MARSHALL - Minnesota has made some big strides forward in recent years, but there's still plenty to be done, a DFL party leader said Wednesday.
Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, visited Marshall as part of a state tour during the state legislative recess. The tour has a couple of main focal points, Martin said: to raise public awareness of DFL achievements and encourage participation in this fall's elections.
Martin said there was a definite contrast between the actions of the Republican-controlled Legislature, which was marked by a state shutdown and the DFL-controlled Legislature of the past two years. Under DFL leadership, he said, the state has repaid money borrowed from the public school system, increased Local Government Aid and funding for education, and gone from a $637 million budget deficit to a $1.2 billion surplus.
"The reality is the economy is improving rather quickly in the state," Martin said. That recovery, combined with good state leadership that encouraged job growth, helped get rid of the deficit, he said. When more people are working, more revenue is generated for the state through taxes.
In turn, an increase in state revenue was a big part of what made it possible to cut $508 million in taxes for middle-class Minnesotans and to repeal a trio of business-to-business sales taxes passed at the end of the last legislative session, Martin said.
Martin said so far, the 2014 legislative session has also been a positive one. Two weeks ago, the Legislature passed the Safe and Supportive Schools Act aimed at preventing bullying. And the passage of a minimum-wage increase will help improve the lives of more than 60,000 Minnesotans, he said.
"It's a really positive thing," Martin said of the new minimum wage of $9.50.
Both the minimum-wage increase and the anti-bullying bill were controversial, Martin said. However, he said the ultimate outcome of both bills would be a better quality of life for both working Minnesotans and children. Before the new rate passed, the state minimum wage was below the federal minimum wage. Many people with jobs couldn't make ends meet, he said.
"No one should have to work two or three full-time jobs and still live in poverty," Martin said. Furthermore, he said, a wage increase means more people will be able to spend money on necessities, essentially putting money right back into the economy.
Martin acknowledged that the Safe and Supportive Schools Act will mean some Minnesota schools will need to do more to officially address and prevent bullying than they have in the past. But in the long run, it would help protect students.
"It's worth it," Martin said, especially after Minnesota experienced a wave of young people dying by suicide.
Martin said the DFL is still pushing toward several goals in the remainder of the 2014 session, like a 5 percent raise for long-term care providers and support for Gov. Mark Dayton's bonding bill, which would help improve transportation and infrastructure in the state.