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Area legislators reflect on vetoes, successes

File photo.

Though disappointed that Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a tax conformity bill and an omnibus bill that addressed school safety, elder care and opioid issues, area lawmakers did cite some successes with the recently concluded legislative session.

A major success they applauded was passage of both the pension reform bill and the bonding bill, which includes money for three new veteran nursing homes in Bemidji, Montevideo and Preston; money for new mental health crisis centers; and money to help ensure the safety of school structures.

Following are thoughts from area legislators:

• Sen. Paul Gazelka, a Republican and Senate majority leader from Fairview Township in Cass County:

Gazelka was disappointed that two attempts to get the governor to sign the tax conformity bill failed. That bill - designed to align the state tax bill with the federal tax bill, which underwent its biggest change since 1986 - included rate reductions for the lowest and middle income tax brackets.

"It was frustrating that the governor said we were favoring businesses when in fact there was a tax increase on businesses and a tax decrease on individuals," Gazelka said, adding it was a big setback that won't go away. The Legislature, with a new governor, will have to take up tax conformity as a priority right away next year, he said.

What will happen now is people will file federal taxes under one set of rules and state taxes under a different set of rules, so it will be more complicated and more expensive, he said.

Regarding the vetoed omnibus bill: "That was a disappointment because there was so much in there that people wanted," Gazelka said, including opioid abuse funding, language and funding to deal with the elder abuse crisis, money for safe schools, money to fix the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (known as MNLARS) and election security money matched by the federal government.

On the positive side, Gazelka said when looking at the past two-year legislative cycle, good things did happen, including a two-year budget; tax relief for farmers, seniors and small business owners; and transportation funding without a gas tax or tab fee increase last year. And he was happy the bonding bill passed this year.

Regarding the 990-page omnibus bill the governor vetoed, Gazelka said it's not uncommon in non-budget years to have such a large bill. He said Dayton listed 117 issues and legislators took out 60-70 percent of those and the bill still was vetoed.

"We met him more than halfway on things we thought were important," he said.

• Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point:

Ruud echoed Gazelka's frustration with Dayton vetoing the tax conformity bill, calling the decision "disappointing."

"That is going to be something that has to be addressed," she said. "We simply can't not have tax conformity. It will hurt too many people."

She also expressed disappointment in the governor's vetoing of some changes to certain environmental policies regarding chronic wasting disease - for which she put forth a bill assembling a task force - and aquatic invasive species. Those two items, Ruud said, need to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

"It is critical that we address (chronic wasting disease)," Ruud said. "Deer hunting in Minnesota is our biggest tradition - and it is millions of dollars for the state - so that absolutely needs to get done sooner than later."

However, Ruud was pleased with legislators passing a pension bill - which the Senate had passed in March - along with making changes regarding child care and passing a bill to honor U.S. Army Gen. John Vessey, a Minnesota native who passed away in 2016. General John Vessey Day will now take place June 29.

Though pleased the state's bonding bill passed, Ruud had hoped some line-item vetoing would be done to curtail what she referred to as a "blatant raid" of state lottery proceeds.

Among all the items vetoed, Ruud was pleased to see the governor veto a moratorium on muskie stocking.

"It was critical that that did not happen," Ruud said. "We fought really hard to make that not happen, but it kept being included ... That would have been devastating had it gone through."

• Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa:

Extreme disappointment is how Heintzeman described his feeling after the tax conformity veto.

"I don't understand it," he said. "It was such an important bill for literally millions of Minnesotans. ... I thought that it was just a no-brainer."

Though Heintzeman tried to rationalize the veto, his conclusion is still that it will hurt a lot of taxpayers.

He isn't dwelling on the negatives, though, citing a victory for the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources and progress on his enhanced penalties bill. Often referred to as "Macy's Law," Heintzeman's enhanced penalties bill seeks harsher punishments for drivers who operate vehicles without a valid driver's license.

"Even though I was disappointed that I have more work to do on Macy's Law, it made it through the Senate for the first time, and we had it in the public safety bill," he said.

A bill from the LCCMR that Heintzeman said Dayton signed provides small cities with money for wastewater treatment services in the form of bonding.

"That's actually something that's never been done," he said, noting these funds could greatly impact small city budgets.

Overall, Heintzeman has mixed emotions after the session, especially, he said, with Dayton's lack of explanation on his tax conformity veto.

"There's a lot of really good stuff that we're just going to be talking about again in January," he said. "I think a future governor - Republican or Democrat - will be a looking at the same issues and a lot of the same language, and I think these things will ultimately be done; it's just been delayed by a year."

• Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin:

While Lueck gave Dayton "high marks" for the bonding and pension bills, he said the governor could have done so much more.

"That's two out of about 10 things that he could have done great for Minnesota, and he trashed about eight of them," he said.

Lueck worries about the impact of the tax conformity and omnibus bill vetoes on Minnesotans.

"He (Dayton) sure hurt the citizens of Minnesota by vetoing those two important bills - the tax bill in particular because now he managed to pull another tax increase," he said.

"I don't know what he was thinking," Lueck said about Dayton's veto of the omnibus bill. "For a guy that somewhat worries about his legacy, he sure did a lot of things that didn't appear he was born and raised in Minnesota."

Lueck specifically cited the school safety money in the omnibus bill as a puzzling item for Dayton to veto, given the governor's recent education concerns.

"He came up at the last minute just literally screaming that we had this travesty going on with some of our school districts, and so we put in there about $96 a pupil - way more, over double what he asked for - and that was not good enough," he said.

Next legislative session will be spent, Lueck said, "trying to undo the mess (Dayton) created."

"But people are going to suffer for a full year," he said. "It'll only be for one year because, I'll tell you, we will fix it."

• Rep. John Poston, R-Lake Shore:

Legislators had momentum and were accomplishing a lot, Poston said, and he was disappointed they didn't get over the finish line and get it all done.

"I thought we had a really productive session up until the end," he said. "To me, we were accomplishing a lot of things up until the very end. And the session kind of imploded, and I'm very, very disappointed that the governor vetoed the supplemental budget bill. He vetoed the school safety bill. He vetoed the tax bill.

"He vetoed a lot of I think very good legislation that the House and Senate - Democrats and Republicans - worked very hard on, over the four months before his veto, to accomplish a lot of good things."

Poston said the tax conformity bill would have held taxes steady for about 2.2 million Minnesotans; another 200,000-300,000 would have seen a small tax increase of about $30 per year.

"The governor vetoed the bill and it came back to us. We compromised and removed and changed things," he said, noting the governor vetoed the bill again.

"There are a lot of people who feel we did a lot of work for nothing on the tax bill. And it's going to create a lot of chaos. It's going to hurt a lot of people," Poston said.

He, too, was thankful Dayton signed the bonding bill.

Poston also said the 990-page omnibus bill was not unusual in its size.

"It's not as bad as it sounds. If representatives and senators don't know what's in the bill - they didn't do their job," he said, noting legislators attend committee meetings every day and know their bills inside out and backward.

"Everybody is pretty well versed in that bill," he said. "It's a political game at the end to say it happened in the dark of night and it's 900 pages and no one gets through them."

• Rep Sandy Layman, R-Cohasset:

Layman shared in the disappointment of her fellow legislators.

"I'm very disappointed, not only did the tax bill provide additional funding for schools, but it would have made tax filing much easier in 2019," Layman said. "It would have cut taxes for over 2 million filers. It would have cut or held harmless taxes for 99 percent of Minnesotans. It's a pretty big disappointment."

Layman said the legislators had taken steps toward addressing the opioid crisis, MNLARS and other issues, including school security. Layman was particularly disappointed that there will not be additional funding for rural broadband, given that she is the chief author of a broadband bill.

"I was pleased with the work of the Legislature," Layman said. "We met the governor over halfway with the provisions he didn't like, but he vetoed our supplemental budget anyway."

Layman was happy for the passage of the bonding bill.

"The bonding bill had some significant statewide projects, including the veterans home in Bemidji, which is very exciting," Layman said. "It also had some funds in there for schools to improve safety in their buildings and make their buildings more secure, and funds for regional mental health facilities. Those were three areas that were important. I had some smaller projects in my district that were part of that bonding bill as well. Finally, we did have a pensions bill. There are so many public employees who were concerned about the health and future of their pensions. We had a pensions bill this session that was signed by the governor as well."

Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids, was unable to be reached for comment.

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