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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Shane Mekeland (R)

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Legislative update

Friday, May 14, 2021

Dear Neighbor, 

We’re in the final few days of the 2021 legislative session, set to adjourn Monday with no budget agreement in sight because House Democrats continue pushing to raise taxes at a time the state already has billions of surplus dollars.

One quick side note before we get into more on the budget: It was nice to see the CDC update its COVID-19 guidelines this week by indicating fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask. The science and data say masks are not needed and the CDC agrees. The bonus is Gov. Walz got right in line behind the CDC and lifted the mask mandate he placed on our state forever ago. It is hard to think of a better way to highlight the fact there is no emergency in our state and the governor's emergency powers need to end.

As for the budget: Things could come together in a hurry if the majority were to drop all of its out-of-touch tax/fee increases. It’s hard to see bipartisan support for a budget until they acknowledge their tax increases are unnecessary … and also abandon their continued efforts to pass legislation undermining our law enforcement officers’ ability to do their jobs.  

We also still need to address lifting state taxes on Paycheck Protection Program loans and Unemployment Insurance. These provisions could have been passed months ago but instead have been held back by House Democrats as leverage in negotiations.

The sad thing is this risky move by the majority is hurting people. Reports indicate more than 500,000 Minnesota unemployment filers would be forced to pay state taxes on boosted federal unemployment benefits without action by the legislature. Additionally, Minnesota businesses continue to wait on the legislature to act to eliminate taxes on forgiven PPP loans. The business tax filing deadline passed on March 15. Minnesota remains the only state in the upper Midwest that imposes taxes on forgiven PPP loans. 

In other news: 

House Dems aim to kill Becker plant 

Another major issue that I am keeping tabs on as we reach the end of the session is a House Democrat provision to kill the natural-gas plant at Sherco. In a nutshell: 

The House majority recently passed a provision that would repeal bipartisan legislation approved in 2017 to build a natural-gas-fired power plant in Becker. This project passed with bipartisan support as a stand-alone bill aimed at providing Minnesotans with more reliable, affordable energy in the wake of coal shutdowns at Xcel Energy's Sherco plant. The bill was authored by former Rep. Newberger (my District 15B predecessor) and Sen. Mathews. It was signed into law by a Democrat governor, Mark Dayton.

Construction of this natural-gas plant is crucial to our grid's stability, providing backup to help protect Minnesota from energy shortages other states, such as Texas, have experienced. It also would help make up for local jobs/economic losses suffered by our coal-fired units being forced to close.

Our energy plan should be an all-of-the-above approach to provide Minnesotans with affordable, reliable energy on a stable grid. This natural gas plant would help in that regard. Nothing has changed in the four years since that good bill passed on its own merits, again, with bipartisan support. But now House Democrats want to kill this project and limit our energy options.

I am passionate about seeing this project to the finish line and appreciate the work Sen. Mathews is doing to help stop House Democrats from derailing it. It would be nice to see other nearby legislators from across the aisle recognize the importance of this plant in our region and help us push back against the liberal, metro-centric agenda that’s being pushed on Greater Minnesota. So far, that has not happened.

Wasteful spending 

Not a day seems to go by where I’m not opposing the governor’s emergency powers and advocating to restore balance at the Capitol. The impacts of Gov. Walz’s go-it-alone approach are playing out in real life. The latest reports on spending by the Walz administration from federal COVID relief funds show hundreds of thousands of dollars in wasteful spending — including money to pay off Democrat consultants, “talking circles,” abortion doulas, and more.  

Here is a sampling:   

  • Nearly $100,000 to a non-profit which specializes in providing abortion doulas   
  • $12,500 payment to a radio station to broadcast the Governor’s press conferences  
  • $275/hour contract with a New York public relations company  
  • $20,000 per month to Stone Arch Strategies to “provide strategic communications support and services” to the Governor’s Communications Team.  
  • $50,000 to a non-profit to establish talking circles, complete with $20 gift cards to incentivize participation  
  • Nearly $20,000 to a non-profit to recruit volunteers to put together “wellness bundles” including tea and non-traditional health supplements  
  • Contracts to several different entities, each promising to produce videos that will reach tens of thousands of viewers, with YouTube pages that show they reached tens of viewers 

While this is bad enough, the state is receiving billions of dollars more in relief funding from the federal government and the thought of one person calling the shots on spending that kind of money should make us all cringe. The Legislature must have oversight over these funds to make sure taxpayer dollars aren’t being wasted or used to enrich political allies.  

Will the House majority finally get off its hands and participate in the process, or will it just sit back and let the governor spend billions of taxpayer dollars all on his own? House Republicans have made nearly 20 motions on the floor to end the emergency powers, but House Democrats have blocked those efforts every time. Again, there is no emergency in our state, therefore there is no reason for a state of emergency.

Stay tuned. Looks like a working weekend is in store at the Capitol. How much progress will be made on the budget remains to be seen.