By Rep. Bud Nornes
The 2014 legislative session begins Feb. 25. This is a non-budget year, meaning it should be a relatively short legislative session with a limited agenda.
Gov. Mark Dayton has labeled it the “Unession,” indicating he wants to prioritize pulling ineffective, outdated and unnecessary laws off the books. That's a great idea but, apparently, Democrats in the Legislature did not get that memo. Recent headlines show they are not as interested in pulling back the scope of government as they are interested in raising taxes by even more and passing more intrusive laws.
For example, Democrats propose placing a sales tax on wholesale fuel. This hidden tax undoubtedly will be passed on to consumers, increasing the cost of gas in our state. Besides, an increase on the gas tax just passed a few years ago. Maybe we could pay for more roadway improvements in parts of the state like ours if we weren’t funneling billions of dollars into questionable light-rail projects that benefit select few in the Twin Cities.
Democrats also are talking about taxing the transportation of oil through our state, namely rail traffic from North Dakota. This sounds like a tax-hungry troll sitting under the bridge, trying to capitalize on his neighbor’s success. Talk about a bad message to our neighboring states.
Yes, we should have set-aside funds to pay for clean-up in case of disaster, but an ongoing tax is excessive. Let’s also think about set-aside money for flood mitigation but, again, it does not need to be an ongoing tax. There are other ways we can make this happen.
One area I’m in favor of more laws pertains to Minnesota’s version of Obamacare – MNsure. Democrats did not approve the measures I favored to bring more transparency and oversight to the new government health insurance program. Now, the program is a complete mess, with enrollment falling beneath worst-case projections and structural flaws galore.
We should be looking this session for ways we can make MNsure work better. I would rather not have this new government agency in place at all, but we need to make the best of what Democrats dealt us.
Legislative committees are picking up steam as we near the start of the new session. The short-term agenda for the Education Policy Committee I serve includes the issues of adult basic diplomas, teacher licensure and career readiness. The latter is a huge deal in my mind in order to reduce the growing workforce skills gap Minnesota faces. I’ll have more on that issue another time, but I welcome your input on how we can better prepare our students to meet the demands of today and tomorrow.
I encourage citizens to stay in touch with me throughout the 2014 session. Your input is very helpful to me as I continue working to do my very best in representing the people of our area.
One particular item I’d like feedback on is H.F. 826, aka the bullying bill. Democrats passed it through the House last year, but the Senate failed to act on it. We anticipate this bill will reemerge this year, but I have a number of concerns. I believe that with clarification of existing laws we can avoid this very costly unfunded mandate and allow our elected school boards - and parents - to remain in control of our schools. Please let me know what you think.