Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Lawmakers headed to overtime

Marcus White
Posted 5/23/19

ST PAUL— Plenty of details remain to be ironed out after lawmakers and Governor Tim Walz reached an agreement on the state’s budget on Sunday. And that means the 2019 legislative session is …

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Lawmakers headed to overtime

Posted

ST PAUL— Plenty of details remain to be ironed out after lawmakers and Governor Tim Walz reached an agreement on the state’s budget on Sunday. And that means the 2019 legislative session is headed to overtime.

Minnesota is currently the only state with a divided state legislature in the nation, with the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party controlling the House while Republicans hold a narrow margin in the Senate. Divided government meant both sides made concessions to reach a tentative deal by the end of the session.

“When nobody’s happy, it can’t be too bad of an agreement,” said Rep. Rob Ecklund, DFL- International Falls, following the agreement on Monday.

Gov. Walz won’t get his proposed gas tax hike that could have increased the price at the pump by up to 20 cents per gallon while providing hundreds of millions of dollars in additional state funding for road and bridge improvements.

Ecklund said he’s not sure if the gas tax was ever the right move for the state but acknowledged something needs to be done to remedy the state’s aging roads.

“Our roads are in bad shape, our bridges need work,” Ecklund said. “We need long-term solutions and to stop kicking the can down the road.”

Republicans also took a loss on ending the healthcare provider tax. The measure, which taxes certain medical procedures, was set to expire as part of a sunset clause, but DFLers fought to make it permanent. The DFL did lower the tax by two-tenths of a percent to 1.8 percent as a compromise with the GOP.

Rural broadband funding also took a hit, with legislators agreeing to spend $40 million over the biennium, significantly less than the $70 million sought by the governor.

Legislators agreed to a compromise on education spending as well. K-12 schools will see an increase of two percent for each year of the biennium, and community colleges will see a bump in funding as well. The University of Minnesota, however, will not see any additional dollars from lawmakers.

A plan dubbed “Veterans Restorative Justice” was also scrapped in the deal. The plan, authored by Ecklund, would have brought a new diversionary court program for vets who found themselves on the wrong side of the law after discharge. The program would have functioned similar to the state’s drug and alcohol court where eligible defendants could go through a separate judicial process aimed at rehabilitation rather than incarceration.

Work remains

While legislative leaders and the Governor agreed on an overall budget framework, lawmakers will still need to convene a special section to iron out the details. Some of the details, Ecklund said will directly impact the Iron Range and how companies manage wastewater runoff in the region.

While Ecklund did not provide details, he said the House was working on new provisions for how mining wastewater was transferred off of worksites.

As of press time, a special session had tentatively been set to begin on Thursday, May 23.

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