Words from Wiger: End of session wrap up

MN State Senator Chuck Wiger, District 43

The 2018 legislative session ended a few minutes before the constitutional deadline on May 21. Although there were some disappointments during the three-month session, there were some definite bright spots for our area.

Key accomplishments include funding for completion of the trail around White Bear Lake, funding for a new Engineering and Applied Technology Center at Century College, approval of a public pension compromise solution, adoption of the 3M water quality settlement into law, resolution of the Maplewood firefighter pension issue and approval of the St. Paul water treatment plant procurement process.

Determined to maintain Minnesota’s fiscal stability, Gov. Dayton vetoed both the supplemental spending bill and the tax bill. I hope that before next session, which begins January 8, 2019, a number of unfinished matters — especially several proposals needed for tax reform and school safety — can be resolved.


Lake Links Trail receives state funding

The strong, tireless support of Lake Links Trail advocates resulted in the Minnesota Legislature including funding for the trail in its 2018 capital investment legislation.

On the last night of the session, the Senate passed the capital investment bill, which was already passed by the House. Dayton is expected to sign the bill.

The legislation includes $4 million for Lake Links. The money will be used for the design and construction of the multi-use paved trail around White Bear Lake.

The Legislature also approved $22,000 that will be divided equally between White Bear Lake and White Bear Township. This corrects a technical problem that arose from the trail funding that was approved last session.

I’m especially proud of the bipartisan support we received for the project. It is amazing what can be accomplished when advocates and individual local governments come together in support of common needs.  This would not have occurred without the support of all the local cities and Ramsey County.

The 10-mile-long trail around White Bear Lake will provide a safe place for walking and biking. The completed trail will connect to existing regional trails including the Gateway and Brown’s Creek State Trails.

For more information, please visit www.lakelinks.net. The group’s annual ride around White Bear Lake will be held Sunday, June 17. Watch that website for more details to come.


Century College receives funding for applied tech center and building repairs

Century College will receive $6.4 million to create an Engineering and Applied Technology Center on East Campus as a result of the passage of the capital investment legislation by the Minnesota Senate and House.

The new center will be located next to the Fab Lab, which was remodeled with funds from a bill that I chief authored. An adjacent welding laboratory will be upgraded.

The need for graduates who are trained in engineering and technology continues to grow. This program will produce graduates ready for high-demand, high-wage careers.

Century also will be receiving $5 million to fix roofs, replace windows, restore masonry and upgrade heating and cooling systems. That money will come from the Higher Education Asset Preservation and Renovation funds included in the capital investment bill. 


Pension bill approved

The omnibus pension bill has passed the Legislature and is approved by the governor. The bill represents a shared-sacrifice approach to ensure the long-term stability of public pensions.

The compromise bill reduces cost-of-living adjustments for retirees below 2 percent, but allows flexibility for increases to 1.5 percent over time. Increasing contributions from active employees and employers augments the assets of public pensions.

The state also provides financial assistance to school districts and other public employers to reduce pension liabilities.

The reforms in this bill increased both employee and employer contributions.


Supplemental spending and tax bills vetoed

One of the biggest bills approved by the Legislature this session was a $131 million supplemental spending bill that filled nearly 1,000 pages.

The bill’s various provisions addressed a host of issues from efforts to curb opioid addiction to protecting vulnerable adults.

The bill also included additional money for schools, mostly for school safety initiatives and my plan for increasing cybersecurity. However, the spending bill did not include the $138 million that Dayton requested in emergency aid for schools to avoid layoffs. It also did not include additional funding for the successful, award-wining Race2Reduce water conservation program, despite great testimony from students and teachers.

Money for schools was included in the tax bill, but it was mostly existing funding that would be moved from teacher training and community education. Another $50 million would have been taken from the school land trust fund.

The governor vetoed both the supplemental bill and the latest tax bill.

He said if the issues had been negotiated and come to him as stand-alone bills, he would have approved them. But when the majority party wrapped everything into omnibus bills filled with policy that favor the wealthy, he warned leaders that he would veto the bills. And he did.

Commissioner Myron Franz said the state’s surplus, going into the next session, will be around $287 million after funding for bonding projects and pensions is deducted.


Senate passes 3M water quality bill

On the last day of the session, the Senate unanimously passed a bill that puts into law the $850 million settlement with 3M on the subject of PFC water contamination.

The bill, which I co-authored, supports clean drinking water, transparency and accountability. It affects the communities of Oakdale, Woodbury, Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park, Afton and Grey Cloud Island.


Maplewood firefighter pension issue resolved

The issue of how to dispose of the assets of the Maplewood volunteer firefighter pension fund has been resolved. 

This solves a problem that has been going on since the beginning of the year when Maplewood decided to go to a full-time fire department and terminated its 19 volunteer firefighters.

Rather than litigate and spend money on lawyers, the city and the fire relief association have come to an agreement to dissolve the pension plan, provide full vesting for all terminated firefighters and raise the benefit level for those firefighters.

An amendment that I authored essentially divides the surplus in the pension plan that existed at the end of last year equally between the volunteer firefighters and the city. I am pleased that the parties have worked out an agreement.


St. Paul Regional Water Services gets go-ahead

I was pleased to author a bill that enables St. Paul Regional Water Services to use design build procurement process to upgrade the McCarron water treatment plant in Maplewood.

This process allows for a design firm and contractor to bid the process together, unlike the design bid build process, which requires the project to be designed, bid and then built.

The McCarron water treatment plant is 100 years old and provides water to St. Paul and the east metro. This is a large, retrofit project and design-build will reduce risk to the ratepayers and limit the need for expansive change orders.

It is estimated that this project will cost about $130 million. The project will be paid for out of regional water rate payments.


Jim Miklausich confirmed for PELSB Board

Jim Miklausich, a former principal and teacher for School District 622, has been confirmed as a member of the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board.

The new PELSB was created after a working group in 2016 directed changes to how Minnesota licenses its teachers. The new law removed the MDE licensing function and placed it all with a new board.


Early Childhood Champion Award

I was pleased to receive notification that I have been awarded the Early Childhood Champion Award from the Start Early Funders Coalition, which includes MinneMinds.

The group has invited me to receive the award at an event on Tuesday, June 5, at the Science Museum. The award recognizes leaders who are dedicated to early childhood education.


Never give up

Elected members of both the Senate and the House, with the help of dedicated staff members, did a lot of good work together this legislative session. But, as always, there is more work to be done.

I look forward to hearing what ideas you have before we begin the 2019 session on Jan. 8, 2019.


Please contact me with questions or suggestions regarding any issue. I encourage you to visit me at the Capitol, or let me know if you would like me to stop by your home or apartment. I can be reached by email at sen.chuck.wiger@senate.mn, and by phone at 651-296-6820. My cell is 651-770-0283.

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