SLEEPY EYE-Area Republican legislators Paul Torkelson and Gary Dahms talked at the Brown County Congress Friday about the need for a balanced legislature to avoid one-party legislative control they said made government spending grow three times as fast as the economy.
"State government grew by 12 percent last session. If it continues, it'll swallow up the economy," Torkelson said in the Brown County REA auditorium.
General Fund spending was $39 billion with $4 billion in new spending and $2.1 billion in new taxes including a $424 million employer tax hike, $408 million cigarette tax increase, $300 million in new fees, a $90 million Senate office building last session, according to the GOP Rural Caucus.
Torkelson and Dahms stressed the importance of supporting Republican Marty Seifert of Marshall for governor, the only rural IR candidate in Minnesota's first-ever contested primary election for governor this year. Torkelson said he was hopeful about 2014 elections he said included eight Republicans and just one Democrat running unopposed.
"Marty will help deal with rural-metro inequities like school funding, property taxes and healthcare refunds," Dahms said.
Torkelson said rural taxpayers drop lots of money into Metro Transit projects, $106 million to Metro Transit subsidies, according to the GOP Rural Caucus, but that the he's hopeful Corridors of Commerce funding will enable a new Highway 14&15 interchange to be built just east of New Ulm when the new Minnesota River bridges are built in the next few years. "There's transportation money floating around. Gas tax hikes aren't the only answer," Torkelson said.
Dahms said water and permitting issues plus GMO labeling will be headline the next legislative session. "A bill was introduced last session to allow rule-making without hearings," Dahms added. "After vigorous debate, it was pulled off the floor."
Torkelson said he favored tighter E-cigarette controls. "It's still a nicotine product aimed at a young market that isn't well regulated," he explained. "A Clean Air Act bill to keep them out of bars was defeated."
Torkelson said Minnesota's approved medical marijuana bill was very restrictive but not supported by the American Medical Association (AMA) or law enforcement. "Just before the medical marijuana bill was passed, there was a loud rally for fully legalizing marijuana, which I feel is the goal of many people involved.," he added. "This is the camel's nose under the tent. Young people will experiment with it. I have a lot of discomfort with it. It's still federally illegal and not a simple issue."
Dahms said medical people said there aren't enough medical studies done on it. "Dosages are another question," he added. "There will be four Minnesota dispensaries."
Dahms said the 2014 session was very busy with 3,200 bills created in the first two weeks, $300 million in new taxes created but $1.2 million of the budget surplus remains undesignated. "It was one of the worst sessions for compromises," he added. "Sessions were very contentious with lots of interruptions and bickering done behind closed doors."
The 2014 Bonding Bill approved late in the session included $22 million for the Lewis and Clark regional water system in southwest Minnesota that includes much of southeastern South Dakota, which got the worst of the drought last fall and earlier this spring.
"The water system should be a very high priority bill but it wasn't," Dahms said. "We got a 426-page bonding bill so late in the session, we had no chance to really analyze it. The new, $90 million state office building without a parking ramp that could have been built for less than half that cost, has no funding mechanism. But it'll be built and leased back to the State who will pay the lease through the general fund."
Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.