Thanks to Paynesville High School students Jacob Bertram and Ellary Jacoby (pictured above), and Community Ed Director Matt Dickhausen for the visit this week! On another local note, congrats to Paynesville/ROCORI Future Farmers of America chapter members Eliza Carlson and Megan Laughlin (both of Paynesville) and Maggie Molitor (of ROCORI) for receiving their state Future Farmers of America degree this week at the FFA’s annual state convention at the University of Minnesota. Click here for more from ISD #741.
At the Capitol this week, the focus has been on discussing and voting on the omnibus bills to establish a new state budget for the next two years. All of the House’s omnibus finance packages now have received approval, mostly on party-line votes with Democrats supporting them.
Among the bills to pass is a transportation bill (HF 1555) which raises the gas tax by 70 percent (20 cents per gallon) and also increases the vehicle registration tax, the metro sales tax, and the new vehicle sales tax will increase taxes. In total, the bill raises taxes by more than $4 billion over four years.
There certainly is room to improve our state’s roads and bridges, but there are plenty of other places we could trim waste, fraud and abuse to obtain additional revenue instead of going back to the taxpayers for more. Any increase in the gas tax would hit lower earners and the people of Greater Minnesota in general the hardest. Not only would we be paying more at the pump, but it could drive up the price of just about any goods and services we pay for every day. Not to mention, the state has a $1 billion surplus.
It is important to note that nearly half of the 20-cent increase to the gas tax would be used to backfill a funding hole Democrats are creating in transportation by shifting sales tax revenue on the purchases of auto parts away from roads and bridges and into the general fund so it can be spent other ways.
The public safety omnibus bill (HF 2792) which passed also is reason for concern because it makes communities less safe by reducing sentencing and penalties for criminals. The bill would allow more felons to avoid incarceration by implementing presumptive probation rather than prison time for felony offenses. It would also cap most felony stay of sentence maximums at five years and would allow a court to discharge defendants from probation before the expiration of the stay of sentence maximum. In addition, it would require courts to use presumptive return on recognizance rather than setting money bail, risking misdemeanor offenders not showing up for court.
There also are two rather controversial portions of the bill relating to the Second Amendment, expanding background checks and allowing court-ordered firearms seizures.
While Minnesota already conducts background checks, the bill expands them to include the private transfer of firearms. Even transfers between friends would require individuals to pay a fee, and individuals would be guilty of a gross misdemeanor if they misplaced transfer paperwork and were unable to produce it to authorities. The bill also only allows one firearm per permit to purchase, which expires after 30 days, and imposes a requirement for private parties to keep records in perpetuity.
The other measure implements a so-called “red-flag” law by permitting the removal of a person’s firearms if a court grants an order for an extreme risk protection order. This could be done through an ex-parte process where the accused is not present to offer a counter to the accusation, raising due process concerns among lawmakers. Under the proposal, law enforcement would be responsible for delivering the order and executing the firearm seizure without the accused knowing an accusation has been made against them.
The omnibus tax bill (HF 2125) also has been approved as part of the House majority’s plan to raise taxes on Minnesotans by over $12 billion during the next four years. The tax bill itself includes $3 billion in new increases over the next four years, resulting in increased consumer prices, reduced wages, and fewer job opportunities. A number of these tax increases disproportionately impact middle- and lower-income Minnesotans and burden businesses that will increase the cost of goods and services and hurt wage growth for Minnesota employees.
These bills all are works in progress and, with split power in the Legislature, there are significant differences between what the House and Senate propose. Conference committees are now forming to begin working toward agreement in the hopes a new state budget is in place and ready to be enacted by the time our May 20 date for adjournment arrives. Long days and late nights definitely are in store for the next three weeks and I will keep you posted as things develop.