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A Summary of our Session Wrap Up

Local legislators debrief after session

June 22, 2018

Legislators agree on at least one thing following the 2018 session: Not enough was done for the people of Minnesota.

But who’s to blame? That remains contentious.

House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, and Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, answer questions at the MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce’s Session Wrap Up event in Blaine June 14.

Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed omnibus budget and tax bills May 23, and it does not look promising that a special session will be held before the 2019 session begins.

Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, came together to discuss what happened this year over breakfast at the MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce’s annual Session Wrap Up event, held at Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View Fire Department Station 3 June 14.

KSTP’s Tom Hauser moderated the conversation, asking tough questions of the representatives.

Hauser opened with questions about whether this session exemplifies how politics work or if there is another path forward.

Daudt placed all blame on Dayton, stating that there was bipartisan support on all bills passed, but “unfortunately, the governor just wasn’t engaged in the process this year.” He added that it is time for Dayton “to go out to pasture.”

The governor previously announced that he will not run for re-election in the fall.

Hortman disputed Daudt’s accusation that Dayton was unengaged and instead faulted the Republicans’ “strategy” of shoving unrelated legislation into one bill. The omnibus budget bill was nearly 1,000 pages in length and was released mere hours before the session came to a close.

The bill addressed everything from elder abuse to opioid addiction.

While both sides agree that these topics need to be addressed, they can’t agree on how.

The bill allocated $16 million from the general fund to combat opioid addiction, but Dayton and many legislators have supported an opioid tax.

In his veto letter, Dayton said Republicans’ work this session was “beholden to monied special interests.”

Daudt denied that pharmaceutical lobbyists had anything to do with absence of such an opioid tax. Ideologically, he’s opposed to raising taxes on the manufacturers because prices will increase, and insurance companies will pass along those increases to not only opioid-users, but also the general population, anyone with health insurance.

“Nobody really is triaging the cost of health care,” Daudt said.

Hortman argued that “the laws of economics work.” Raising prices on pills would prompt insurance companies to approve fewer claims for them; patients would turn to Advil and Tylenol instead, which in many cases can curb pain just as well, she said.

The dispute around opioids highlights the difference between Democrats and Republicans, Hortman said: “We do think by public policy we can hold people accountable.”

Dayton opposed 117 items in the omnibus budget bill, and Republican legislators claim they removed more than half of the content he found objectionable, but to no avail.

Discussion also centered on the tax conformity bill that the governor vetoed.

“I am vetoing this bill because of its misguided priorities that give tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy over the education of our children,” Dayton wrote in his veto letter.

At the MetroNorth Chamber event, Daudt argued that the tax bill included a slight tax increase for businesses, tax reductions for low- and middle-income families and $225 million for school districts across the state, which is more than the $137.9 million Dayton asked for in emergency school aid.

Democrats have maintained that all but $50 million of the $225 million Republicans offered is already available to school districts.

Additionally, the Republican plan allows for corporations to continue to avoid taxation on money they are holding offshore, Hortman said.

Both parties agree that it will be messy for taxpayers come tax season next year if federal and state tax codes are not brought into alignment.

Daudt thinks it unlikely that any action taken early in the 2019 legislative session would be timely enough to relieve the upcoming issues, but he did not believe a special session was in the cards.

Anoka County legislators in attendance at the MetroNorth Chamber event June 14 were asked whether they thought a special session would be fruitful or a waste of time.

Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka; Sen. John Hoffman, D-Champlin; Rep. Linda Runbeck, R-Circle Pines; and Rep. Nolan West, R-Blaine, were all in favor for returning to the Capitol to resume work, though West said he wouldn’t hold his breath that they would be called back.

Sen. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, and Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, both stated that they believed nothing would be solved with a special session.

“We did our work,” Scott said.

“Gov. Dayton thinks the Legislature is a scribe for his will,” Benson said.

One victory this session was passage of a pension bill that will allow for state pensions to be fully funded in 30 years, The state will increase its contribution by $27 million in 2019 and $114 million in 2020-2021, with current employees also required to increase contributions.

“This bipartisan legislation stabilizes pension benefits for 511,000 workers, retirees and their families,” Dayton said.

The conversation concluded with talk of the upcoming fall election.

Hortman is confident Democrats will reclaim the majority with the party opposite of the president historically gaining seats in Minnesota, she said.

In 2006, when George W. Bush was president, the Democrats took back 19 seats in the House, and they need 11 to turn the tide this election season.

“The path is there,” Daudt conceded, but “it’s so narrow.”

Daudt said he thinks “the battle will be fought in the suburbs.”

While not discussed at the MetroNorth Chamber’s event last week, Anoka County did see some victories in the bonding bill Dayton signed despite objections.

The bill includes $1 million for asset preservation at the National Sports Center in Blaine; $25 million in school safety grants, available to districts across the state; $6.75 million for the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center; funding for Anoka-Ramsey Community College deferred maintenance projects and design work to expand and update nursing classrooms and labs on the Coon Rapids campus; and $17 million for work on Thurston Boulevard and Ramsey Boulevard rail grade separation.