I wish you and your family a safe and happy Thanksgiving. The 2014 legislative session will officially start Feb. 25, but I’m anticipating many committees will schedule preparatory meetings throughout January to hit the deck running. Here is the latest on some topics of interest:
On Dec. 5, the first full economic forecast will be issued since Democrat majorities and Gov. Mark Dayton enacted the current biennial budget. The state has been riding a wave of positive economic reports in the wake of the Republican-led budget of 2011, which was preceded by eight years of historic spending restraint caused by the recessions of 2001 and 2008. However, historic tax hikes undoing nearly 25 years of tax stability and predictability, and spending hikes of more than $2 billion, have lawmakers in a wait-and-see mode.
TRANSPORTATION ISSUES ON HORIZON
The tax increases are not behind us. On the transportation front, State Transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle announced recently that tax increases, tolls and user fees are all on the table in 2014. This money could be earmarked for everything from road construction and bridge work to buses, light-rail, bus rapid-transit and ... streetcars!
One simmering tax proposal which stirs controversy is the use of a GPS-style unit to track the miles we drive. The approach called Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) would tax drivers on the number of miles driven. Some favor this because those who use roads more would pay more. Others are leery of allowing government to track our vehicles or have concerns that drivers in some parts of the state would be impacted more than others.
I serve as lead Republican on the House Transportation Policy Committee and would appreciate your input on these issues. What are your thoughts? Do you want new taxes to pay for more transportation spending?
The governor has said he wants the 2014 session to be the “unsession,” where we eliminate unnecessary, ineffective red tape in government. This is a page out of the Republican playbook from 2011-12. However, it's a quaint idea after the 2013 session adding layer upon layer of more government and new expenditures that merely duplicate existing ones. Is there the slimmest chance we'll get rid of wasteful spending? Again, I'm interested in hearing your ideas on unnecessary programs or burdensome regulations – big or small – that can be brought for consideration.
MNsure STILL FALTERING
The state’s new government-run health insurance program – MNsure – is displaying many of the same serious flaws as Obamacare at the federal level. Keep in mind that Minnesota had around 92 percent of Minnesotans with health insurance coverage before Obamacare. And those with pre-existing chronic conditions had a state pool from which to purchase insurance. In addition, 75 percent of the uninsured were eligible for existing public assistance programs or private employer plans.
Enrollment has been open for nearly two months and ZERO citizens are fully enrolled. Officials estimate around 1.3 million enrollees are needed to support this costly program. We have sunk more than $150 million of taxpayer money into a government website, staff expenses and start-up costs, with no real results.
Assuming technical difficulties are not pervasive, concerns with this program remain. Three big areas of concern: Cost, accessibility to the doctor of our choice, and privacy.
This issue is developing and I will do my best to keep you up to date as things change. In the meantime, I welcome your feedback on this and other issues. You can reach me at email@example.com or by phone at 651-296-2907.