Republicans find little to like in session so far
Too much spending and taxing and not enough bipartisanship.
That’s how Republican leaders sum up the legislative session so far.
Senate Republican Leader David Hann and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt stopped at the Echo Press during the session’s Easter break Tuesday, along with Senator Bill Ingbrigtsen, R-Alexandria, and Representative Mary Fransen, R-Alexandria.
They weren’t a happy group.
When pressed to assign a letter grade to the session thus far, Ingebrigtsen said he’d have a hard time giving it a “D.”
“This session has been nothing more than political payback for those who are for their [Democrats] party,” said Ingebrigtsen. “Bipartisanship hasn’t been happening. It’s been one-sided.”
Fransen declined giving the session a grade but described it as “disappointing and frustrating.” She blasted the state’s rollout of its online health insurance marketplace, MNsure, saying that “nobody is happy with it.”
Hann and Daudt also attacked MNsure, saying that it has failed to accomplish even its most basic goal – getting more Minnesotans insured for the first time. They said that the state has already spent $160 million on the MNsure website and the system faces financial difficulties down the road because there won’t be enough healthy people paying into it to cover all the costs. They favored a slower approach.
The Republicans also raised the familiar critiques of DFL taxing and spending. Hann and Daudt said that when Republicans were in the majority, they focused on a budget that lived within their means. With the DFL in control, they are proposing spending increases of 11 percent, along with tax increases of $1.7 billion, Hann said.
When the state learned that it had a budget surplus, Republicans supported a reduction in sales tax but the DFL wants to spend most of it, said Hann and Daudt.
The group was especially troubled by the DFL’s decision to spend $77 million on a new Senate office building. They said that money, which was originally set at $90 million, could have been used to hire 1,546 police officers, 1,474 teachers, 2,427 paramedics or fill 3.6 million potholes.
The Republicans felt left out on two key pieces of legislation that were approved – an anti-bullying bill and a minimum wage increase.
“We offered alternative plans for both those bills but were not even given a hearing,” said Daudt.
Ingebrigtsen said he would have supported a less aggressive wage increase plan, such as North Dakota’s. He’s concerned that paying workers $9.50 an hour by 2016 will hurt businesses in outstate Minnesota.
The group did see some silver linings in the session. They were glad that business tax increases that were approved last session were repealed.
Fransen was also pleased that funding increases for nursing homes and those with disabilities will likely get passed, although they have been lumped into a larger omnibus bill.
This session’s tendency to combine several spending proposals into big bills has been frustrating, the Republicans said. “One bill is 500 pages long,” Ingebrigtsen said. “It’s ridiculous.”