The 2014 legislative session has started in St. Paul. Here are some bullet points recapping the first week’s headlines and more:
UPDATED ECONOMIC FORECAST
Minnesota received a new state economic forecast Friday. It shows a $1.23 billion budget surplus for the current biennium. This is an improvement of $408 million from the November budget forecast, continuing a trend of positive reports. Minnesota’s economy has not faced a deficit projection since February of 2011, back when the state faced a $5 billion shortfall. The former majority erased that shortfall, enacted fiscally responsible improvements and Minnesota has enjoyed an improving bottom line ever since. The big question now is what the Legislature does with the surplus revenue. Some people will want to spend it, others will want to save it and still others will want to give it back to taxpayers.
I favor the latter, especially since our taxes went up by more than $2 billion under the new majority’s actions last year. A good place to start would be repealing Democrats’ damaging business-to-business taxes (warehousing, equipment repair services and telecommunications equipment) as well as their new gift tax. I also support full conformity to the federal tax code which includes provisions like eliminating the marriage penalty, the penalty Minnesota families face on employer-provided adoption assistance and a tax on home foreclosures. The Legislature should be doing all it can to help hardworking Minnesotans have more opportunities and fewer obstacles to succeed.
TOWN HALL MEETINGS SCHEDULED
Area residents are invited to attend a pair of local town hall meetings I will be co-hosting with Sen. Roger Chamberlain the next two Thursdays.
They will be:
I hope you can join us in sharing thoughts, ideas and concerns over any of the issues we face in Minnesota.
MINNESOTANS VOICE STRUGGLES WITH MNSURE
Minnesota’s new state-run health insurance program has experienced a rocky first five months since implementation. Last week, families who have experienced difficulty with MNsure called on Governor Mark Dayton and President Barack Obama to relieve Minnesotans from the burdensome penalties for failure to comply with ObamaCare mandates. One citizen spoke about her family’s struggle to obtain insurance for their family and avoid a fine from the IRS. Another person talked about his family’s health insurance premiums dramatically rising due to ObamaCare and MNsure. Significant problems remain with MNsure and the state auditor currently is conducting an investigation to determine the true scope.
HEARING TO DISCUSS SENATE COMPLEX
A hearing took place in the House Rules Committee last week to discuss plans for a new $90 million Senate office building and adjacent parking ramp. It was conducted as an “informational” meeting. A taxpayer commitment to a lease-purchase agreement for this complex passed as a provision in last year’s Tax Bill. It was added late in the bill’s process, without a single hearing in the House. Minnesotans deserve better transparency and for projects like this to be fully vetted through the traditional committee process.
ADDRESSING THE PROPANE GAS SUPPLY SHORTAGE
On Tuesday, the House passed a $20 million appropriation for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. In response to an unusually cold winter made worse by a propane shortage that caused a sharp increase in heating costs, Gov. Dayton expanded LIHEAP to include an additional 120,000 households, and increased the maximum crisis payment per applicant from $500 to $1000. Due to these changes, and an overall increase in demand, the program was expected to run out of funding on March 1. Republicans voted unanimously in support of this funding to provide peace of mind to Minnesotans who rely on the LIHEAP program during this tough winter season.