By Rep. Bud Nornes
Legislation to keep an important local project on track provided a silver lining to what was an otherwise disappointing series of bills to wrap up the 2013 legislative session.
A slimmed-down capital investment bonding bill for $177 million passed the House just a couple of hours before the House adjourned for the session at midnight Monday. That bill is headlined by $109 million for restoring our 108-year old Capitol building. The House recently had voted down a bonding bill of more than $800 million.
The bonding bill also includes a key provision to assist redevelopment of the Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center. This is good timing since solid prospects are emerging to purchase and redevelop this property and bring new commerce to Fergus Falls. The project would have died on the vine without this legislation.
This good news comes on the heels of the legislative majorities disappointingly passing a $2.1 billion tax increase. I did not support this bill and have strong concerns it will hinder our full economic recovery from the recession. The tax bill includes a new business-to-business sales tax, which is highly concerning. I would rather see us do more to make our state competitive in the global market, but this will take us the wrong way. It will worsen our business climate and also result in higher costs for consumers as these taxes get added to the price of goods and services.
This could be especially troubling for our border communities. Just to our west, North Dakota is renting space on Minnesota billboards, touting itself as “open for business” in attempt to lure our companies across the river.
Other new taxes passed late this session include raising the income tax on top earners to one of the nation's highest rates, adding $1.60 per pack to the cigarette tax and implementing sales taxes on all internet purchases, digital downloads and TV satellite services.
It bears repeating that we could have balanced our budget without raising taxes. This was more about increasing state spending by 8.8 percent than fixing the bottom line. We are projected to have an $856 million surplus in 2016-17 without any tax increases.
A bill that could lead to a unionization of day care providers and personal care attendants also passed the House, by just two votes. This proposal led to the most spirited debate of the session. I firmly opposed it, largely because the vast majority of providers themselves do not want to unionize.