Surplus, Social Security tax are top priorities for northwest Minnesota lawmakers in 2023 legislative session

Republican lawmakers from District 1 are hoping to make the voices of rural Minnesotans heard during the 2023 legislative session when tackling issues like the budget surplus and taxes.

Minnesota State Capitol, St. Paul, Minnesota
Minnesota State Capitol, St. Paul, Minnesota
Don Davis / Forum News Service file photo
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ST. PAUL – Lawmakers in northwest Minnesota see a challenge ahead of them as they return to St. Paul on Jan. 3. After all, Democrats now control the state House of Representatives, the Senate and the governor’s office.

In the November election, Democrats took control of the Senate by one spot, ending a six-year streak in Republican leadership. With top priorities of determining how to spend the state’s budget surplus and reducing taxes, Republican lawmakers from District 1 say they re hoping to make the voices of rural Minnesotans heard during the 2023 legislative session.

“The number one need for northwest Minnesota is making sure that we get fair representation down in St. Paul, to get some equality with what is happening in the metro – we need that up in rural Minnesota, too,” said Sen. Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks.

Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson
North Dakota officials are preparing to file a lawsuit against Minnesota on the grounds that the law interferes with their ability to sell coal and natural gas.

Like in 2022, determining how to spend the budget surplus is on the top of many legislators' to-do lists, but going into 2023, the projected surplus is even higher than last year’s $9.25 billion estimate. Now, Minnesota has a projected budget surplus of $17.6 billion , contributed to by strong collections and lower-than-projected spending, according to the state’s Department of Management and Budget.

Faced with the surplus, District 1 lawmakers would like to see the money spent in a way that benefits taxpayers in the long run, said Rep. John Burkel, R-Badger.


“It should be one-time money – we can’t be increasing the baseline spending here and growing this budget beyond what we can afford in the future,” said Burkel. “So a responsible and prudent approach to that one-time spending, especially when it comes to our roads and our bridges, any kind of infrastructure that’s long lasting, really needs to be looked at hard.”

010621.n.gfh.john burkel.jpg
John Burkel is serving in the Minnesota House in District 1A. Submitted photo

Another statewide issue District 1 legislators hope to take on in 2023 is eliminating Minnesota income taxes on Social Security payments.

“You paid taxes once,” said Rep. Debra Kiel, R-Crookston. “You don’t need to be paying taxes twice on your money that you earned, and the one thing we have to remember is not to put caveats on it depending on where you are in life.”

Top legislative issues District 1 lawmakers identified for northwest Minnesota include student test scores, job availability and infrastructure.

Each lawmaker has individual priorities this session as well.

Johnson was elected as Senate Minority Leader and said much of his work this year will revolve around the Senate Republican Caucus.

Burkel, who will serve on the Agriculture and Environment committees, plans to introduce a bill focused on wolf depredation. He also would like to see legislation preventing regulatory overreach for businesses in Minnesota, especially after the news that Epitome Energy, a Minnesota agribusiness, will be building its soybean crush plant in Grand Forks instead of Crookston, Minnesota, after a long permitting process.

“I’d like to see us really take a hard look at the regulatory approaches that these agencies are putting in place and how that affects our local farmers and businesses,” he said.


Deb Kiel
Deb Kiel

Kiel has her sights set on legislation around senior housing and disability issues.

“There are a lot of care needs, whether you’re disabled or aging and I’m working on what that would cost us and how we can do it because we have to work with the federal government on much of this,” she said.

Burkel and Johnson say early in the session, they expect Democrats to focus on campaign promises, such as the legalization of marijuana.

“Then hopefully we settle in and get to work on the real stuff,” said Burkel. “Then it comes down to the local issues, our townships, our counties, what they’re struggling with and social services in those areas.”

Kiel, who has been in the Legislature since 2010, has experience with a Democrat-controlled Legislature and governor’s office. In 2013 and 2014, Democrats held an advantage in the House, Senate and governor’s office. She says she is worried about Democrats having the trifecta, but is ready to work with her DFL counterparts.

“We certainly need to be there, available and willing to work with our counterparts,” said Kiel. “The challenge is that sometimes we make a decision that looks like it's going to work for everyone but it isn’t very conducive to rural Minnesota.”

With Democrats holding a one-vote majority in the Senate, Johnson sees room for collaboration.

“I’m thinking this year because of that narrow split and the diversity in their caucus, they'll have some more conservative Democrats and more liberal Democrats,” he said. “We really have an opportunity to work together in shaping what the agenda is going to be, which gives me a lot of hope for our ability to work with Democrats.”

Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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