By Rep. Paul Anderson
It’s down to the final week of session, although tradition has both chambers of the Legislature working straight through the weekend, right up to Monday’s midnight adjournment.
Leadership returned from the Governor’s Fishing Opener and met for several hours but didn’t come up with overall spending targets for the next two-year biennium. That means conference committees still don’t know how much funding they will receive and, without those totals, they really can’t start to hammer out differences in spending between House and Senate versions of the major finance bills.
Things can happen fast during this last hectic week of session. With hard deadlines fast approaching – namely adjournment in less than a week – conferees will start making more compromise offers. Movement begins and agreement follows. However, because of large differences in spending and taxes between the House and Senate, it will be challenging to find that middle ground where both sides can agree.
Because the state will be starting the new biennium with around $1 billion surplus – in addition to nearly $500 million in increased revenue since the last budget forecast – the case for raising taxes is difficult to understand. The two biggest tax hikes in the DFL House proposal are the 20-cents per gallon gas tax increase and the 2-percent provider tax, which is set to expire at the end of June. The gas tax represents a 70-percent increase over the current level and would put Minnesota among the highest in the nation at 48 cents per gallon when fully phased in. The provider, or “sick” tax currently raises more revenue than needed to provide state-sponsored health insurance programs.
In addition to the financial differences between the Senate and the House/governor, there are also policy provisions that are markedly different. They, too, need to be addressed in order to reach a final over all compromise.
The April storm that blasted southern parts of the state, named Winter Storm Wesley, produced heavy, wet snow and high winds that caused major damage to electric lines throughout large areas. Received a news release from Great River Energy, the supplier of electric power to Minnesota’s rural electric cooperatives, that detailed the amount of damage to their infrastructure. In all, 352 power poles went down during the storm, and more than 8,300 customers lost power.
The crews that go out to restore power, often when storm conditions are still prevalent, deserve accolades for the work they do. In the case of this storm, that work was made even more difficult because many roads were nearly impassable and visibility was poor. At the peak of restoration work, more than 54 line crews were working in the area. Within five days after the April 11 storm, 15 of Great River’s 16 substations that lost power had been restored.
Neighboring utilities, including Xcel and ITC, also suffered damage during the storm. But, by working together and receiving help from other rural cooperatives and utilities, power was eventually restored. And considering the amount of damage caused by the storm, line crews did an outstanding job, working safely and efficiently to get the power back on.
Rep. Anderson may be reached at his legislative office by emailing email@example.com or by calling (651) 296-4317.