ST PAUL — With the first day of the 2020 legislative session less than one month away, Republican and Democratic lawmakers of Minnesota's divided government have begun declaring their battles.
At a Monday, Jan. 13, news conference, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, released Senate Republicans' priorities come Feb. 11: passing a bonding bill, lowering taxes and prescription costs, incentivizing school choice, moving the state toward cleaner energy and more.
2020's legislative makeup will remain the same as last year's — Republicans controlling the Senate, and Democrats the House and governor's office. Gazelka said Monday that "where we disagree, we disagree passionately," but "we've managed to work together and actually get a lot done."
The largest battle will be on 2020's bonding package, and both sides are already poised to fight. Democratic Gov. Tim Walz has released three of his four-part bonding proposal, which is set to total near $2 billion. Gazelka again on Monday cautioned against a bonding bill over $1 billion, and said Republicans will be prioritizing wastewater infrastructure, state-operated higher education buildings and roads and bridges.
On taxes, Gazelka reiterated his support of 2019's middle-class income tax cut, but said more needs to be done. With Minnesota to see a $1.3 billion surplus in the 2020-21 biennium, Gazelka said taxpayers "deserve some back" — primarily senior citizens. Gazelka pushed again to eliminate income taxes on Social Security benefits.
To address the rising costs of prescription drugs, Gazelka said he'd like to look into drug reimportation in an effort to offer Minnesotans comparable drug prices as to Canadians. And specifically on insulin, he said there is "not much in the way" before Republicans and Democrats finally reach an agreement, possibly by the first week of session.
For education, Gazelka said the Legislature needs to encourage school choice, "so we're not just doing the same 'ol same 'ol and expecting different results."
While Gazelka said cleaner energy is a priority for Minnesota, he said 100% renewable energy is not reliable or affordable enough. Instead, Republicans are pushing for a "diverse energy portfolio," including nuclear, hydropower and coal as well as renewables.
Democrats were quick to take shots at Senate Republicans' list of priorities. In an afternoon statement, Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said that Republicans have been blocking progress for Minnesotans.
"They’ve refused time and again to even give important bills a public hearing. Proposals that could increase access to affordable health care, help students succeed in school, make our communities safer, and ensure Minnesota workers have access to paid family and medical leave have been ignored by Senate Republicans," he said.
On the House side, Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said in a news release that Senate Republicans are "failing on the issues Minnesotans care most about." House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said Senate Republicans "should come to the table to work with Democrats for progress on the things Minnesotans value."
“Instead, they are proposing tax giveaways for the wealthy while draining funding from our public schools, neglecting our roads and bridges, and failing to truly address high prescription drug costs," he said.