I hope you and your family are doing well. Here at the Capitol, we’ve been working at an active, productive pace to support Minnesotans in communities across the state. I’m incredibly honored to take part in this work on behalf of the Iron Range. Here’s an update on some of the items I’m working on.
As a former mayor, I know our cities and counties are amazing partners for the state of Minnesota. They are responsive to local needs and deliver essential services to maintain the high quality of life that residents expect and deserve, like law enforcement, fire and emergency services, clean drinking water, road infrastructure and more. Unfortunately, direct aid to cities and counties from the state hasn’t kept up with inflation, leading to higher property taxes, with families bearing the brunt.
Last week, the House Property Tax Committee – which I chair – held a hearing on my bill to boost Local Government Aid and County Program Aid by $150 million each. The state of Minnesota doesn’t tax residential property, but LGA and CPA are tools we can use to help lower property taxes while protecting important public services. This transformative investment would benefit every community across the Iron Range. For example, right now, Virginia would receive $6.2 million in LGA in the coming year under current law. My bill would increase this by $1.5 million. Chisholm would have an increase from $3.4 million to $3.8 million. Mountain Iron’s LGA would increase from $1.4 million to $1.7 million. Eveleth would go from $2.9 million to $3.4 million, Biwakib would go from $251,000 to $289,000, Aurora from $684,000 to $791,000, and down the line. A full list is available here. At the county level, St. Louis County would see its aid increase from $13.4 million to $21.1 million.
Thanks to Virginia Mayor Larry Cuffe for making the trip down to testify in support of the bill, along with several other city and county leaders who offered their support. Here is a video of my closing remarks from the hearing. Today, the Duluth News Tribune published an editorial in support of the bill.
Another important tool to level the playing field for rural counties with vast amounts of public land is Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT). The program compensates counties for the loss of tax base due to state ownership of land, including state parks, state forests, scenic and natural areas, and wildlife management areas.
Despite 95% of PILT land being in northern Minnesota, the bulk of PILT increases over the past four decades have gone to southern Minnesota counties, largely because of how the land is valued. I also recently presented a bill to increase payments from $2 to $3 per acre for land administered by the counties and by the DNR. The increase would total $8.96 million in 2024. Keith Carlson of the Northern Counties Land Use Coordinating Board, St. Louis County Commissioner Paul McDonald and Ellsburg Township Supervisor John Upton joined me to present the legislation.
We’re blessed with an abundance of natural resources, but the current inequities are unsustainable and only continue to grow. I’m proud to work alongside local and regional leaders on this important, overdue reform to level the playing field, protect local services and reduce property taxes.
A variety of bills are under consideration to address PFAS, which are cancer-causing “forever chemicals” that have been found in groundwater in locations across Minnesota. PFAS chemicals are linked to immune system disorders, lower birth weights, infertility, lower IQ in children, thyroid issues and deadly cancers.
During one committee hearing about the topic, I expressed some frustration with the tendency of state agencies to study, study, and study. We know the harm of these chemicals, and it’s time to start taking action. The Iron Range is leading the way.
The Minnesota Reformer recently highlighted my bill to fund St. Louis County’s proposal for a waste treatment campus in Canyon. We urgently need solutions to tackle this problem, and waste management is just one key piece of the puzzle.
A lack of access to affordable, accessible child care for working families is one of the most pressing issues I’ve heard about since joining the Legislature. Additionally, with low reimbursement rates, child care providers are struggling to offer competitive wages and in some cases, to even keep their doors open.
Last night, the House passed a pair of bills with robust investments aimed at stabilizing child care and early learning. HF 13 increases the maximum reimbursement rates for all Child Care Assistance Program-eligible children. HF 150 increases the amount of child care stabilization grants – a key initiative launched during the pandemic – for child care programs. The bill also expands eligibility for early learning scholarships to children age five or younger.
Child care and early learning are both crucial for kids to develop, grow, and learn but also for family economic security. If a parent can’t afford daycare (if they can even find a daycare spot), they can’t join the workforce. If businesses can’t hire workers, then they can’t grow. I was proud to support these investments to help kids, families, and communities thrive.
You’re invited to contact me to share your input and ideas, or if I can ever be of assistance. Please contact me anytime. It’s an honor to serve you at the State Capitol.