Lawmakers’ views: DFL will bring a new focus to St. PaulThis Legislature will be focused, driven and dedicated to resolving what has become a perpetual cycle of repeated deficits. We will be inclusive of all and eventually reach a resolve that will be in the best interest of Minnesotans today, tomorrow and into the future.
By: Rep. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth; Sen. David Tomassoni,DFL-Chisholm; Rep. Mike Sundin, DFL-Esko; Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth; Rep. Carly C. Melin, DFL-Hibbing; Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake; Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Tower; Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kettle River:, Duluth News Tribune
DFL will bring a new focus to St. Paul
This Legislature will be focused, driven and dedicated to resolving what has become a perpetual cycle of repeated deficits. We will be inclusive of all and eventually reach a resolve that will be in the best interest of Minnesotans today, tomorrow and into the future.
Our greatest effort must be creating a responsible budget for the next biennium. It must be a budget that recognizes the priorities of middle-
class Minnesotans, including job creation, property tax reductions and adequate funding of public education.
We were elected to do this work, and we have a responsibility to complete it in a timely manner. A complete and total resolve probably will take several sessions, but we must lay the groundwork for change and take the steps necessary to promote success.
Perhaps we will have an off-year bonding bill. Perhaps we will have great debates about social or non-economic issues. We will do so as the Legislature was designed to do so: slowly, methodically and without haste.
We will hear from constituents, and we will consider all views.
We will include the minority party. Many of us ran on a premise of ending partisan bickering, and I remain hopeful we will see great success.
My priorities remain the same: the adequate funding of public education, the reduction of property taxes and the creation of policy designed to facilitate job creation.
We can take this opportunity and grow Minnesota’s economy, and we can do so by creating partnerships across the state. Every dollar spent must be considered for its regional economic impact rather than its immediate local effect.
Rep. Mike Simonson, DFL-Duluth
Jobs, budget are top priorities
My top priority will be jobs. Having said that, fixing the budget so the can isn’t kicked down the road should be a top priority of the Legislature. We constantly have been dealing with deficits for the past 10 years, and while the economy plays a key role in funding, it is important to understand decisions made in the Legislature can be the problem or the solution.
I am chairman of the Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Finance Division, which is more affectionately referred to as: Frogs, Jobs and Hogs.
We will have a ton of work to do, and we will be looking at budgets of agencies and issues important to just about everyone in Minnesota.
Making and keeping the mining and logging industries thriving is of the utmost importance to our area of the state. The wild rice standard issue has to be resolved and the environment and jobs must exist together.
So, hopefully the session moves more smoothly than it did the past two years. The fact that the people of Minnesota chose to put the DFL in control of lawmaking for the next two years was an indication they weren’t happy with the gridlock and the unwillingness to compromise. They want to see us get our work done in a timely fashion with the best interests of the people of Minnesota in mind. I look forward to the upcoming session.
Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm
Core issues deserve attention
I’m certain every legislator will come to St. Paul with issues they feel should be addressed. My hope is to concentrate on core issues we talked about during the campaign: the restoration of the Homestead Tax Credit, stable funding for schools and a move to balance the state’s checkbook.
Any consideration for bonding would hinge on favorable interest rates and the inclusion of any needed funding for area flood relief. Legislative leaders have indicated we will be concentrating on the pressing financial issues facing the state before we address other interests.
Rep. Mike Sundin, DFL-Esko
Balancing budget will prove difficult
Clearly, finding structural balance to the state budget is the top priority. Consider the shifts, borrowing and bandages that have comprised the budget for the four years I have represented Duluth: this alone could fill the five months the part-time Minnesota Legislature will be in session.
The task is more difficult than some may think. Looking into the next biennium, Minnesota has a structural budget deficit of about $1.1 billion. Simply put, projected spending exceeds expected revenues. We’ve had a structural deficit for nearly a decade now. The first was under a Republican governor and Democratic Legislature. Then we had one under a Democratic governor and Republican Legislature. Both parties can claim credit for getting us here. Along the way, we have accumulated more debt and had our AAA bond rating downgraded.
Complicating matters is that state government still owes Minnesota’s K-12 schools about $1.3 billion. While an improvement from the $2.7 billion originally withheld, nearly a third of all K-12 funding, this is still a significant amount. And Minnesota has an outstanding debt of about $1 billion from the tobacco bond. This was borrowing against future tobacco payments to Minnesota made in 2011 for one-time spending. If we allow the bond to run its full 20 years, we will have paid almost as much in interest as was originally borrowed.
So the real scope of the problem is $3.4 billion, give or take a few million dollars.
Where do we go in 2013? A balanced approach will include cuts and new revenue. Minnesota has spent a decade making cuts, but we have done relatively little in adding any new and permanent revenue to the system. The state Legislature almost certainly will look at eliminating some of the 297 tax deductions in state law. The Legislature also is very likely to look at the progressivity of the current state income tax, as well as potentially broadening the sales tax base.
Nearly every area of the state budget is under severe strain, including K-12 education, higher education and local government aid. Homeowners know the pressure on local property taxes has been severe. Clearly, we must make choices about what we want and how we pay for it. We can’t have it all and expect to not pay anything — or have someone else foot the bill.
Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth
Fair revenue, thoughtful spending/b>
Minnesota continues to face significant challenges, including a projected budget deficit of $1.1 billion, in addition to another $1 billion we owe our schools. Reckless borrowing and regressive taxes have led to continued deficits in our state. The focus of this Legislature will be on bringing back a balanced budget that includes fair revenue and thoughtful spending decisions.
My priorities remain jobs and education. In Northeastern Minnesota I would like to see continued growth in our private sector and public investment into our aging infrastructure. I’ll continue to be supportive of our natural-resources industries as well as in making sure our small businesses, health-care industry and entrepreneurs have the opportunity to be successful.
Additionally, we need to focus on strengthening our education system, which is so important to our quality of life and the health of our economy. When inflation and budget cuts are accounted for, schools across the Iron Range have lost hundreds of dollars per pupil in the past decade. Class sizes in Duluth and across the Range continue to grow as our investment in education shrinks. Relying on property taxes to fund schools is unfair in greater Minnesota, and it’s time we end this approach and instead invest in education through fair funding sources.
I would also like to provide property tax relief for seniors and middle-class Minnesotans. Two years ago the Republicans eliminated the Homestead Tax Credit to balance the budget. In my opinion, it’s unfair to ask seniors and those living on fixed incomes to pay more while maintaining tax cuts for millionaires. Last year I co-authored a bill to reinstate the homestead property tax credit, and I’ll co-author it again in hopes we can provide property tax relief to homeowners across the state.
Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing
Let's move to the center
I hope extreme ideologies can be set aside and a more centrist position maintained while the state’s budget is balanced and structured to assure long-term stability and success for the state.
Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake
Balanced approach on budget
The most urgent priority facing the Legislature is ending our decade-long cycle of constantly managing a budget crisis. We need to be honest with Minnesotans as we craft a budget that’s fair for middle-class families and that doesn’t depend on accounting gimmicks or borrowing from our future. As expected, a projected billion-dollar deficit will require spending reductions. But solving the budget with cuts alone is not in our state’s long-term best interest and would likely slow our economic recovery. A balanced approach that positions Minnesota for long-term fiscal health will require new revenue as well.
While it’s too early to predict exactly how this year’s budget will be resolved, as a state senator and as the incoming Senate majority leader, my commitment is to focus on the issues that matter to Minnesota families: investing in our children’s education, protecting our most vulnerable citizens, improving our statewide transportation system, and providing economic opportunity to grow jobs and the middle class.
Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Tower
Ease property tax burden
The top priority for every legislator must be to fix the state’s budget deficit. For far too long, the state has pushed the burden of budget shortfalls to local governments (via property taxes), college students and health care providers. The current $1.1 billion deficit presents us with a tough challenge, but we also have a great opportunity to create a fair, balanced and responsible budget that puts our state on the path to long-term fiscal health.
Beyond the budget, my main focus will be on moving Minnesota’s health-care system forward. Minnesota has always been a leader in health-care delivery. The Legislature will have to work quickly and diligently to implement a health-care exchange that will bring health-care services to our rural area. In addition, Minnesota has developed a system to provide care for our working poor, who I believe are best served by the Basic Health Plan option provided by the Affordable Care Act. With these and many more initiatives I am confident we will show the nation an example of how a strong health-care system can benefit businesses, health-care providers and families.
In addition to these statewide priorities, continued local flood recovery efforts are an important issue this session. We also need to look at prescription drug abuse issues (including methadone) to see what the state can do to decrease the abuse of these drugs in Minnesota.
Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kettle River
A fair tax system based on values
For the last several years, we’ve lurched from budget deficit to budget deficit, and we need to address this head-on instead of pushing our budgetary problems into the future. This means fixing Minnesota’s outdated tax system so it is less complicated, more equitable and fairer. Homeowners and some businesses in our district saw their property taxes rise last year. This needs to be corrected. The Homestead Tax Credit must be restored.
This session we need to focus on creating jobs as well as finding a fair-and-balanced solution to the structural imbalance of the state budget. Jobs are always a top priority because growing good jobs leads to stronger middle-income families.
We also must prioritize what we value as Minnesotans. I strive to ensure students across the state have access to a first-rate education, and our youngest learners must have early-education opportunities.
As chairwoman of the House State Government Finance and Veterans Affairs Committee, I would like to establish stability of employment so Minnesotans have a reliable government on which they can count. We should be a national leader in citizens who are satisfied with the functions of their state government.
Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown