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Viewpoint: Calling for caution and a focus on the basics

Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, represents District 53 in the Minnesota Senate. She can be reached at (651) 296-4166 or susan.kent@senate.mn.

A key ritual of the legislative calendar took place last Wednesday: the February state budget forecast which determines the fiscal situation for the new legislative session. After last year's budget bills, I urged caution in this forum. I know "be careful" is not an exciting message, and it wasn't a message my Republican colleagues embraced in the last session. But with our modest $329 million budget surplus, the legislature needs to be cautious in 2018, and focus on improving the basics of government for middle-class families.

Any ongoing spending or tax changes we pass this year, the second year of the budget cycle, will cost double — or more — in the following two-year budget cycle. That's why I'll be fighting for us to keep to the basics this year in the supplemental budget and tax bills. The core functions of government need to operate efficiently. We've seen here in Minnesota and elsewhere that neglecting the basics can have serious repercussions.

This year we need to shore up our outstanding pension obligations. To ignore those responsibilities puts retirees and their families at risk. In addition, unfunded pension needs are taken into consideration by credit ratings agencies, and leaving these needs unmet could jeopardize the state's sterling credit ratings. I won't risk that. These kinds of obligations only become more expensive. We've seen what has happened to Illinois's credit ratings as its pension obligations have been ignored for too long. It's time for Minnesota to act.

I am hearing loud and clear from my community that the legislature must act on school and gun safety. How many more children and families need to be devastated by tragedy before we take seriously the needs of our schools? In 2016, we passed my bill to increase mental health services, guidance counselors, and psychologists in our schools — adding to this program is a smart place to start this year. I'll be pushing to take other necessary gun safety steps as well. When two out of three Americans think we need to act, it's time.

Another basic function of government we need to address is the security of our state-administered data. Technology changes constantly, and as it does, so should our technological security measure. Businesses know this well — far too many have learned the lesson the hard and expensive way. Last year the state's IT agency fended off more than three million malicious attacks every single day, and our elections infrastructure was targeted by Russian hackers. We are vulnerable right now. Funding cybersecurity systems needs after a successful hack is utterly irresponsible, especially when we have the means to address our cybersecurity and protect Minnesotans.

The state's budget forecast shows Minnesota is fiscally stable enough to pass a comprehensive bonding or infrastructure bill this year. Our area has infrastructure needs I'll be bringing voice to again this session. The 94/694/494 interchange has a serious price tag, but I'll be fighting to get it on MNDoT's list of projects so we fund this project for purposes of public safety and to improve the congestion we all know too well. I'll also be working for the HERO Center, a regional public safety training facility that is in the design phase of its development and which is a joint project of Woodbury and Cottage Grove.

You may have noticed that even when we are focused on just the basics of government services, we still have a pretty full plate. Your voice is important to me as we develop a supplemental budget that serves middle class families. With just 11 weeks left in this legislative session, I'll need to hear from you more than ever. I welcome Capitol visits, phone calls, and emails from constituents, and encourage you to watch this forum for my next town hall. Thank you for staying engaged!

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