Viewpoint: Session difficult, but hopefully one that can benefit Minnesota in the future
There were two issues on which Republicans and Democrats could agree.
As the 2023 legislative session ends, I first want to thank the many constituents who called, emailed and even visited the Capitol this session. Your input is valuable to me as we consider the bills and ideas up for debate.
I think one of my favorite moments as a senator this year was racing up the senate steps with Red Lake County elementary, and seeing the students from Warren-Alvarado-Oslo, Wein-E-Mac, and other schools. I also had a visit from Fisher, East Grand Forks, W-A-O and Bemidji superintendents, heard from college students about the state grant program, and met with nurses and care providers about their concerns. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to represent each of you in the Senate.
The session started with a huge surplus and high hopes for real tax relief. We proposed the “Give it Back” tax plan with $13 billion over two years in permanent tax cuts, including the full elimination of the Social Security income tax, and larger one-time rebates. However, Democrats now in control took a different approach and increased government spending by a whopping 40%, from $52 billion to $72 billion. I’m disappointed there wasn’t any interest in making tax cuts permanent or providing bigger rebate checks; $260 in this economy just doesn’t go far enough.
Even worse, Democrats raised taxes by at least $9 billion. While the rebate checks are one-time payments, these tax increases are permanent. Some of the biggest increases were from the tax bill, which raised taxes by $2.2 billion; Paid Family and Medical Leave is a $2.1 billion tax increase on every employee and employer in the states and the transportation bill included $3.8 billion in tax and fee increases. We were all shocked when a gas tax was even entertained – much less passed – having never received a single hearing in either the House or the Senate.
That’s not how laws are supposed to be made. We need input from the entire state, including the minority legislators, to have the best legislation possible. Sadly, this session was marked by partisanship, with Republican ideas and amendments that had broad bipartisan support during floor votes stripped out of bills without explanation. Instead, Democrats pushed full steam ahead on their own agenda to pass huge bills, like marijuana legalization, government-run paid family leave, and gun control without working to earn the votes of Republicans who care about these issues too.
There were two issues that we did finally agree on.
First, we heard all session that nursing homes across the state were struggling to stay open, and we risked dozens of closures if we didn’t get them a lifeline of financial help. The $300 million we secured includes direct grants, facility rate increases, and a workforce incentive fund that adds up to about $1.1 million for every nursing home in the state.
Second, we passed a bipartisan bonding bill that prioritized safe roads and bridge, public safety, and water treatment projects across the state. I know people were concerned a bonding bill would not happen, but we worked out an agreement that actually funded more projects than the first bill that failed in March, a much better deal for everyone in the end.
So, while this session has been difficult, I am hopeful that next year we can use the last week of the session as a model to work together to pass bipartisan bills and laws that will help the whole state.
Mark Johnson, a Republican from East Grand Forks, represents Minnesota District 1 in the state Senate.