More than a month after Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz unveiled his roughly $49.5 billion dollar budget for "One Minnesota," legislators serving rural communities in the northwest said an increased gas tax Walz requested will place a strain on their constituents.
"It really seems like it's 'One Minnesota' being dictated from St. Paul and telling us how we need to operate in rural Minnesota," said Sen. Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks.
Johnson was joined by Reps. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston, and Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, for a Facebook live event Wednesday afternoon to discuss their concerns with Walz's budget and various bills in the Minnesota Legislature.
Walz, a newly-elected Democrat with experience in the U.S. House, shared the first draft of his budget with the Legislature in February. On Friday, Walz shared a revised budget with $133 million in reductions. He and his administration have highlighted an emphasis in both proposals on education, human services and rural communities across the state.
Walz's budget also entails a 20 cent increase in the state gas tax to pay for immediate maintenance like filling potholes and, in the long term, efforts to modernize Minnesota roads.
Kiel said rural Minnesotans who have to drive a lot will pay more in gas taxes than Minnesotans living in more metropolitan communities.
"In our rural area, it is so difficult to do anything without driving miles, and the cost of driving is really challenging for people to be able to get around," said Kiel.
Johnson, who lives on the border with Minnesota, said the increases will push more Minnesotans into North Dakota, where the gas tax hasn't been raised since 2005.
House Democrats shared a budget proposal that's similar to Walz's on Monday. Senate Republicans will share their budget Thursday, and the three groups are supposed to agree on one budget by May 20.
On childcare fraud
Republican in the Minnesota Legislature have most recently spoken out against the Democratic response to fraud in the childcare system, after a state report revealed $100 million lost to illegal overbilling and misreporting.
"All of a sudden it looks like $100 million dollars disappearing in fraud in that program. What are we going to do to address those things?" Johnson said.
Fabian and Kiel said they recently co-signed a bill with Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, that places stronger restrictions on figures in childcare to prevent further fraud.
"We need to make sure that were doing more to prevent fraud from happening, and we need to make sure that if the hard working taxpayers of Minnesota are going to have their money sent out to different individuals, if they're accessing these dollars fraudulently, we need to make sure that we're doing more to get those dollars to the right people," Fabian said.