Deb Kiel and Dan Fabian: Editorial ignored Minnesota GOP's accomplishments
ST. PAUL—A Herald editorial recently called out out Minnesota House Republicans on being the party of "No" and unwilling to compromise ("Stubborn lawmakers dash hopes in St. Paul," Page A4, May 23).
The editorial erroneously decided to single us out as solely responsible for transportation, bonding and Real ID not passing this year, ignoring the facts and our significant accomplishments. We'd like to set the record straight.
Let's start with the achievements and bipartisan compromise that came out of this session. This year, House Republicans overwhelmingly heard from their communities that with Minnesota's $900 million surplus, middle-class tax relief was a must.
Legislators reached an agreement, providing more than half a billion in ongoing and permanent tax relief including provisions to eliminate the state income tax on military retirement pay, implement a first-in-the-nation student loan tax credit, expand a number of tax credits for working families and provide property tax relief for farmers and Main Street businesses.
In return, we also passed a supplemental spending bill that included provisions meaningful to Democrat constituencies including racial disparities funding and money for the governor's pre-kindergarten initiative. No one got everything they wanted, but it was a fair compromise.
While we successfully negotiated meaningful tax relief, Real ID was left unresolved. This is a concern for many Minnesotans, and an issue that was held up solely over driver's licenses for illegal immigrants — something that couldn't even garner enough support to move forward just two years ago, when Democrats had full control of state government.
Transportation and bonding were important to Minnesotans as well, and House Republicans worked in good faith to reach a compromise. In fact, we thought we had an agreement when we passed a bipartisan transportation bonding bill 91-39 and sent it to the Senate, who subsequently killed the bill in a last minute political stunt.
But maybe we should have seen it coming when the Senate majority leader expressed earlier in the day that he was concerned any bill we agreed to would allow Republicans to campaign on bipartisan transportation funding. This was about politics, not good policy.
Was the transportation and bonding bill we passed the comprehensive, 10-year transportation plan all sides had hoped for? No. But did it infuse more than $700 million into vital road and bridge projects across Minnesota, one of the largest one-time investments the state has ever seen in transportation? Yes.
We thought that was a reasonable deal and believed Senate Democrats agreed, too.
Bonding was another place we moved on significantly to get to an agreement. House Republicans jumped from $600 million to $800 million and eventually $990 million in the final agreement we believed to have with the Senate. That legislation had a number of projects for northwest Minnesota, including funding for small city road projects, Northland Community College lab renovations, the Polk County North Country Food Bank, the sewer interconnect between East Grand Forks and Grand Forks, the Polk County solid waste improvement project and local flood mitigation.
A few metro Senators blocked all those projects in the last minute of session, trying to force through funding for an expensive train in Minneapolis.
Southwest Light Rail is a 14.5 mile, $1.79 billion train that has gone up nearly 50 percent in estimated building costs since first being proposed. That's $123 million per mile, not including future operating costs.
It's a controversial project in many of the communities where they want to implement it, and we believe a poor use of taxpayer dollars. We are disappointed that vital infrastructure and transportation projects were held hostage over this boondoggle.
Transportation negotiations have been going back and forth between the House, Senate and governor over the past two years, and we thought we had finally reached an agreement. Republicans continually negotiated in good faith, twice increasing the bonding bill budget targets and also offering to restructure tab fees to raise additional revenue.
At the end of the day, the blame game is not something we wanted to be playing, but folks should have a clear understanding of what happened this year. We are hopeful Gov. Mark Dayton will call a one-day special session to pass the agreed-upon, bipartisan bonding legislation that died in the Senate and build upon the successful bipartisan tax relief we passed this year.
In the Minnesota House, Kiel, R-Crookston, represents District 1B, and Fabian, R-Roseau, represents District 1A.