Seifert discusses GOP priorities
WORTHINGTON -- A state legislator from Marshall outlined Republican priorities for the 2006 legislative session in a meeting Tuesday with local media.
House Majority Whip Marty Seifert discussed issues such as property tax relief, transportation, immigration and education funding. He also stressed the need for concluding the 2006 session in a timely fashion.
"Number one, first and foremost, is that we get done on time," said Seifert, a state legislator since 1996 who has served as Majority Whip since 2001. "I think that with the every-day, average citizen, that's what they expect of us. We want to get it done without bickering and without bashing people."
Seifert added that continuing to be responsible stewards of taxpayers is also at the top of the priority list.
"Three years ago, when Jesse Ventura left ... we had a $4.5 billion projected deficit, and now we've got a billion dollars in the bank," he said.
A key objective for lawmakers during the 2006 session will be creating and passing a bonding bill for statewide infrastructure projects. Seifert used the example of the Casey Jones Trail, a multi-use trail extending through Pipestone, Murray and Redwood counties, as a likely bonding bill beneficiary.
Seifert said House Republicans will work diligently to push the transportation project proposal introduced last week by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. The proposal asks the Legislature to agree to $2.5 billion in state borrowing over 10 years dependent upon passage of a constitutional amendment. The proposal would speed completion of a four-lane Minnesota 60 from Worthington to Bigelow.
The amendment, to be placed on the general election ballot in November, would permanently dedicate 100 percent of revenue generated from the motor vehicles sales tax (MVST) to highway and transit needs. Only 54 percent of MVST revenues are currently earmarked for highways and transit.
"I'm very confident that the amendment will pass, and pass easily," Seifert said.
As for property tax reform, Seifert said Republicans are hopeful that steps can be taken to control local levies "now that we made some of the restoration last year in LGA (local government aid)."
"I would be in favor of a reverse referendum," he added, explaining that community residents would be able to put a proposed city budget up for public vote should enough people deem the levy too high. "But it needs to be a grassroots, prairie fire type of outrage ... and not just a few people."
House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said in St. Paul Tuesday that Republicans hope to have nearly $400 million available from a cigarette fee enacted last year by legislators and Pawlenty to help accomplish property tax reform objectives. However, a court recently ruled the fee unconstitutional and the state Supreme Court is slated to hear the case in April -- in the midst of the legislative session.
Asked about proposals introduced by Pawlenty last month regarding measures pertaining to illegal immigration, Seifert acknowledged the issues were complex.
"I think we'll use the governor's proposals as a starting point and we'll probably meld his illegal immigration bill with his immigration bill," he said. "With the illegal (proposals) ... I think those are going to meet with a lot of resistance. There's been a lot of controversy about what's been offered."
Seifert also highlighted Pawlenty's proposal that 70 percent of each school district's budget go toward classroom funding as a priority of Republican lawmakers. Asked about where a new stadium for the Minnesota Twins ranked -- one day after a court ruled the club was not bound to play in the Metrodome after this coming season -- Seifert said it was time for a legislative vote on the matter. He predicted that a stadium package that includes a local sales tax referendum would easily pass though the House and Senate, while a package without public dollars would face greater hurdles.
Seifert also indicated the Republican-proposed marriage amendment is "in the hands of DFL senators" and waiting for a vote.
Capitol Reporter Don Davis contributed to this story.