Dear friends and neighbors:
Happy New Year! With the new year comes a new legislative session, which is set to convene on February 11 in Saint Paul. There will be no shortage of big issues this session, so I want to give you a quick update on what to expect from the Capitol in the coming months:
Budget surplus: what do we do with it?
Last year, state officials released the annual November budget forecast, which showed an estimated budget surplus of more than $1.332 billion for the 2020-2021 budget cycle and includes an automatic transfer to the state’s budget reserves, which is now fully funded. The surplus is a product of both overcollection by the state government, but also Minnesota’s positive economic outlook. The forecast is not an exact figure; rather, it’s an estimate of the state’s fiscal health that is used to drive the consideration of a supplemental budget during the upcoming session.
While it’s certainly good news that we don’t have budget problems – unless, of course, you count those budget problems created by the mismanagement of certain state agencies – legislators must be careful to think we can go back to St. Paul and add a whole new round of substantial spending. This budget surplus does not belong to bureaucrats; it belongs to the taxpayers of Minnesota.
Instead of new spending, I believe the surplus positions us to engage in true tax reform, such as full Section 179 conformity, middle income tax reductions, and others. Perhaps we might consider reductions to license plate tab fees or an elimination of the income tax on Social Security benefits, too. In addition, the legislature will likely pass a bonding bill for capital investments across the state – and we recognize there are capital need concerning state assets within our transportation system, our colleges and universities, and more. There are many worthwhile projects across our state, including important capital projects right here in our region; perhaps we can pay cash for those projects rather than adding excessive debt to the burden of the Minnesota taxpayer.
This week, my colleagues and I announced our ‘Vision 2020’ agenda – a series of principles and priorities that will guide our public policy work during the 2020 legislative session, which convenes on February 11.
Vision 2020 is an open-ended agenda that will be used to guide the Senate Republican majority’s priorities during the 2020 session, when the legislature is expected to consider a capital investment bill, a supplemental budget, tax relief, and more. In addition, the Senate is expected to consider measures related to health care costs, public safety, roads and bridges, public infrastructure, and more.
In 2019, with significant bipartisan support, we passed the largest biennial budget in state history that cut the costs of health care, provided significant tax relief, and made needed changes to the way government delivers services. Our vision for 2020 is about building on that positive, bipartisan work done as the only split legislature in the nation. My constituents expect us to reign in the bureaucracy, work on tax relief, and be voices of reason when it comes to agricultural policy. The voices of my constituents are what matters – and those are the voices to which I’ll listen in St. Paul.
Over the past few years, one of my focuses at the state legislature has been the shortage of affordable housing in Minnesota – and asking how government rules and regulations are adding to the cost, particularly in Greater Minnesota. While we understand the market has seen an increase in construction costs, there is little doubt that government rules have also contributed to the cost increase. Government’s answer is to throw more money at the problem rather than reevaluate itself. We will continue to push for government reform that helps us reduce costs and provide more affordable housing in our communities.
Last month, Governor Walz announced an executive order establishing a “Climate Change Subcabinet” and “Governor’s Advisory Council on Climate Change”. The governor’s new advisory boards are tasked with “identifying policies and strategies [to] enhance the climate resiliency of Minnesota’s natural resources…”
But what happened to the governor’s “One Minnesota” mantra? The governor’s new advisory boards completely lack representation from Greater Minnesota, instead focusing attention entirely on suburban and urban areas. Plus, the governor’s new boards inexplicably add a level of bureaucracy and expenses at a time when state agencies are repeatedly mismanaging public funds.
Instead of a diverse group of Minnesotans from all over the state, the governor’s subcabinet is made up of a combination of metro Democrats and representatives from his administration. This same mentality is what led the governor to propose a 20-cent gas tax that is resoundingly unpopular.
I am hopeful the governor will do right by Minnesotans.
The legislature begins its 2020 session on February 11. If you find yourself at the State Capitol, please stop by my office! I’d love to hear from you. I’m located across from the Capitol in the Minnesota Senate Building. My office phone number is (651) 296-5650.
Senator Bill Weber, of Luverne, represents communities in Cottonwood, Jackson, Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Redwood, and Rock counties in the Minnesota Senate. He serves as chair of the Senate Agriculture, Rural Development, and Housing Policy Committee.