When the 2018 Legislative Session begins on Tuesday, February 20, state lawmakers will have a new opportunity to improve Minnesotans’ quality of life. Our best chance of success relies upon the collaboration and compromise of all viewpoints. Here is a closer look at what we may accomplish in this session.
This is the second year of the state’s biennium, commonly referred to as the “bonding year.” There is a widespread understanding that our state is falling behind on investments to maintain and improve Minnesota’s infrastructure. Capital investment is a great way to create good jobs and improve public safety. I applaud the Governor’s recent bonding proposal, which includes $1.5 billion for projects across the state, and am hopeful that the Legislature will respond with a similarly sized proposal.
Our region has several important bonding requests, some of which include investments for Fond Du Lac Tribal and Community College and Pine Community and Technical College. Another critical bonding project is the WLSSD Combined Heat and Energy project, which will create a clean, renewable energy source. Additionally, a long overdue extension of the Carlton Water system along Hwy 210 would improve water quality and quantity for homeowners and businesses. Further, the Department of Corrections has requested expenditures for improving the security entrance and maintenance of Moose Lake Correctional Facility, as well as an expansion of the highly successful Challenge Incarceration Program in Willow River.
This year, the Department of Natural Resources is scheduled to remove and replace dam structures in Willow River, Hinckley and Moose Lake. I will monitor the progress of this work to ensure each project is completed with the needs of our communities in mind.
There are a number innovative state-wide bonding initiatives that can be embraced by both sides of the aisle. For example, we can preserve and grow affordable housing, increase mental health services and extend broadband access across unserved and underserved regions of Minnesota through bonding expenditures. I will continue to work towards increased funding and bipartisan support for these essential resources and services.
Minnesota’s opioid epidemic is shattering the lives of our families, friends, neighbors and coworkers. Recent estimates show that deaths caused by opioid overdoses in Minnesota have increased 430 percent in the past few decades.
Legislation to create an Opioid Stewardship Program would enact a “penny a pill” fee for opioid manufacturers and generate $42 million every two years to finance chemical dependency prevention and treatment. This initiative would have a zero cost to taxpayers and make a positive impact on individuals, families and local governments who are getting stuck with the bill for public safety costs that result from opioid abuse. I remain hopeful that this legislation will become law this year with its already strong bipartisan support.
There is a strong bipartisan push in Minnesota to successfully remove estate recoveries from Medical Assistance recipients who are receiving basic health services. I continued this work by collaborating with my colleagues across the aisle to craft a proposal for the federal delegation to clean up this issue once and for all. I am pleased that my federal counterparts appear to be taking up the language and introducing it this session. I hope they reach the same consensus that this is the only fair resolution to an issue that threatens to disrupt the lives of so many people.
Utility Companies’ Property Valuations
Last year, utility companies called into question the amount of property taxes collected by counties in the past several years. I introduced an amendment to last year’s omnibus tax bill that would have allocated $88 million state dollars to protect local taxpayers from absorbing property assessors’ potential mistakes. Unfortunately, the amendment was not adopted onto the final bill. I am introducing a bill this session to propose holding local units and their taxpayers harmless if related litigation results in a recovery by the utility companies. I understand that this issue remains prevalent for our region and will continue to work towards a solution this year.
Taxpayers deserve a well-functioning state government that responds to its citizens’ needs in a timely manner. If the legislature focuses on items we can agree on, rather than those that divide us, we will have a much more productive session. It is time that we move past petty, partisan bickering and work together for the common good of all Minnesotans.
About Senator Tony Lourey
Tony Lourey is a four-term State Senator who represents Pine, Carlton and Kanabec counties. He is a member of the Finance and Human Services Reform Finance and Policy committees, and the Ranking Member of the Health and Human Services Finance and Policy committee.