Local representatives offer session preview
February 9, 2024
The Pine Knot News asked the two members of the Minnesota Legislature who represent the area to offer their views on the session that begins on Monday, Feb. 12. The often head-spinning budget session of 2023 had both Republicans, Sen. Jason Rarick and Rep. Jeff Dotseth, questioning the spending decisions of Democrats, who control the House and Senate in the current biennium. That control includes Democrat Gov. Tim Walz.
State lawmakers' primary job following an election year is to create a balanced two-year state budget. In the second year, they decide on bonding money for specific projects across the state. Legislators had record surpluses in play in 2023 and the end result of the session bears that out, the news website MinnPost pointed out in its recap of the session. Whereas not very long ago surpluses of $1 billion to $1.5 billion were considered generous, the Legislature started with a $17.5 billion surplus in the 2023 session.
The current state budget spends $51.6 billion over two years. The budget adopted in various omnibus bills totals $71.5 billion - a 40 percent increase in spending. To fund that budget into the following biennial budget beginning July 1, 2025, the state will need $66.1 billion. The decline reflects how much of this upcoming two-year budget is one-time spending, as much of the surplus is one-time money made possible in part by an infusion of federal cash into the state during the pandemic.
There were tax relief measures included, totalling $3 billion. They include the changes to taxation of Social Security, rebate checks and child tax credits. But there are also $1 billion of general fund tax hikes, $1.48 billion in transportation tax increases and $1 billion in shared payroll taxes between employers and employees for a new paid family leave program.
First, a look back on last year from the local representatives, then some insight on initiatives they are looking at this session.
On the last session
"The 2023 Session was notable due to Democrats' out-of-control spending, which ran through nearly the entire $17.5 billion surplus. Democrats used the opportunity to push divisive and costly measures. As we move forward, one issue we'll have to contend with is the budget and reining in the spending.
"Due to how much was spent last year, Minnesota is projected to be in a deficit by 2025. To make matters worse, many of the costly bills that Democrats pushed through had price tags that were grossly under-estimated."
"While we did quite well locally, there are major concerns for our state in general after the 2023 session. Democrats spent the $17.5 billion surplus and raised taxes by nearly $10 billion, increasing state spending by 40 percent. The latest state economic forecast shows a potential shortfall in the next biennium. In other words, Democrats turned a $17.5 billion surplus into a shortfall in just months."
"I'm proud of the bipartisan work we did in the 2023 session to finally deliver on local projects that were long overdue. This includes:
• $17.5 million for the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (Cloquet, Thomson Township, city of Carlton)
• $10 million for the Carlton County female offender and judicial facility
• $5 million for Cloquet water infrastructure
"Furthermore, nursing homes in House District 11A have begun receiving shares of the $300 million infusion of state funding I supported and the Legislature provided last May. Our nursing homes have been struggling and I'm happy we were able to deliver more funding for them after Republicans successfully negotiated these dollars."
"We have to be incredibly careful when deciding what bills and projects to fund as we move into the new year. It's important that we strike a balance between reining in spending, revisiting costly legislation that was previously passed, and funding critical infrastructure throughout the state.
"One project I'd like to see addressed this year is the Cloquet Area Fire District. They are currently struggling to get funding and (a new fire hall) like this are ideal candidates for bonding funding. Outside of their tax levy, the fire department doesn't have consistent revenue, so that makes it extremely challenging for them to do any facility improvements. I have already introduced a bill that provides an appropriation for the fire station to update their existing building and equip fire stations in the area. I'm hopeful that we can find a way to address their concerns so that they can be successful in serving residents in and around Cloquet."
"One of the first things we should do in the 2024 session is to fix a major safety problem one-party control caused in our schools when Democrats passed a law causing the removal of [some] school resource officers throughout the state. This issue still has not been fully resolved and action is needed because we must keep our local students, teachers and staff safe."
"I'm also interested in funding the innovative Northern Lights Academy in Cloquet. They are a unique cooperative that specializes in special education services, and they are looking to build a central facility that is accessible to families throughout the area. Many special education students are currently learning in older spaces and facilities, many of which lack the resources needed for their needs to be met. This co-op prioritizes their specific needs and takes a unique approach to special education so that all students can be successful. I believe we should continue to support innovative education co-ops like Northern Lights Academy."
"Other top priorities of mine for the 2024 session include fully repealing the tax on Social Security. We also should eliminate costly, unnecessary, unfunded state mandates that are overburdening our local schools, communities, etc., at a time prices are rising across the board."
Across the aisle
"Minnesota is on a financial precipice right now. I am hoping that the Democrats are willing to work with us to reconsider current funding and make tweaks to their initiatives from last year that ended up far over budget. I'm also hoping we can come together to address the deficit with a long-term plan. We have a tough road in front of us with a lot of work to do, but the people of Minnesota deserve to know that we are working in their best interest, and we will do all we can to ensure they do not foot the bill for bad governance."
Contact your local legislators:
Rep. Jeff Dotseth: Call (651) 296-4308 or email [email protected]
Sen. Jason Rarick: Call 651-296-1508 or email [email protected]
MinnPost, a news partner of the Pine Knot News. For more on legislative issues, visit MinnPost.com, or MPRNews.org.