan to accelerate repayment of the money borrowed from our schools by previous legislatures. We recently learned that Minnesota is currently facing a projected surplus of over $1 billion, allowing us to fully pay back the remaining school shift. This means Minnesota is standing on sound fiscal footing for the first time in years. 

Second, consider the short and long-term impacts of new investments in our children’s education.

New funding for every school this year and next is reducing overcrowded classrooms so more students can get the one-on-one attention from teachers needed for academic success. We targeted investments to efforts and strategies with proven results and where taxpayers get the most ‘bang for their buck,’ including areas like all-day Kindergarten and early learning scholarships. It’s a strategy designed to close achievement gaps, better prepare our kids for college or a career, and build the ‘world’s best workforce’ — the kind that attracts and retains major employers and can compete in an increasingly global economy over the long haul.

Third, check out Minnesota’s monthly jobs reports and our unemployment rate.

Employers have added nearly 50,000 jobs over the last year. By August, we had regained all the jobs lost during the Great Recession. And our most recent jobs report shows that Minnesota’s unemployment rate fell to 4.8 percent in October. That’s one of the lowest rates in the country and well below the national unemployment rate of seven percent.

The facts paint a bright picture that should give us every reason to be optimistic about our future.

However, not every Minnesotan has felt this recovery. That’s why lawmakers plan to take some key steps during the 2014 Legislative Session to build on our positive momentum so more people can find a good job to support themselves and their families.

For example, expect state lawmakers to pass a strong bonding bill next year that funds shovel-ready projects throughout Minnesota, like improvements to our roads and bridges that create jobs, enhance safety, and help speed the flow of commerce. We are also committed to increasing the minimum wage, which hasn’t been raised since 2005 despite the increasing costs of goods like gas and groceries.  

As we prepare to wrap up 2013, signs show that we’re on a path toward economic growth and greater prosperity for the middle class. That’s something all Minnesotans can give thanks for.

(Paul Marquart, of Dilworth, is a DFL member of the Minnesota House. He chairs the Education Finance Committee and is currently serving his 7th term.)