MARSHALL - Work on some important bills came down to the wire this year, but Minnesota Senate Majority Leader David Senjem said overall the 2012 legislative session was a positive one for the state.
Senjem, R-Rochester, made a brief stop in Marshall on Monday afternoon to discuss the session, which wrapped up last week.
Senjem said the Republican legislative majority made strides toward its goals of creating jobs and restricting the expansion of government in Minnesota. Minnesota went from a $6.2 billion deficit in 2011 to a $1.2 billion surplus this year, Senjem said, and financial forecasts look positive, he said.
"It just seems like we're coming out of this recession, at least in Minnesota," Senjem said. He said Minnesota's unemployment rate is at 5.8 percent, compared to a national average of 8.2 percent.
"Looking back from where we are now, it's virtually night and day," he said.
The projected surplus will also be good news for education, as more than $300 million borrowed from the public school system to balance the budget could be paid back. Senjem said Republican legislators support repaying the borrowed funds from 2011 as soon as possible.
Other legislative achievements this session included passing a $496 million bonding bill, and passing the Minnesota Vikings stadium bill. Action on the bill lasted until the very end of the session, but Senjem said that seems to be the way things go.
"The stadium bill will be judged in the eye of the beholder," Senjem said. However, if the object was to keep the Vikings in Minnesota, he said, "I think the bill got it done."
Senjem said two major concerns voiced by businesses around the state included tax rates and government regulations, especially environmental regulations. While "we haven't necessarily given up" on environmental protections, Senjem said the caucus supported provisions that would take out some of the obstacles faced by private businesses. For example, people seeking permits from the Department of Natural Resources will be able to use the services of a permit engineer, which would speed up the permit process.
Senjem said a revamped tax bill, after one that Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton had vetoed earlier, will be "a very important bill for us to pass."
The second bill put forward by Republicans includes Tax Increment Financing funds and a freeze on inflationary increases in commercial property taxes, as well as other measures meant to stimulate economic investment, like an "angel investment" tax credit.
Senjem said Republican legislators will continue to support the bill and hope that the governor signs it.
Working with Dayton has been challenging at times for the Republicans, Senjem said.
"We had 26 bills with bipartisan support that were vetoed," he said. Many bills seemed dead on arrival, he said. "For us, it is a little disappointing."
Although it takes time, Senjem said, legislators are learning how best to approach the governor for more positive results.