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Viewpoint: Economy improving, but everyone should benefit

Thursday, Dec. 5, was a very good day for every Minnesotan.

After years of previous legislatures and administrations using smoke and mirrors to produce budget “surpluses,” Minnesota finally has one without tricks and gimmicks. The Office of Minnesota Management and Budget revealed the latest budget forecast coming in at $1.086 billion in the black for fiscal years 2014-15.

As we promised, our schools were first in line to get paid back. We still owed them $246 million from what had been borrowed from them — just one of those gimmicks used by previous legislatures to balance their books.

Today, the ledger shows that the Legislature has finished paying back those loans — more than $3 billion total — in full. After paying back $15 million borrowed from the state airports fund in 2008, the balance is $825 million.

In just the span of a year, Minnesota has one of the nation’s fastest-growing economies. At the time of the last forecast, we faced a $600 million deficit and an $800 million IOU to our schools. Now, our budget is balanced, and we’ve paid back our schools. We’ve gained 50,000 jobs since last October and more than 10,000 jobs since our budget was enacted in July. A year ago, the unemployment rate was 5.8 percent; now it’s 4.8 percent. There have been 112 announced business expansions through first three quarters of 2013 creating 5,600 jobs over next two years. In just the third quarter (July, August, September), there were 31 announced business expansions, producing 1,200 jobs over the next two years.

Our Republican colleagues have accused us of having celebratory dances in the Capitol rotunda and spiking the ball in the end zone. But DFLers know now is not the time to dance; we’re a long way from the goal line.

We need to make sure everyone is benefiting in our thriving economy. We don’t need to look too far in the past to see that not all Minnesotans have shared in economic boons. Today too many of our friends and neighbors here in south Washington County still are having troubling finding work, putting food on their tables and keeping a roof over their heads.

It is something to keep in mind this holiday season. And one way to put action to thought is by supporting the Friends in Need Food Shelf.

The Friends in Need Food Shelf has been helping people in the south Washington County area for more than 20 years. It estimates that it aids 38,000 individuals a year.

Its efforts get a boost this time of year from the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train, which travels throughout the United States and Canada benefitting food banks. It is visiting more than 150 communities, and big name musicians and music groups traveling aboard the trains play more than 150 free concerts from the boxcar stage.

It makes a stop in Cottage Grove on Dec. 14, and it is bringing with it Grammy Award-winning artist Sheryl Crow and the award-winning a capella group Take 6.

The Holiday Train pulls into the CP Yard, 9250 Ideal Ave., and kicks off with the opening of the North Pole Station at 4 p.m., followed by the concert at 5 p.m.

The event is free, but those attending are asked to make a donation. Everything collected at each show stays in the community for local distribution.

Friends in Need Food Shelf Director Michelle Rageth asks that people consider gifts of cash, food or toiletries (shampoo, toilet paper, paper towels, deodorant, bar soap, toothbrushes, diapers and feminine products).

I encourage all who can attend to do so. You’ll be helping out your neighbors and hearing some great music at the same time.

State Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, represents House District 54A, which includes St. Paul Park, Newport, Grey Cloud Island, part of Cottage Grove and part of South St. Paul.