By Kristen Miller
MN State Representative Dean Urdahl (R-Acton Township) gave a brief outline of the upcoming legislative session, which begins Tuesday, Feb. 25, during the Cokato City Council meeting last Monday.
Urdahl explained that last year was a budget year, which provided an increase to cities through local government aid (LGA) funding.
This year, it’s a bonding year with a focus on improving infrastructure throughout the state. He estimates this year’s bonding bill will be around $800 billion to $850 billion.
Urdahl said he hopes this will provide more funding through both grants and loans for city water and wastewater needs, along with improvements to local roads and bridges.
He noted that he advocates for more money to be designated to the Public Finance Authority (PFA), which the cities can use for low-interest financing for public works projects. The more money the PFA has for this, the more projects can be funded, and it’s another way to keep taxes down for city residents, he explained.
Also part of the session will be an effort to repeal some of the laws that have become outdated, or “mistakes of the past.” Urdahl noted that Governor Mark Dayton has coined this upcoming session as the “un-session.”
In an e-mail correspondence detailing some of the laws in question, Urdahl identified three particular taxes he would like to see repealed from last session the warehouse business-to-business tax, the tax on farm equipment, and the telecommunications tax.
“I would also like changes in regulations and rules regarding permitting removed or streamlined,” he added.
Urdahl also brought up the House’s anti-bullying bill that will now be taken up in the Senate. He said he voted against it because he thought the bill “went too far.”
“I’m concerned about privacy issues and about reporting,” he said of the bill following the meeting. “Also, while I recognize this is an important issue, there are currently many places in state statute where we prohibit bullying,” he said, adding that nearly every school district has adopted the Minnesota School Board Association’s anti bullying policy.
“I think we already have enough legislation to do the job. But no matter what we do, we will not be able to legislate that everyone is ‘nice’ to each other. We need to carry out what is already on the books regarding bullying and do our best to keep our schools safe,” Urdahl commented.
He also noted that he voted against an increase to the state’s minimum wage, which would increase minimum wage to $9.50 per hour for businesses with over 100 employees, and to $8.50 for businesses under 100 employees.
“I did support an increase to the federal level; most businesses pay at or above that anyway,” he said. “My concern is the detrimental impact that this may have.”
“I have spoken with many businesses who tell me that they will cut back on their workforce, no longer hire high school workers, and raise prices for their customers,” Urdahl commented. “Minimum wage was never intended to be a living wage, and I fear that the bill that passed the House would result in many young workers losing their part-time jobs.”
Council Member Butch Amundsen asked Urdahl about his thoughts on the proposed construction of a Senate building.
Urdahl explained that he voted against it in the tax bill, which carried a price tag of $67 million.
It was approved by the Senate Rules Committee and now needs to be approved by the House Rules Committee.
“I fear this controversy will jeopardize the capitol restoration project, which is badly needed,” Urdahl said.
He noted that even with a new building, one-third of the senators would still have offices in the Capitol building.
Senator Newman addresses upcoming session
Senator Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson) was also contacted by the Enterprise Dispatch for his thoughts on the upcoming session.
Newman noted that he is on the bonding committee and his first job is to do what he can to limit the size of the overall bonding bill so that the state doesn’t jeopardize its credit rating.
“Remember, debt service is one of the fastest growing areas of our overall budget, and Minnesota taxpayers are being asked to pay more in taxes to pay for it,” Newman wrote in an e-mail correspondence.
“The other issue in this committee I will be looking at are the specific projects,” he said.
“First, I want to make sure that the selected projects are properly of statewide significance and that rural Minnesota receives its share of those projects,” Newman said. “All of my constituents pay for these projects and I don’t want them to be paying for local pet projects, either in rural or urban Minnesota.”
Newman is also working on a number of bills including those for online voter registration, special elections for locally elected officials, and disaster relief for electrical co-ops.