Setting the stage for 2014 session
By Rep. Dean Urdahl
The 2014 legislative session starts Feb. 25 and the agenda is forming. It is a mix of important business and other proposals I would rather see fall by the wayside.
This is not a budget year in name, but there still could be budget-related bills under consideration. For example, some of the more-than $2 billion in tax increases Gov. Mark Dayton and fellow Democrats enacted in 2013 are now receiving bipartisan support for repeal. This should be among our top priorities after the gavel signals our start.
Three taxes in particular – warehousing, telecommunications and equipment repair – are gaining widespread support for appeal. We soon will receive an updated economic forecast, which will reveal where our bottom line sits and whether there will be excess revenue that could be used to repeal taxes. The last forecast essentially showed we were taxed more than $1 billion too much in the new budget.
Tax increases have damaging consequences. We instead should be working to make our state a better home for jobs.
This session we also will be considering a capital investment bonding bill that would fund projects throughout the state. The key here is to separate the wheat from the chaff in order to enact a responsible bill. The governor recently announced he recommends a bill of around $1 billion. That is too expensive, in my opinion, and some questionable wish-list items could be cut to bring a more favorable price tag.
Capitol restoration should continue. Infrastructure projects at the University of Minnesota and state colleges should be funded. But, disappointingly, the governor’s bonding plan omits funding for Litchfield to purchase new motors for the city’s power plant. Dayton’s plan also does not include money to help Moorhead finish a flood-mitigation project. Those projects should take priority over some of the niceties that will receive consideration.
Another item of business this session could be in trying to find fixes for Minnesota’s version of Obamacare: MNsure. The pace of the individual market enrollment is far behind 2014 open enrollment goals. If the gap is not closed, MNsure likely will be facing a severe budget shortfall and taxpayers could be on the hook for even more.
A MNsure investigation headed by the state’s legislative auditor should help us learn why numerous problems in the roll-out occurred and why those issues were not identified earlier, especially with $150 million in taxpayer money spent to set up the program. One well-respected Capitol reporter even said over the air he thinks MNsure officials lied to citizens to cover up festering problems. Then, an independent report recently indicated MNsure’s structure is “non-existent” and that executives have been making decisions in a “crisis mode.”
Some problems with MNsure may prove to be unfixable short of a systemic overhaul. Other parts may be improved during this session. At the very least, taxpayers deserve more transparency and better performance with this massive program. The House minority offered hundreds of amendments in 2013 to help make that happen, but they were denied almost every time.
Other bills pertaining to legalizing marijuana, transit-tax increases, daycare provider unionization and anti-bullying mandates are percolating on the majority’s agenda as Opening Day draws near. These are less-pressing matters to me, yet they are likely to be priorities for some.
Continued correspondence from local citizens on these and other issues is important to me. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or meet with me at one of the many area functions I attend.