By Rep. Dean Urdahl
The 2017 session is underway amid a grand re-opening at the Capitol as completion nears on a much-needed restoration of the 112-year-old building.
I am proud to have played an instrumental role in this project coming to fruition. One of my bills funded part of the $300 million in refurbishments. Other legislation I authored created the preservation commission – on which I served – that guided the process.
Ours is one of the nation’s most glorious Capitol buildings and work to stabilize the structure, refurbish crumbling features and update other aspects will keep it standing tall and proud for future generations to cherish.
The improvements are quite impressive and citizens are encouraged to visit during the legislative session or this summer when more formal ceremonies take place.
As for the actual work the Legislature is conducting this session, it will take place within a new landscape. Republicans not only retained power in the House, but gained a majority in the Senate. A Democrat, Gov. Mark Dayton, remains in the governor’s office.
Our top responsibility will be to set a new two-year state budget. Look for the House to offer a priority-based budget plan that funds important aspects while remaining responsible to the taxpayers. The trajectory of state spending growth is concerning in its sustainability – especially given our changing demographics – and needs to be addressed as we craft a new plan this year.
Other key issues expected to make headlines this session include providing tax relief, reducing skyrocketing costs of health insurance and improving our roads and bridges.
Tax relief is a subject that again will be front and center after the governor vetoed half a billion dollars in permanent reductions for individuals, small Main Street businesses, farmers and others last year. Nearly 90 percent of the Legislature approved the package. The House took a good first step by fast-tracking into passage $21.7 million in immediate tax relief for Minnesotans by bringing the state’s tax code into compliance with federal provisions.
It is no secret Minnesota’s version of Obamacare – MNsure – is failing to meet its basic functions of providing ease of access to affordable health insurance. People are facing premium increases of 67 percent or more this year and restricted access is leaving others to drive 50 miles or more to find an in-network provider. Immediate premium relief as well as long-term structural reform are needed this session. Unfortunately, Democrats blocked efforts to expedite passage of emergency aid on Day 3 of the session despite agreeing to do so just days earlier.
As for transportation, practically everyone is in agreement we need to improve our roads and bridges. The bottom line is our roads and bridges that serve the vast majority of Minnesotans should take priority over spending more on costly light-rail trains that benefit a very select few in the Twin Cities area.
Discussion of a capital investment bill – aka “bonding” – also is expected to take place throughout this biennium. As the recently appointed chairman of the House Capital Investment Committee, I will work in good faith with legislators and the governor to review proposals that have and will be offered. Look for more details as developments occur.