This session’s top job is establishing a new state budget for the 2018-19 biennium. For the House, work on that issue has mostly occurred in the most preliminary of senses thus far as we await necessary pieces of information to become available that will start the process in earnest.
One of those vital components is the updated state budget and economic forecast set to be released by Minnesota Management & Budget on Tuesday, Feb. 28. The previous full forecast, issued in early December, called for a $1.4 billion surplus through the remainder of the biennium. Updated figures will provide us with the framework we need to construct a firm set of numbers for a House budget proposal.
Another part of the equation is Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposal, which we examined this week in the House Taxes Committee. The governor’s plan is a $45.8 billion budget for 2018-19, roughly a 10-percent increase over the current level. Despite a $1.4 billion state surplus, the governor is proposing just $188 million in tax relief for the next biennium.
In addition, the governor proposes a $ 1.6 billion tax increase on trips to the doctor by extending the 2-percent provider tax, and more than $1.5 billion in new taxes and fees in the next biennium alone by increasing the gas tax by 6.5 cents per gallon, and also raising tab fees, the metro-area sales tax, new license/title surcharges – including for hunting and fishing – and more.
Those tax increases are in contrast to what you can expect the House to offer. Last session, nearly 90 percent of the Legislature approved an omnibus tax bill with half a billion dollars in permanent, ongoing middle-class tax relief, only to have the governor pocket veto it – reportedly over a drafting error – despite public assurances that he would sign the tax bill.
Robust tax relief will be a top priority in the House budget goals and I anticipate the Senate majority will join us in that mission. With Republicans not only retaining control of the House, but also voters providing us control in the Senate, we can look forward to a more fluid process of getting budget bills to the governor’s desk for his action without the partisan maneuvering of holding back legislation in pursuit of leverage.
Above, I was pleased to be joined by St. Bonifacius junior, Mitchell Jans, who recently served as a High School Page in the House. This is a wonderful program for juniors such as Mitchell and, while the deadline has passed to apply for this session, you can click here to find out more about it and maybe encourage young students to keep it in mind for the future.
Area Rep. Cindy Pugh and I spent some time talking about the budget issue during a recent appearance on the Lake Minnetonka cable TV production Capitol Update. Click here for the full half-hour video. We also discussed the outlook for a bonding bill this session, tax reform and Sunday liquor, wine and beer sales. The latter was approved by the House since the TV show aired.
Sunday sales has been a perennial issue at the Legislature, gaining momentum in recent years. All the while, Minnesota has lost more than $13 million annually in sales tax revenue since Minnesotans have freely chosen to make Sunday liquor purchases across the state’s borders.
Monday marked the first time in state history that standalone legislation on this issue has been voted on or approved. The bill passed on a bipartisan 85-45 vote, and now heads to the Senate for consideration. If the Senate should pass the bill, hours of operation are the major differences between House and Senate versions of the proposal. This difference in language would need to be reconciled by a conference committee before the bill is presented to the governor for his signature. The House proposal is 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays, while the Senate is 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The change in law, if passed, would become effective on Saturday, July 1, just before the 4th of July holiday.
On a final note, the House tonight is scheduled to elect four new members to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents, an independent governing body that provides system oversight and guidance. There are 12 regents on staggered six-year terms, each representing regions of the state.
Your correspondence on these and other issues always is welcome. Look for more news from the Capitol as further developments occur.
Rep. Jerry Hertaus
House District 33A