Before we get to this week’s legislative news, I want to recognize the hard work and dedication of the 32 new inductees to the Paynesville High School National Honor Society. This is a tremendous accomplishment and, as science teacher Jesse Rasmussen asked them as keynote speaker of their recent banquet, “Now what?” I think we all are looking forward to the real-life answers these bright, young leaders provide in the next chapters of their lives. The countless hours these kids have spent volunteering to help make our part of the world a little better is impressive beyond words and speaks volumes about their character.
Also, it was my pleasure to host a young Family Career and Community Leaders of America member last week as she job-shadowed me at the Capitol. As a high school junior, she was able to get a firsthand look at legislative business and I think she came away with some life lessons you just can’t learn from a book. On that note, it also has been fun seeing high school pages working the House Chamber this session. Minnesota has an outstanding program where high school juniors can apply to spend one week during the session working in the House. The application deadline closed for this session even before I was sworn into office, but click here for a link to the page program website and please share this with any high school sophomores you think may be interested in serving next year. I will send out more info next fall since it’s a really neat opportunity and I’d love to see some local students participate.
As for this week’s news from St. Paul, Gov. Tim Walz put forward his proposal for the state’s next two-year budget cycle. It includes $3 billion in tax increases over the next two years alone, and $4.7 billion in tax increases for 2022-23.
Of particular note, the governor’s proposal would raise Minnesota’s gas tax by 20 cents – a 70-percent increase – vaulting Minnesota’s gas tax to fourth-highest in the nation. My opinion is, if the governor wants more money for transportation, there are plenty of other places we could trim waste, fraud and abuse to obtain additional revenue before going back to the taxpayers for more. The governor’s proposal to raise the cost of gasoline by 20 cents per gallon is concerning, especially since any increase in the gas tax would hit lower earners and the people of Greater Minnesota in general the hardest.
Most of us agree we need to improve our roads and bridges. Instead of raising the gas tax, my preference is to seek solutions that involve accessing stable, long-term streams of funding through existing revenue. The plan which was enacted last biennium to redirect existing sales taxes paid on the purchases of auto parts toward roads and bridges has been a very successful approach. More opportunities such as that should be explored before we even think about heading down the path of increasing the regressive gas tax.
The governor’s plan also includes increases to tab fees, the motor vehicle sales tax, the metro area sales tax, business taxes, and reinstatement of the sick tax, which is set to expire at the end of the year, adding $1 billion to the cost of health care for Minnesotans over the next two years. I will pass along more as budget discussions pick up. Minnesota’s next full economic forecast is the next big news we are looking forward to on the budget. That report is set for release the end of this month.
On a final note, thanks again to all the local citizens who have come to visit me at the Capitol. Nurse Day was this week and it was good to discuss issues related to the Paynesville hospital with local representatives of the nursing industry. We talked about staffing ratios in rural critical access hospitals and how facilities in areas such as ours are impacted. There are issues that need to be resolved to improve access and safety for patients. I appreciate the input and look forward to working toward solutions.
I am looking forward to spending time at events and meetings in the district this weekend, starting with a couple on Friday. I will be attending a St. Cloud Technical and Community College EPIC career exploration event, as well as a meeting of the House Transportation Finance and Policy Division in St. Cloud.
Until next time, have a good weekend and please be careful shoveling/driving in this endless snow. I’m happy for the people whose businesses thrive during winters such as this, but I think the arrival of spring will do us all some good. Maybe it will help if we all think warm thoughts!