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,
Representative Tony Jurgens
351 State Office Building
St. Paul, MN 55155