December 19, 2016 07:06 PM
The 2017 session of the Minnesota Legislature will largely focus on passing a two-year state budget, but several other issues will likely grab many headlines.
In addition to the budget, lawmakers will try to find ways to help Minnesotans pay rapidly increasing health insurance premiums and attempt to pass a transportation funding plan.
"We definitely want to work and move things forward at a faster pace so there's more time at the end," says incoming Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka. He says he's been frustrated by last-minute budget deals that often fall apart and lead to vetoes of key legislation.
Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt agrees and says he wants a more open process. "We're going to do our negotiations and conduct the business of the state in the committees in the legislative process where the people can come and testify and have a voice in the process," Daudt told Capitol Press Corps reporters at a legislative preview session organized by the Forum News Service.
Daudt and Gazelka will lead Republican lawmakers who control the House and Senate for only the second time in 46 years. They say they're determined to pass a transportation funding plan without raising taxes. They'll look for savings elsewhere in state government along with using some of the budget surplus to do that.
"It's very difficult to tell Minnesotans that when we have, in the last biennium, a two-billion dollar surplus, but we need you to kick up the money you put in when you put gas in the tank everyday," Daudt said.
DFL Sen. Tom Bakk, who's about to go from majority leader to minority leader, cautioned against using general fund money to pay for transportation. He says it's not a long-term solution because future legislatures can just undo the spending. "The highway system has always been a user fee system," Bakk said. "It's why license tabs, the sales tax on motor vehicles, the gas tax are all constitutionally dedicated to transportation."
The lawmakers also signaled this could be the year a Sunday liquors sales bill passes into law. Daudt predicted a bill would pass the House. Gazelka said he's been an opponent in the past, but is "open" to the idea this year.
Governor Mark Dayton has said in the past he would sign a Sunday liquor bill if it gets to his desk. Reporters couldn't ask him about it Monday because he was ill and unable to attend the legislative preview session.
Updated: December 19, 2016 07:06 PM
Created: December 19, 2016 06:27 PM
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