Approximately 20 residents Hubbard and Wadena counties gathered Thursday at the Menahga VFW to hear three Republican lawmakers review the 2019 state legislative session
Reporting their party's success this year in stopping tax increases and spending proposals advanced by DFL legislators and Gov. Tim Walz were Dist. 2B Rep. Steve Green (R-Fosston), Dist. 9A Rep. John Poston (R-Lake Shore) and Dist. 2 Sen. Paul Utke (R-Park Rapids).
"This year, we relied heavily on the Senate, and they came through for us on most of the stuff that we were looking for," said Green. "On the House side, I can say that our biggest accomplishments this year are what we stopped."
Green told the town hall meeting that House Republicans stopped more than $12 billion in tax increases over the next four years, including a gas tax increase.
"We do know that if we get to $4 a gallon, our economy pretty much shuts down," he argued. "The more people are spending on gas, they less they are spending on other things."
He noted that transportation improvements are a need, but that work needs to be done to curb waste - for example, by waiving sales tax on materials purchased for road projects.
Poston reported the GOP stopped two bills that would have added restrictions to gun rights.
"It did pass through the House, because we didn't have the numbers to take it down on the vote," he said, "but the Senate did, and did their job."
Regarding the legislative marathon at the end of the session, Poston said, "A lot of bad policy got thrown overboard. That's what that $12 billion was going to fund."
For example, he said the House DFL's health care bill was 1,243 pages long. "It was unbelievable, the amount of new spending. The DFL said no to nobody."
Poston said the legislative GOP stopped Minnesota from becoming a sanctuary state, stopped increases in vehicle registration fees and automobile sales taxes, a proposal to issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, single-payer healthcare, late-term and post-birth abortion, the Green New Deal, anti-mining and anti-pipeline laws and the legalization of recreational marijuana.
"We owe most of that to the Senate standing their ground and doing the right thing for the people of Minnesota," said Poston.
Utke reported that the governor's HHS bill would have reduced state and federal support for Greater Minnesota nursing homes, including cuts totaling about $340,000 for local nursing homes.
"Most of the people writing these bills are in the Metro," he said. "That's, unfortunately, what we're getting into a lot of. It's Metro vs. the rest of Minnesota."
Utke said a cut last year to services for the disabled was partly restored this year. He also described a school safety bill that had its funding gutted during the DFL's drive to increase gun control.
"We went from $75 million to zero," said Utke. "It's at $30 (million) now, as long as we have money left at the end of this biennium, that we're in the black - which we should be."
Finally, Utke said, the Legislature passed a federal conformity tax bill after failing to do so last year, and this will simply tax filing in Minnesota.
"With conformity alone," he said, "it would have been a tax increase to you." He added that with a second tier rate cut of 1/4 percent, there is no net change in the state's income tax.
The three legislators spent most of the two-hour town hall meeting fielding questions from the audience about a variety of issues. Areas of interest included:
• The tax and regulation climate in Wadena County. Poston called Wadena the highest property tax county in Minnesota, but added that a proposed new clinic and hospital could bring about $300,000 a year in taxes to the area.
• Whether or not elected Soil and Water Conservation Districts and/or unelected watershed districts should have taxing authority. Green concluded, "No one should be taxed by anybody who is not accountable."
• Whether the Department of Natural Resources should be allowed to buy land without county approval.
• The effect of state regulations on Greater Minnesota farmers' chances to prosper.
• Fraud and waste in the state funded child care system, and lack of asset tests for the MNsure health insurance marketplace and SNAP (food stamps).
• How pharmacy benefit management companies (PBMs) are affecting prescription drug prices and how the health insurance market is hurting people between their late 50s and early 60s.
• How Greater Minnesota and the Metro area are competing for economic development dollars. Regarding the Metro's attitude, Green said, "They don't understand us and they don't want to."
• Whether counties should consolidate their government services. Utke suggested that telepresence (allowing inmates to appear in court via Skype) may significantly cut costs of transporting prisoners between counties.
• The results of the 2020 Census, in which Minnesota could lose a Congressional seat and Greater Minnesota could lose seats in the Legislature. Green urged that people moving away should not sell their property to the state, saying that half of Minnesota north of U.S. Hwy. 10 is already public land, which increases the tax burden on the remaining residents.
• Whether or not a clean energy mandate could work In Minnesota's climate, and the type of battery or backup power supply that would be needed.
• Ongoing litigation regarding voter fraud. Green said Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon continues to deny public information requests after losing multiple lawsuits. Green said this is an example of the importance of statewide offices, but most voters aren't even aware of who holds those offices.