By Rep. Dale Lueck
We are just over halfway through this year's legislative session. As we approach the Easter break the focus will shift almost exclusively to producing the next two-year budget.
My three top budget priorities remain: providing support across the elder and disabled health care spectrum; improving our roads and bridges; and reducing or eliminating areas we should not be taxing.
Recently, I was able to spend an entire day in the district meeting with groups and individuals to discuss how we can make improvements in the elder and disabled care area. The groups included Aitkin County Health and Human Services Director Tom Burke and his senior staff, Aitkin Health Services Director Maria Freidlund, her staff and residents, and Aicota Health Center Director Barry Foss, his senior staff and residents. I want to thank them for providing an in-depth look at how we can improve the budgetary and policy support coming from St. Paul.
I am pleased to report that the governor's recent revision to his initial budget proposal now acknowledges that historically we have short changed this area and adjustments are needed. We also must examine and reform an outdated unnecessarily rigid rate structure program. We need to ensure our health care workers are paid competitive wages, we must continue to attract and train highly skilled professionals in this area and support the long-term maintenance and upkeep for these facilities.
Improving our roads and bridges also is a huge challenge for us in rural Minnesota. As I pen this column, we are working on the final details of our transportation funding package. I am confident it will provide a long-range stable approach with appropriate funding. That approach will not rely on adding a huge new gas tax as the solution.
I have received a lot of feedback on what to do with the almost $2 billion surplus. The bulk of advice indicates: spend some on priority items, give some back through permanent structured reductions and put some away as a reserve. An example of giving some back in a structured manner would be permanently removing the state income tax on senior citizen social security benefits.
As we move into April we will meld the House, Senate and Governor's budget proposals into a single package. It will take compromise to produce a product that meets the needs of the citizens of our district. I am confident we can do that. I am also keenly aware and fully supportive of other important budget areas including education, public safety, tax policy and the environment.