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Commentary: Federal stimulus welcome, but temporary fix

As you've heard, the president signed a federal economic stimulus package into law this week. There are many opinions about the details of this package, but I think there's one point everyone can agree upon: our national economy needs a shot in the arm.

We're losing more jobs, more homes and more retirement earnings every day, and the country simply couldn't afford to delay action any longer.

You also may have heard that this package holds significant, direct benefits for the state of Minnesota. In total, it's estimated the state could receive as much as $9 billion from the package, although that number seems to change daily.

Some very important provisions are included in that sum. The package will provide more than $1 billion for "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects that can be up and running quickly. This is a key piece of the package that will most quickly translate into new, lucrative jobs for thousands of Minnesotans.

Minnesota also will be the beneficiary of the $45 billion set aside to help build and repair schools and improve higher education facilities.

Our state will benefit from new Byrne grant funding, which will keep police officers on the beat across the state. In addition, unemployment benefits will be extended through the end of 2009 with a $25 per-week increase in benefits. The bill also temporarily suspends the taxation of the first $2,400 in unemployment benefits. This should provide extra support to the thousands of job-seeking Minnesotans who need help to endure this ongoing recession.

Even with all of this help, it is important to remember this money is a one-time delivery to the state of Minnesota. We cannot count on another $9 billion coming our way anytime soon so we have to make these dollars last as long as possible. A very small portion of the stimulus money is specified for helping solve immediate budget deficits that many states are facing. Most of the funds are targeted -- as they should be -- at immediate, job-creating and economy-stabilizing projects.

This means lawmakers now have two challenges: continue to work on solving the current deficit, and focus on new policies that will help us sustain any economic benefits received through the stimulus package.

It would not be good to quickly spend this infusion of money without looking at ways we can turn these one-time monies into long-term economic engines for our state. If we are creating new jobs, we need to find a way to sustain these jobs in the future. This means creating a stronger economy that can support these jobs, which can only be done through responsible budgeting.

This stimulus package underscores my continued focus on solving the state's budget deficit with long-term, sustainable fiscal policies.

It's fine to use one-time funds to help achieve budget stability in this biennium, but we need to look two and four years down the road and make sure the budget we create is sustainable in the future. We do not want to end up solving a major budget deficit again just two years down the road. We also do not want to be facing the same unemployment statistics and bleak economic circumstances in years to come. The state needs comprehensive solutions that rely on much more than short-term, one-time fixes.

Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, is a member of the Minnesota Senate and vice chairman of the Senate Taxes Committee.