Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Happy Friday! The House, this week, approved all its budget bills and met its May 1 deadline, which once again made for some long days and late nights at the Capitol. The bills now go to conference committees where negotiations between the House and Senate work out the differences in their respective budgets before they come back to us for a final vote before going to the governor.
I had too many concerns with taxes, spending, and highly controversial policy provisions to vote for most of the Democrats’ budget bills. However, I did vote in favor of the agriculture/housing omnibus bill. Ultimately, I'm hopeful the remaining bills will be improved through negotiations with the Senate and return in a form that I can support.
On Monday, the House approved the transportation budget bill, which increases the gas tax by 20 cents per gallon – a 70% increase. The 20-cent per gallon increase would give Minnesota the fourth highest gas tax in the country and the package collectively raises taxes by more than $4 billion over the next four years.
The bill also takes auto parts sales tax revenue dedicated to transportation and transfers it into our state’s general fund. This move would reverse the investments we made last year to fund roads and bridges without a gas tax hike.
Raising the gas tax by 20 cents per gallon would significantly raise the cost of living and driving in Minnesota. Last session, we proved meaningful investments in our state’s transportation priorities can be made without cutting into family budgets with a gas tax hike. With a dedicated revenue source and a state budget surplus of over $1 billion, asking Minnesotans to pay more at the pump should be out of the question.
On a related note, last week, the Star Tribune reported that Governor Walz’s Department of Revenue released a report confirming that his tax plan would hit low and middle-income Minnesotans the hardest. The report indicated that, under the governor’s plan, Minnesotans making under $45,000 would see double-digit percent increases in their tax burdens.
IRRR Hiring Transparency
On Tuesday on the House floor, I advocated for bipartisan reforms to state agency hiring practices following the recent controversy at the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation (IRRR). DFL colleague Rep. Rob Ecklund and I successfully offered amendments to the state government finance bill to bring greater integrity and transparency to agency hiring processes.
Rep. Ecklund’s amendment requires agency commissioners to ensure that all hiring for managerial positions is done through a fair and open process where all qualified candidates are given full consideration. It also states that job requirements cannot be altered to fit a candidate and that internal documents may not identify a candidate as the holder of the position prior to their official hiring. My amendment would require that vacant positions be posted and applications can be accepted for a period of at least 21 days.
These are important changes for the legislature to make to help ensure an embarrassing hiring incident like this doesn’t happen again. I believe this is a strong first step in reforming and restoring the integrity of our state agency hiring practices. I’m pleased these measures will be considered in negotiations and I intend to continue looking at other ways to repair these processes.
Click here to watch a short video of me speaking on the House floor about my amendment and this issue.
On Wednesday, Governor Walz announced Minnesota would scrap MNLARS – the state’s failed licensing and registration system – in favor of a private vendor. MNLARS has been plagued by troubles since its inception, has wasted tens of millions of taxpayer dollars, and has caused long waits and headaches for too many Minnesotans.
House Republicans had implored Governor Dayton for the past two years to stop pouring money into the current MNLARS program and look to an outside vendor. I’m happy Governor Walz finally decided to move away from this inefficient system, and I believe this is the right move that will allow our state to most effectively provide licensing services to Minnesotans.
On Thursday, the House heard the Legacy bill. This bill is not part of the budget process as the funds are from a dedicated sales tax and not part of General Fund spending. The Fund has its origins in 2008 as the result of a constitutional amendment that dedicated an addition to Minnesota’s sales tax that would fund clean water, outdoor heritage and arts and culture projects. I spoke on the House floor in favor of this bill which included $300,000 over the biennium for the Children’s Discovery Museum in Grand Rapids.
National Day of Prayer
Legislators in front of the Capitol on Thursday for National Day of Prayer. GOP Rep. Sondra Erickson and DFL Rep. Julie Sandstede read a House Resolution and House members received prayer from the public gathered and led by clergy. We appreciate your prayers!
Please Contact Me
As always, please contact me if you have any questions or concerns. I value your input and enjoy hearing from you.
Have a great weekend,