By Rep. Dean Urdahl
The 2014 legislative session has reached its midway point and, so far, it has been a mixed bag of news from the Capitol.
On one hand, we have repealed some of the ill-advised tax increases that were enacted last year. On the other hand, most of last year’s historic tax hike remains on the books and the repeal of a farm equipment repair tax was not retroactive as I had advocated.
It is good we fully funded a 5-percent increase in funding for disability care workers. But the context of this silver lining is it was part of a 436-page bill that spends another $1.2 billion through 2017. This increase comes not even one year after all-funds spending already rose by 1,500 per man, woman and child in Minnesota.
This mixed-bag trend even extends to the construction of a new $90 million Senate office complex. It is good a lack of office space will not be an obstacle delaying restoration of our Capitol. Yet, count me among those who are disappointed in how the process was short-circuited in getting this building approved. The Senate complex did not receive due transparency and discussion in the House and more cost-effective alternatives were not thoroughly investigated.
Legislation also passed this session to increase the minimum wage hour to $9.50 per hour for large employers (gross sales over $500,000 annually) and $7.75 per hour for small employers (gross sales under $500,000 annually). The increase comes in three stages, and will reach the new minimums by August 2016. Current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. There is strong concern for the unintended consequences this jump could bring by reducing hours and/or eliminating jobs for the very workers the bill sponsors say they are trying to help. Time will tell.
The House also has passed the final form of an anti-bullying bill, approximately one year after it first cleared the House and then stalled in the Senate. A key point of contention surrounded whether we are best served by having local parents and officials make decisions, or if a state bureau was necessary.
Most of the session’s high-profile items have made their way through the House. One exception is a capital investment bill to pay for construction projects around the state. The House’s bonding proposal would borrow $850 million and use another $125 million in cash from our state surplus. The overall price tag and composition of the projects will be headline subjects of discussion before adjournment, scheduled for late May.
We also could be looking at ways later this session to improve MNSure, our state’s Obamacare program. There has been a whole host of problems with this program since it started Oct. 1. News outlets confirmed top state officials knew that major problems existed with the program prior to its launch. An investigation by the state auditor’s office also is underway to determine the depths of MNsure’s issues. The bottom line is this: A wide enrollment disparity between public and commercial plans – as well as low sign-up totals in younger, healthier demographics – makes long-term sustainability of MNsure a concern. There already are shortfall projections.
I appreciate all the input I continue receiving on these and other issues this session. Please continue to stay in touch as we move into the home stretch of this session.