Capitol Comments: A session of misplaced priorities and out-of-control spending

Published 8:45 pm Friday, June 2, 2023

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Capitol Comments by Peggy Bennett

My top priorities in this 2023 session were to restore safety to our communities; focus our education system to address the fact that Minnesota students are slipping further and further behind in reading and math; and help families keep more of their hard-earned money in their own pockets with significant tax relief.

Peggy Bennett

The end of the 2023 legislative session has arrived. While there is some good news to report — for example, the Fountain Lake dredging project and some last-minute crucial funding for nursing homes — most of the session, in my opinion, was highly disappointing.

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Even though Republican legislators in the House and Senate represent approximately half the state’s population, it’s clear that the slim Democrat majority “trifecta” was determined to ram through their extreme partisan agenda without any bipartisan thought. It’s important to at least listen to the other side. Often bills can be made better by doing so.

This legislative session was chock full of misplaced priorities and out-of-control spending.

You will now get to pay for over $100 million in ongoing funding for health insurance for undocumented immigrants, tax breaks for Hollywood producers and $2,500 rebate checks for electric bicycles. Yet our nursing homes that care for our elders, many on the brink of closing, only get insufficient one-time funding.

If it weren’t for the work of Republicans pushing hard throughout session and striking a last-minute deal, nursing homes would have never even received this temporary funding to keep them afloat. This is not enough. Additional reform and funding are needed.

Gee, the new “high speed” train to Duluth (which takes more time to ride than it does to drive there) is getting a billion in state/federal dollars. Perhaps if we had called nursing homes “trains” they would have gotten better funding!

Then there’s public safety. Rather than supporting law enforcement and crime victims, it’s the criminals who get special treatment. How about $2 million for felons to get poetry, art and dance classes; felon voting rights; and a new “get out of jail free card” allowing violent felons (rape, domestic assault, attempted murder, etc.) to get their sentences cut in half. Why do we have to be afraid to go to places in our state, or worry that our loved ones are not safe?

While 50% of students in Minnesota are struggling to read and do math, what we really need is to pay to stock free menstrual products in boys’ bathrooms for every Minnesota public school. How long until the boys rip the dispensers off the walls and stuff them into toilets like they did at an Illinois school?

Wait, what about the “historic increase” in funding for our schools, you ask? Sadly, with the 65-plus DFL mandates headed to our school districts, schools will be lucky to stay out of the hole, much less have anything extra to teach kids to read and write or pay teachers more.

Speaking of education, those of you who can barely pay off your own college loan will now get to pay for “free” public college for students who won’t even have to show they’re serious about going to school. How about a class in “Theorizing Dancing Bodies” on your dime? I am all for helping those who are truly in need, but this plan is not the way to go about it.

To sum it all up, while your personal budget continues to get squeezed more and more, your government’s budget gets a 40% increase. They spent the entire surplus!

And aren’t you excited for the $9.7 billion tax increases that are coming to you on top of that?

I feel sorry for the low-income families who have been promised tax credits and $260 rebate checks in the tax bill. Sadly, these families will put their government provided tax credits and refunds into one pocket, and then the government will turn around and take it out of their other pocket in the form of huge tax increases.

These include highly regressive taxes like the gas tax, vehicle tabs, delivery tax, paycheck tax, sales tax, housing tax and more. It’s like a big Ponzi scheme!

There are some good provisions that I support in these DFL omnibus bills. However, the misplaced priorities and out-of-control spending contained in them will do little to help Minnesotans deal with their inflation-shrinking budgets, keep our communities safer, or get our kids’ education on track with the basics. What it will do is set us up for a world of heartache with a future state deficit.

If you think I sound frustrated and angry, I am. Democrats call this legislative session “historical” and “transformational.” Well, it’s going to transform Minnesota alright — right into the economic and crime-ridden desert of a third world country!

Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, is the District 23A representative.