BY GABE LICHT
MONTROSE, MN The Minnesota Legislature 2020 regular session will begin Tuesday, Feb. 11.
In advance of going to work in St. Paul, Sen. Bruce Anderson, R-Buffalo; Rep. Joe McDonald, R-Delano; and Rep. Marion O’Neill hosted a town hall meeting in Montrose Tuesday evening.
(This story will focus on comments made by McDonald and Anderson, as O’Neill does not represent the Delano Herald Journal coverage area.)
Being that 2020 is a bonding year, the size and scope of a bonding bill was a top topic.
While the legislators said Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, has proposed a $3 billion bonding bill, several news outlets are reporting that number is closer to $2 billion.
Regardless, that is significantly more than Republicans want to spend.
“We’re looking at maybe under $1 billion,” Anderson said. “The last one was $998 million. We have to then pay for that later on. Someone has to foot the cost on that thing.”
“I’d be in favor of healthy, responsible bonding requests of maybe $800 million, and just funding needs in the state, not wants,” McDonald added after the forum.
With that said, he predicted the bonding bill will end up being about $1.2 billion.
Roads and bridges are priorities for McDonald and Anderson, including state funding for infrastructure under highways 55 and 24 in Annandale. Anderson also supports funds related to the expansion of Interstate 94 between St. Michael and Albertville.
McDonald said he would not support a supplemental budget.
“Our budget last year spent close to $48 billion to fund Minnesota priorities and programs,” McDonald said. “I am not in favor of putting any more monies in a nonbudget year. Each department, they all have budget requests. We spent $48 million. That’s enough.”
Anderson, a veteran, referenced $15 million that the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs has requested, which would include funding for a full time director and assistant director for veteran suicide. He contends that the department should work with other departments to address suicide.
“Let’s combine the Department of Agriculture, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Health, and Department of Education; they’re all working on suicide within their own agencies for people who are suffering from depression or because of circumstances,” Anderson said after the meeting. “I think we can spearhead this whole thing and come to a conclusion by uniting all the agencies. The problem with a bureaucracy is . . . they don’t want to work together.”
Republicans have a two-seat majority in the Senate, and McDonald credited that majority with stopping $12 billion in tax increases in 2019.
The gas tax also did not increase, thanks to Senate Republicans, McDonald said.
Republicans were able to “kill all Second Amendment infringement bills,” according to McDonald.
Republicans also stood in the way of legalizing recreational marijuana, and plan to do so again in 2020.
“If you’re in favor of it, you’re in for bad news,” McDonald said. “[Senate Majority Leader] Sen. [Paul] Gazelka said they’re not going to pass it on the Senate side. It’s probably a good thing. We got data from Colorado regarding homelessness, traffic fatalities, violence outbreaks, and domestic assaults all went up. That’s what the Colorado statistics gave to us when we asked what happened when they legalized marijuana. So, if you want to risk that, let’s go for it.”
McDonald also said Senate Republicans blocked a proposal for Planned Parenthood representatives to teach sex education classes to students as young as kindergarten.
“I won’t even tell you some of the things they wanted to teach from a book called ‘It’s Perfectly Normal,’” McDonald said.
One thing Republicans supported enough for it to pass was the bill banning the use of handheld phones.
“This year, we were finally able to pass that legislation and get it on the books so, if you’re caught with your phone on your ear, you’ll be stopped and ticketed,” Anderson said.
Related to driving, John Tackaberry, of Franklin Township, asked the legislators to pass a bill requiring the use of headlights at all times.
O’Neill said she considered introducing such a bill, but did not because she could not “believe the blasting I got from the constituents in my county,” when she suggested the idea to them.
John Peterson, of Marysville Township, asked a question about a proposal from former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page and Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Neel Kashkari to amend the constitution regarding education.
“It’s going to cut through a lot of red tape,” Anderson said. “They haven’t given the details to us. We’re going to find out when it gets introduced Feb. 11. It’s a constitutional amendment the governor doesn’t have to sign. It has to pass the House and the Senate. We’re leery. We feel we have legislation that meets the needs of the students.”
Anderson noted that the state’s largest teachers union, Education Minnesota, opposes the proposal and, therefore, “It probably won’t go far.”
There was another question regarding the disparity of state funding per pupil in Minnesota schools.
“I’ve been fighting since I first got elected for equity in education,” O’Neill said.
Despite differences between Republicans and Democrats, McDonald called Walz a “decent man to work with.”
“He’s very engaging,” McDonald said. “He seemed very sympathetic to some issues, especially Highway 12 . . . He is very much involved with veteran affairs. I found him to be very approachable and easy to work with. On the other hand, he did seem to get more left on issues than he said he would.”
An example McDonald gave was the Line 3 pipeline.
“The governor supported Line 3,” McDonald said. “He reneged on his promise. I’m not happy. Many people are not happy.”