Before we get into legislative business, I want to thank all the people who turned out for town hall meetings I co-hosted with Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen in Battle Lake, Perham and Fergus Falls last weekend.
This series of town halls had the best turnout of any I have conducted during my tenure in the Legislature. The number of people who took the time to come and share their thoughts and ideas with us was really impressive. We appreciate the input and the timing was perfect because this week we started to pick up the most important bills of the session in the House.
We heard from a dentist who is concerned about how revenue from a 2-percent provider tax is misused and the fund raided. Representatives of a Perham health care facility reinforced to me their need for an exemption from a moratorium so they can expand by 12 hospital beds. (I am working to enact legislation to make that happen this year.) We also heard concern over a nursing home funding shortage and invasive species in our waterways.
Of course, we also heard pleas from hard-working taxpayers asking to cut wasteful government spending and start using tax dollars more efficiently. I am disappointed to report the House Democrat majority announced this week they plan to raise our taxes by $2.6 billion in order to fund even more spending that is questionable at best.
From what we have seen so far, the budget House Democrats propose is predicated on raising taxes to increase spending faster than our revenue is growing. Furthermore, the tax increases they are looking to pass are suspect.
They want to raise the cigarette tax from 48 cents to $2.83 a pack, but people will quit. They are looking to increase the alcohol tax by 50 percent, but people will make purchases across the border. They plan to raise taxes on job creators, but those businesses may think about moving their operations out of Minnesota, something I have heard directly from area shop owners. This all could result in a loss of revenue, potentially resulting in a budget shortfall.
The Vikings stadium plan is an example of how inaccurate revenue projections can be and these proposed tax increases could be hard to predict as well. Then what? We could come back to the Capitol in two years and find ourselves in another fine mess.
The session is scheduled to end May 20, so time is running down on the process to put a new state budget in place for the upcoming biennium. We are spending more time on the House floor these days as we receive the Democrat majority’s budget bills. Two of them we saw this week are in the areas of ag/environment and jobs. Here is a quick overview:
The first budget bill (HF 729) was approved Monday, a $436 million proposal that’s designed to promote economic development in Minnesota. While the goal of the bill is to grow jobs, the only ones authors of the bill could guarantee were at least six new full-time government positions. This bill spends nearly $55 million more on commerce and jobs programs over the next two years, but there’s little evidence to suggest it will actually produce results for unemployed Minnesotans.
On Thursday, the Minnesota House approved a comprehensive agriculture and environment finance proposal (HF 976) that spends $822 million in order to better protect our land, air, and waterways and promote the ag industry. Of top concern is the load of fee increases included in the bill. The most controversial include water permit fees, lake property, and a “product stewardship” recycling program, which will directly increase the price of paint, carpet, and all batteries that you use for products in your home. These are things that will hit all Minnesotans.
A whole host of other budget bills will continue coming to the House floor and I will let you know how things unfold. Next week we are likely to take up a bill from the Democrats that includes a highly concerning cut to nursing homes and elderly care facilities. I am working with fellow legislators to call attention to this issue and fix the problem before it is too late. Look for more details soon.