Column: What to expect in St. Paul this session
LUVERNE — The elections are over and the new legislative session is almost upon us. When legislators convene in Saint Paul on Jan. 8, we’ll get to work right away on the myriad of important issues that await action. Republicans have maintained a majority in the state Senate, while Democrats will take over as the majority party in the state House of Representatives and Gov.-elect Tim Walz, a Democrat, will succeed Governor Dayton.
With that, here’s a look at some of the things to expect this legislative session:State budget
Perhaps the most pressing issue this session will be the assembly of Minnesota’s entire state budget for the next two years. Last month, the office of Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) released its annual November budget forecast. The forecast, which details the state’s finances, projected a surplus of $1.544 billion for the upcoming two-year budget cycle — the largest budget surplus in state history.
A budget surplus means the state has over-collected from its taxpayers. The forecast shows our economy is on the right track, which means we can fund the priorities of Minnesotans without raising taxes. As we work with Gov.-elect Walz and the new House of Representatives majority on a responsible two-year state budget, we can do it within our current means; that means we should halt any talk of a gas tax increase or any sort of a fee increase.
We also must work to bring Minnesota into compliance with the tax law changes made at the federal level. Because the governor vetoed our legislation last year, it is critical we get tax conformity done right away this session so Minnesotans won’t have to deal with that headache at tax time.
Finally, we must continue to address the health care costs — particularly in rural communities. We’ll explore ways to make health care more affordable and more accessible, while increasing transparency within the industry.Transportation
One of the first priorities announced by Gov.-elect Walz was his intention to raise gas taxes this year. However, we can make a substantial investment in our roads and bridges — particularly across Greater Minnesota — without raising taxes. Over the last two years, the legislature has done more to fund road and bridge repairs than any legislature in over a decade, using existing revenue.
Raising the gas tax would be a burden felt disproportionately by those who can least afford it. When the gas tax goes up, companies increase their prices. With a projected budget surplus, we should not be asking Minnesotans to pay more — especially lower- and-middle income Minnesotans.
In a recent court order, an administrative law judge has upheld the legislature’s authority to delay implementation of the Nitrogen Fertilizer Rule, a proposed rule from Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration to reduce nitrate levels in groundwater across Minnesota. Under the proposed rule, restrictions would be placed on soil applications in certain areas of the state based on soil types. Last year, the legislature invoked its authority under the law to delay the rule’s implementation until after the conclusion of the 2019 legislative session, and the judge has agreed the legislature was within its authority. The agricultural industry is already applying many points of the rule in their best management practices. This is about government overreach as bureaucrats — many of whom know nothing about farming — try to regulate the industry.
In addition, some important legislative initiatives that were undone by the governor’s veto last year will be looked at again this session, including expanded access for mental health treatment in rural communities — something critically important, especially given the tougher times on the farm.Concluding thoughts
With a new administration in St. Paul, I’m hopeful we can start with a blank slate. There are real challenges facing Greater Minnesota and working together, across the aisle, we can get things done.