I continue working on issues with local impacts this session and appreciate the significant amount of input I receive from the many local citizens who visit me at the Capitol.
One positive development is the growing support being shown for providing a 5-percent pay increase for our state’s long-term care providers. I have signed on as a co-author to a bill (H.F. 2270) that would make this happen.
These workers provide incredibly valuable services, yet they have made great sacrifices during the Great Recession. Their wages have lagged in recent years and, in light of the majority raising our taxes by more than $2 billion last year, this should be a priority. We have a large number of care providers in District 8A. They do a great job and I hope we can help them make up financial ground they have lost.
A bill of which I am the lead author would remove the sales tax farmers pay for installing drainage tiles in their fields. I made my pitch to the House Tax Committee this week and outlined how it would help farmers in our area increase productivity while bringing consistency to the tax code. This bill received a positive reception from the committee and was set aside for possible inclusion in an omnibus tax bill later this session.
We also have been discussing at the Capitol ways we can spur availability of compressed natural gas at fueling stations in Fergus Falls. The city’s economic development representatives have strong interest in making this happen in order to capitalize on growing use of compressed natural gas. This is especially important given our location along Interstate 94. More and more vehicles are implementing this fuel as technology evolves and we are talking about what it takes to increase the availability of compressed natural gas at filling stations. The federal government is participating in this project, so there might be some avenues there to pursue.
On another note, we received an update regarding the status of MNsure this week. MNsure – Minnesota’s version of Obamacare – has struggled to reach even worst-case projections since its October launch. The latest figures are not promising as we draw near the March 31 deadline to enroll in order to avoid IRS penalties for not having health insurance.
The latest reports show 33,680 enrollments are “in process” for commercial plans (individual and small business) as of March 8. This is just 19 percent of MNsure’s lowest original estimate of 177,125 commercial plan enrollments by March 31.
Sluggish enrollment like this would not sustain MNsure, leaving Minnesotans to pay higher premiums and higher taxes for a program that failed to live up to promises made by Gov. Mark Dayton and fellow Democrats.
Finally, we in the House unanimously passed legislation this week to provide more funding for school lunches. The interesting thing is last year, during the floor for the K-12 Education omnibus finance bill, we in the minority offered an amendment to expand the free lunch program to include 62,000 low-income students. Unfortunately, House Democrats rejected the proposal. Now, a year later, the majority reversed course and brought forward a bill to correct their error. This legislation spends $3.5 million a year to expand the free lunch program.