1/22/2020 10:21:00 AM A look ahead at the 2020 legislative session
With the new year comes a new legislative session, which is set to convene on Feb. 11. There will be no shortage of big issues this session. Here is a quick update on what to expect in the coming months: Budget surplus 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 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 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 new round of substantial spending. This surplus does not belong to bureaucrats; it belongs to Minnesota's taxpayers. 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 needs 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 burden taxpayers. Affordable housing Over the past few years, one of my focuses at the legislature has been the shortage of affordable housing in Minnesota - and asking how government rules and regulations add 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. Climate change Last month, Gov. Tim 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 across 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. If you are at the Capitol, please stop by. I'm located across from the Capitol in the Minnesota Senate Building. My office number is (651) 296-5650. Senator Bill Weber of Luverne represents Cottonwood, Jackson, Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone and Rock counties.