Peggy Bennett: Taxes, transparency issues slow budget process

Published 6:43 pm Friday, May 24, 2019

Capitol Comments by Peggy Bennett

Peggy Bennett

 

With the 2019 legislative session now concluded, I had hoped to be able to discuss our new two-year budget, and what I felt were the pros and cons contained within it.

But our work is not done, as the session ended in very unspectacular fashion.

I am pleased there has been agreement reached by leadership on overall budget numbers, and I am very happy that this was accomplished without all of the name calling that seems to often accompany the end of session negotiations.  Kudos to Leader Gazelka, Leader Hortman, and Governor Walz for maintaining a respectful atmosphere during what is most definitely a tense and difficult time.

As happy as I am with the general tone of negotiations, I am equally frustrated that this budget target process was delayed so long, now pushing us into a special session — and this mostly due to disagreement on raising taxes in a time of surplus.

It has made absolutely zero sense to me all along that some would even consider making people pay more taxes when the funds available would allow the legislature to increase state spending more than 7% without ever raising a penny in new taxes. Raising taxes at a time like this is extremely unfair to taxpayers.  Why tax increases have been on the table this session is quite perplexing to me to say the least.

I celebrate the fact that the 20-cent gas tax increase and removal of the current road and bridge fund are now off the table. That is good news for Minnesotans, as government is more than capable of prioritizing and funding our transportation needs without raising your taxes. Sadly, the healthcare tax, which taxes the sickest of the sick the most and raises the cost of healthcare for everyone, will still be included – and this despite the fact that the funding of MinnesotaCare (the reason this tax was levied in the first place) has been paid for by the federal government now for many years.

The reality is, we now go into a special session having passed only one budget bill, the higher education omnibus bill.  That hasn’t happened since 1985.

Special sessions are not uncommon. They have happened under the leadership of both parties.

However, they are certainly not desirable. The transparency for the public, which the people deserve, all but disappears during special session negotiations, with many deals being negotiated behind closed doors by just a few people.

This invisible process is not what the people of Minnesota deserve.

It is not going to be easy to fix this dysfunctional process, but we need to start down this road.  Special session should be a rarity, and so should these huge omnibus bills that play a big part in this problem. I am part of a bipartisan group of legislators who have attempted a start at tackling this issue by getting rid of these big omnibus bills. We were not successful this year, but I am committed to continuing this effort.

As of this writing, a special session was projected to be called on the days just prior to or just after Memorial Day weekend. I will be sure to provide my thoughts on this final budget product once all of these bills are wrapped up.

State Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, represents Minnesota House District 27A, which includes almost all of Freeborn County, along with parts of Faribault, Mower, Steele and Dodge counties. She can be reached by phone at 651-296-8216 or by email at rep. peggy.bennett@house.mn.