Legislative Session 2018 – Week 2
The 2018 Session began February 20, with the House and Senate focusing on tax conformity (matching Minnesota state taxes to the federal system), securing funding for the legislature, and sexual harassment training. Committee hearings started but were mostly reviews and updates of events since the close of the 2017 session. The biggest news since then has been the new budget projection, showing a $329 million surplus – a very healthy Minnesota economy. Legislators are already talking about supplemental budgets if the tax conformity bill doesn’t eat up the surplus. This a ‘short’ session, meaning the legislature has about a month less to work. They are less interested in hearing controversial matters because they don’t have as much committee time available. This limits our expectations for the session.
Although the legislative session began last week, MAT’s government relations team has been busy for months. Our newest member, Cari Ann Alleman, has been arranging and taking meetings with legislators in their home districts, which has offered us much more time and attention than we are able to get in St. Paul. MAT has already seen success in contacts with legislators. Our Legislative and Research (L&R) meeting was held February 20 and 21. Over those two days, L&R members met with over 50 legislators, up from 18 last year. MAT members and District Directors have also held three District/County lobby days at the capitol. Its been a great showing of town officers.
MAT’s Legislative Priorities are based on work started last year, and updates on some issues are below.
Transportation: We heard from House Capital Investment Chair Dean Urdahl yesterday that he expects funding for local roads and bridges to be included in the bonding bill. This is great news for towns because last year’s transportation bill largely left out towns. We’ve also had discussion and good feedback regarding more dedicated town road funding or grant programs that will be available for local road and bridge repairs.
Broadband: A new Senate broadband bill, SF 2787, was introduced this week to appropriate $51,480,000, from the General Fund to the State’s Border-to-Border Broadband program. A companion bill is expected from the House soon. While there is good support for broadband, there continues to be disagreement about the reliability of wireless interest solutions in rural areas. Your legislators need to hear about your experiences with wireless because right now, they are hearing that wireless can completely solve the broadband issue in rural Minnesota. We have heard differently, but legislators need your voice.
No Net Gain / 30-Year Plan: What we thought was going to be a more controversial issue has turned more positive than we expected. Legislators throughout the state are concerned with the loss of tax base to local governments, the loss of productive land, and the increasing amount of State-owned land. The opposition to the bill has come from outdoor sporting groups that want more public land for hunting. To be clear, MAT does not oppose more land available for recreation, but it cannot come at the expense of the town residents whose taxes increase whenever land becomes non-taxable. While No Net Gain would stop the bleeding, the 30-Year Plan would allow more recreation land while keeping the town whole.
As always, we need your help. Please contact your legislators about the issues that matter to you and your town. Your voice goes much farther than ours can.