The 2019 legislative session is now behind us (6/4/2019)

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By Rep. Tony Jurgens, 6/4/2019

Hello from St. Paul,

Minnesota’s state budget has been approved, and the 2019 legislative session is now behind us.

As is usually the case, there are positives and negatives to be found within every budget area of state government.

Most people I’ve spoken with are pleased that a 20-cent per gallon gas tax increase plan championed by Governor Walz and Minnesota House Democratic leadership was stopped, as was a $68 million funding cut to nursing homes.

Remember, the legislature approved a law last session that provides a permanent funding solution to transportation needs without raising taxes. The governor and House leadership wanted to eliminate that this session and force you to accept a 20-cent per gallon gas tax increase instead.

If someone tells you we need a comprehensive transportation funding solution at the State Capitol, this is a non-transparent way of saying they want to take more of your money by raising gas taxes, tab fees, motor vehicle sales taxes, or even adding another ½ cent to the Metro Area sales tax.

As part of this approved budget, $6 billion will be allocated for statewide transportation needs without raising anyone’s taxes. In addition, $13 million will be sent to our deputy registrars who are struggling with our MNLARS licensing system. $200,000 of this will assist our deputy registrars in Hastings and Cottage Grove.

Among other good news provisions: middle class Minnesotans will receive a ¼% income tax reduction; and Minnesota schools will receive a 2% funding increase over each of the next two years.

We’re also cracking down on fraud in our Child Care Assistance Program. This includes stricter reporting requirements, stronger oversight, and a case-tracking system at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to help track fraud cases. While there’s still more work to do, these provisions are a good first-step toward restoring integrity in CCAP and our other public programs.

On a personal note, you’ll recall during our flooding season earlier this year that I offered legislation that would replenish Minnesota’s Disaster Contingency Account – which was created to allocate funds to communities impacted by natural disasters and to avoid calling special sessions to authorize the appropriation of these funds.

While the final total is far lower than the $20 million I sought, at least there’s something there for our disaster victims.

Among the biggest disappointments is the continuation of Minnesota’s sick tax, which is a 2% tax leveled on anyone who makes a doctor or dentist visit. By law, the sick tax was going to expire on December 31.

Originally, the sick tax was created in order to help provide health care to low income Minnesotans. Minnesota now receives federal money to accomplish this goal. That means money raised through the continuation of this program – the cost of the tax has dropped from 2% to 1.8% – will likely be spent in other areas of state government, which is not the original intent and not what most Minnesotans are being told.

With the 2019 session now over, I’d like to remind residents that I am always available to answer your questions or concerns. Please email me any time at rep.tony.jurgens@house.mn, or call my office at 651-296-3135.

Have a great summer!
Tony

Representative Tony Jurgens
351 State Office Building
St. Paul, MN 55155
651-296-3135
E-mail: rep.tony.jurgens@house.mn

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Budget negotiations (5/9/2019)

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By Rep. Tony Jurgens, 5/9/2019

Hello from the State Capitol,

Just wanted to provide you with a quick update on where things stand with budget negotiations.

The short answer is there’s been very little movement.

May 6 was the date the House, Senate, and Governor were to agree on budget targets. That deadline was missed, and we’re still no closer to having budget targets as of this writing than we were a week ago.

The reason for the lack of progress is simple – a debate over whether or not we should approve $12 billion worth of tax increases.

Governor Walz and House leadership are supporting the $12 billion in tax increases – which includes the 20-cent per gallon gas tax and raising taxes on your health care. To date, they have not eliminated one dollar of that amount during budget discussions. The Senate has stated that with a $1 billion surplus it wants no tax increases of any kind this budget cycle, so they obviously have refused to accept any tax increase ideas.

In other words, neither side is blinking. Yet.

The reality is progress needs to be made soon, as session will end in 11 days. I will keep you updated on any news made here at the Capitol.

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week. I’d like to recognize all the teachers throughout the area for their work with our youth and their commitment to education. Thanks for all you do.

May is also Mental Health Awareness month. Its purpose is to raise awareness and educate the public about mental illnesses, and strive to reduce the misconceptions that surrounds mental illnesses. My thanks to all who are doing their part to raise awareness.

Have a good weekend,
Tony

Representative Tony Jurgens
351 State Office Building
St. Paul, MN 55155
651-296-3135
E-mail: rep.tony.jurgens@house.mn

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The biggest problem with this budget (5/3/2019)

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By Rep. Tony Jurgens, 5/3/2019

Hello from St. Paul,

This week, Minnesota House Democrats finished approving their remaining budget bills. The most talked about proposal was their transportation finance plan, which includes a 20-cent per gallon gas tax hike – a 70% increase that would give Minnesota the fourth highest gas tax in the nation – and over four years raises taxes by more than $4 billion.

Do you recall the County Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) fiasco from a couple of years ago, which took millions in tax dollars from Dakota and Washington counties and sent them to Minneapolis and St. Paul for transit-related projects? Well, this proposal contains CTIB 2.0 by adding another half-cent to our sales tax and once again sends our tax dollars to the Twin Cities.

Back to the 20-cent per gallon gas tax increase for a moment. It’s important to remember that we already have a law that dedicates hundreds of millions of dollars to state transportation needs without raising taxes. It’s also worth noting that if put into law, not all of this massive gas tax increase would represent new spending.

As part of this plan, House Democrats want to cut $417 million in revenue currently dedicated in state law to transportation needs and spend that road and bridge money in other areas of state government.

The 20-cent per gallon gas tax would replace this law, yet between 1/3 to 1/2 of that increase would be used to backfill the money that had been raided from the transportation budget in the first place.

It’s basically an expensive shell game, and one where low to middle income Minnesotans will feel the most financial pain.

And in my opinion that’s the biggest problem with this budget. There are $12 billion in tax increases across all budget bills, and Governor Walz’s own administration issued an analysis saying these tax increases would hit low and middle income families the hardest. Add in the fact that the House DFL budget also funds a pay raise for legislators while cutting $68 million from nursing homes, and increases health care costs, and it’s a tough budget to support.

From the people I’m hearing from, they’re not in favor at all of these new taxes and spending priorities, especially when we have a $1 billion budget surplus. We do not need new ways for the State of Minnesota to dig into our wallets.

In other news, after wasting $173 million of your money on a failed driver’s license and registration system, Governor Walz has finally pulled the plug on MNLARS. The change over to a new software system developed by a private vendor will take roughly 2 years.

MNLARS has caused lawmakers some of the greatest headaches over the past two years, as Governor Dayton repeatedly insisted the MNLARS problems were fixable. In 2018, Republicans successfully passed legislation requiring the Dayton administration to issue a request for information (RFI) on the feasibility of a private vendor to replace MNLARS. The Dayton administration declined to take any action to pursue private vendor options that were detailed as a result of the Republican-led RFI legislation.

Dayton’s inaction caused even more of your tax dollars to be wasted on this money pit. Meanwhile, many of our deputy registrars are struggling to make ends meet with a program that didn’t work forced upon them. House Republicans have made repeated attempts to provide them with some relief, but those efforts continue to be rejected by the majority.

Credit where it’s due: unlike his predecessor, Governor Walz has made the right MNLARS call. Early in session I met with the governor and we discussed MNLARS. He committed to me to get it right, saying that he inherited the problem but accepted ownership to fix it.

It makes me sick that the previous administration wasted millions of your tax dollars in order to save face, but it would make me even sicker if Governor Walz had chosen to continue throwing good money after bad.

Thursday was recognized as the National Day of Prayer. A ceremony was held on the front steps of the State Capitol.

It was a nice opportunity to take a break from the House floor debate and stand with Democrats and Republicans and many of you from our district that came to the Capitol to participate. One of the most humbling parts of representing you is when I’m told “I’m praying for you,” so thank you for the kind words.

May is National Melanoma Month. Ahead of Melanoma Monday, which is the first Monday in May, Patrick Guddal and other black ribbon warriors met in the Capitol Rotunda on Friday to raise awareness and distribute information about this aggressive form of skin cancer.

Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that can spread rapidly to other areas of the body if untreated so advocates encourage us all to get checked.

It was good to get out in the community last weekend following some long days and nights at the State Capitol. Hastings had a number of local events going on, and it was good to meet up with a lot of residents at the Rotary fundraiser, the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Spring Fling event, and the Starkson Family Life Celebration Chapel open house. After a week of 15 hour days in St. Paul, it was nice to reconnect and hear what was on people’s minds.

Have a good weekend,
Tony

Representative Tony Jurgens
351 State Office Building
St. Paul, MN 55155
651-296-3135
E-mail: rep.tony.jurgens@house.mn

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There’s no need to raise anyone’s taxes (4/26/2019)

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By Rep. Tony Jurgens, 4/26/2019

Hello from the State Capitol,

We had many late night floor sessions this week as budget bills began arriving on the House floor. These are the proposals that would fund all areas of state government.

Interestingly, many of these proposals mirror what Governor Walz had proposed in his budget earlier this session. This week, the governor’s revenue department analyzed the tax increases that had been proposed. It was bad news for low and middle income Minnesotans.

This tax incidence report found that the governor’s tax changes would increase the tax burden for Minnesotans making less than $45,000 by double digit percentages. It would also raise taxes on Minnesotans of every income level. Minnesota’s tax code would also become more regressive because the proposals would significantly increase low and middle-income Minnesotans’ tax burdens much more than those with higher incomes.

These proposals include a 70% increase in the gas tax as well as raising taxes on Minnesotan’s health care. Not included in the study is paid leave legislation that has been proposed by House majority, which would cost taxpayers another $1.6 billion over four years.

In the face of a $1 billion surplus, there’s no need to raise anyone’s taxes.

One of those bills, the health and human services finance bill, weighed in at twelve pounds and more than 1,100 pages.

In short, it will raise health care costs, cut funding for nursing homes, and allow rampant fraud to continue.

Included is an extension of the provider tax – also known as the sick tax because everyone that makes a doctor’s visit pays it – that adds more than $2 billion to the cost of Minnesotans’ health care over the next four years.

We attempted to make this bill better. For example, I supported 3 separate proposals that aimed at exempting cancer treatments, diabetes treatments, and pregnancy care from being taxed with their continuation of the sick tax. The House majority voted all of them down on party line votes.

The bill also cuts nursing home funding by $68 million due to changes in reimbursement rates, and did little to tackle fraud that’s been found in public programs like the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP).

While, as you’d expect, the largest omnibus bill in the history of the Minnesota House did have some good provisions, the bad far outweighed the good in my opinion.

More omnibus bill will be debated in the days ahead.

Last weekend I was pleased to help plant some trees in Hastings at Riverwood Park in honor of Arbor Day.

I also joined thousands of other bikers and riders in taking part in the Flood Run, which benefits Gillette Children’s Hospital.

I had fewer visitors this week as we have been on the House floor by 9:00 AM and don’t finish until close to midnight every day, but I stepped out of the House chamber for a few minutes to visit with Dakota County Technical College students and faculty who stopped by for a Capitol visit. Thanks for coming!

Have a great weekend,
Tony

Representative Tony Jurgens
351 State Office Building
St. Paul, MN 55155
651-296-3135
E-mail: rep.tony.jurgens@house.mn

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Put your phone down when you’re behind the wheel (4/18/2019)

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By Rep. Tony Jurgens, 4/18/2019

Hello from St. Paul,

It won’t be long before you won’t be able to use your cell phone while driving unless it’s through hands-free operation.

Governor Walz has signed bipartisan hands-free legislation into law in hopes that it will reduce the number of accidents that occur due to drivers who pay more attention to their cell phones than the road.

Under current law, it is illegal to text while driving in Minnesota, but it is not illegal to type in a phone number or program a GPS system while behind the wheel. This legislation would allow voice activated cell phone use only, along with one-touch or headsets.

Current law makes it difficult to enforce because officers have no idea what you’re doing with your phone. Making it illegal to have a phone in your hands removes the guesswork, eliminates a distraction for drivers and ultimately will save lives and prevent accidents.

This legislation sends a strong message to the citizens of Minnesota to put their phones down when they’re behind the wheel. This measure is designed to improve safety and to keep a driver’s eyes on the road.

GOVERNMENT SPENDING BILLS MOVING FORWARD IN MINNESOTA HOUSE

Our House Democratic majority has moved forward several bills that would fund state government for the next two years. They will be debated on the House floor over several days, beginning on April 23.

Together, these bills total $50 billion in general fund spending – which would represent an increase in state spending of 11% from the current budget cycle. It would be the largest budget in Minnesota’s history.

Also worth noting: if these proposals became law, Minnesotans would pay $12 billion in new taxes over the next four years. This includes a well-publicized 20-cent per gallon gas tax increase that was initially proposed by Governor Walz.

There’s no doubt the House majority will approve this budget. The Minnesota Senate will soon pass a budget of its own and then both sides will need to reconcile their differences. It’s my hope that when the final compromise is reached, it will come back much less expensive than when it first left the House floor. With a $1 billion budget surplus, I believe these tax increases and significant, permanent spending increases are unnecessary.

PROVIDING INSURANCE COVERAGE FOR TWO RARE DISEASES

If I told you that a disease exists that impacts 1 out of every 200 kids, yet some health insurance companies don’t provide coverage for their treatment, would you believe it?

This sad but true story impacts children with PANS and PANDAS.

PANS occurs when an infection, environmental factors, and other possible triggers create a misdirected immune response resulting in inflammation on a child’s brain. In turn, the child quickly begins to exhibit life changing symptoms such as obsessive compulsive disorder, severe restrictive eating, anxiety, tics, personality changes, decline abilities in math and handwriting, sensory sensitivities, and more.

PANDAS syndrome occurs specifically following a strep infection, where a child experiences obsessive compulsive disorder and tics, or the symptoms worsen after acquiring strep.

Not long ago, a number of families came to the Capitol to share their stories and advocate for change. Legislation is now moving forward that requires all health plans provide coverage to Minnesota residents for PANDAS and PANS, which includes medication and behavioral therapies.

In 2017, Illinois became the first state requiring insurance coverage for PANDAS and PANS. Hopefully, Minnesota will soon follow suit.

Our Passover/Easter break gave me an opportunity to do something I love – read to kids. I used the time off as an opportunity to share my love of reading with kids of all ages throughout our communities.

At Grey Cloud Elementary in Cottage Grove, I was able to read “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” to Ms. Wilds’ kindergarten students.

“Polar Bear, Polar Bear What Do You Hear” was the story of choice for the 2 and 3 year olds during Toddler Storytime at the Park Grove Library.

The 3 to 5 year olds at the Newport Head Start Center in the Newport United Methodist Church loved the Dr. Suess book, “My, Oh My–A Butterfly!”

Thanks for all of these invitations to read to our kids! It was truly a pleasure.

On Wednesday, I was able to take part in the Randolph FFA Alumni Tractor Parade after being invited to attend by some local FFA students.

I got to drive this little 12hp 1947 Farmall Cub, which is similar to the Farmall B my Grandpa Bob taught me to drive on his farm in South Dakota when I was a kid. What a blast!

Washburn Center for Children offers therapeutic services to help children experiencing depression, anxiety, behavioral difficulties, trauma or other mental health challenges. I toured Washburn Center with CEO Tom Steinmetz today to see School Linked Mental Health Grants at work this week.

I have a bill that would increase state funding for the grants that Washburn and many other providers and schools around the state access to help kids.

Wishing you all a Happy Easter holiday,
Tony

Representative Tony Jurgens
351 State Office Building
St. Paul, MN 55155
651-296-3135
E-mail: rep.tony.jurgens@house.mn

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