I was a pleasure to meet with representatives of Minnesota State University-Moorhead this week at my legislative office in St. Paul. As chairman of the House committee on higher education, I appreciate opportunities to hear what people from colleges and universities throughout our state have to say.
We are nearing the end of Week 2 in the 2018 session at the Capitol and maybe the biggest headline item came on Wednesday when we learned the state has a $329 million budget surplus.
That news came from Minnesota Management& Budget as it issued the state’s February economic forecast, one of two complete finance reports issued each year. The $329 surplus translates to a $518 million surge since November, the largest three-month spike in 20 years.
It is good to see continued economic growth here in Minnesota. With last year’s tax cuts, some feared we cut too much, but that doom and gloom some were suggesting is not playing out. In reality, the continued growth we have seen has allowed us to strengthen our reserve accounts, provide historic tax reductions and still leave us in position to do more good this session. Conformity with federal tax changes will be at the forefront of those discussions, so stay tuned for more on that as the session develops.
On another subject, House members conducted a press conference this week to address Minnesota’s new vehicle licensing and registration system. The litany of problems with MNLARS has been well-chronicled and the gathering with the press took place in order to unveil a bill which puts responsibility for fixing this system where it should be: in the hands of the Dayton administration.
The bill would require the Dayton administration to source the $10 million it says is needed to begin fixing the broken system. This proposal comes after investigative reporting suggested the Dayton administration ignored several red flags and launched the new system despite knowledge that it would not function properly. The result has caused headaches and frustration for customers and DMV workers across the state.
Minnesota taxpayers deserve a system that is capable of effectively delivering services and should not be expected to continue paying more and more to cover up for government’s mismanagement and failures building this system. We all want MNLARS to function properly, but also need to prepare for the worst-case scenario. On that note, another bill being drafted would study the feasibility of using a commercial vendor to replace MNLARS instead of relying on the same government agency which has struggled with this project to fix the problem.
As for committee work, the House’s higher education panel which I chair has been conducting informational meetings to start the session. Some of this involves education groups coming to our committee to provide updates on what has transpired since the 2017 session ended some nine months ago. The Midwest Higher Education Compact and the Office of Higher Education are a couple of groups we heard from this week.
Have a good weekend and I will be back soon with more news from the Capitol.