’14 session: short with plenty on docket

MARSHALL – Legislators are sure to keep busy during the 2014 legislative session as they will work to craft a bonding bill while spending time on tax issues during a considerably shorter session than usual.

The session is set to convene Feb. 21 and adjourn May 20.

“It will certainly be a shorter session this year,” said District 16 Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls. “The repealing of the business-to-business taxes will be high on the agenda.”

Taxes, in particular what taxes to get rid of, will be a major part of this year’s session. Last fall, Dayton dubbed the 2014 session the “unsession,” as he wants legislators to focus on eliminating outdated state laws, not add new ones. Republicans will look at 2014 as their opportunity to undo recent laws put into place by the Democrats, such as business-to-business taxes, including the warehouse tax that passed in the 11th hour in 2013.

Dayton has already announced he will remove his proposal to tax business-to-business services. The warehouse tax – a 6.875 percent service tax on Minnesota warehouses – is slated to take effect in April. Opponents of the tax call it a threat to developers and owners of industrial and warehouse properties. Dayton has also hinted the tax on farm equipment repair could be repealed.

“One of the big things this year will be the unwinding of some of the taxes that were brought up last year; that’s gonna take up a lot of time,” District 16A Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent said. “We don’t want to be an island and have these taxes separate us from other states like Iowa, the Dakotas, Wisconsin, even Manitoba. There are a lot of negative consequences surrounding these taxes.”

The city of Marshall will once again keep a close eye on bonding, as it continues its quest to secure money for the sports complex and MERIT Center expansion.

“I’m pretty confident we’ll get some bonding money for projects in District 16,” said Dahms. “I think we’re in pretty good shape, but we don’t want to take anything for granted. A lot of times, bonding doesn’t happen right away, you gotta keep taking runs at it.”

The sports complex did make it into the bonding bill last year, but that bill ultimately got whittled down to mostly capital improvements.

“Bonding will be a big part of the session; Governor (Mark) Dayton has talked about bringing forth a $975 million bill at the end of last session,” Swedzinski said. “Last year, Democrats and Republicans agreed to try to keep it under $1 billion in total bonding because the state is coming close to the ceiling. I think it will be in the $750 million to $850 million range.”

Dahms said other legislation that will likely be vetted this year include the minimum wage bill, the anti-bullying bill and funding for those who work in homes for the disabled. Supporters of what is called the 5% Campaign are looking to get funding for what they say are long-overdue pay increases for those who work with the disabled community and older adults. The group, which Dahms said has support from the Senate’s rural caucus, is asking for $86 million for FY2015, which begins July 1. That $86 million would be matched by federal dollars and will go toward caregivers for seniors and the disabled.

Dahms and Swedzinski will be in Marshall for a town hall meeting at noon on Monday at city hall, part of a two-day, pre-session tour of southwest Minnesota. Other stops Monday include: Vesta, 10-11 a.m. at the Community Hall; Minneota, 2-3 p.m. at the Senior Center; Canby, 3:45-4:45 p.m. at Community Center; and Clarkfield, 6-7 p.m. at the City Hall meeting room. Tuesday’s stops include: Granite Falls, 11 a.m.-noon at city hall, council chambers; Madison, 2:15-3:15 p.m. at city hall auditorium; Bellingham, 3:45-4:45 p.m. at Our Place Cafe; and Dawson, 6-7 p.m. at the city building.

“We like to do town halls just before the sessions, have one while in session and then do a wrap-up,” Swedzinski said. “We focus on specific issues with folks, maybe there’s a bill they want to move. It’s a great opportunity to reach out to our constituents and look at new legislation. We’ve got a lot of new bills that have come through the pike, whether it’s tax policy or general policy, that are things people would like to see changed.”

Swedzinski likes the town hall set-up and encourages people to attend, as this is their chance to bend legislators’ ears prior to the beginning of the session.

“It’s hard to call them beneficial if no one comes,” he said. “We had one in Marshall last session where I think we had 70, 80 people; we also had one where there was one or two people.”

Swedzinski noted that the pre-session tour includes not only the larger cities like Marshall and Granite Falls but smaller towns as well.

“We’re going to Minneota, Bellingham, which is a real small town in the northern part of the district, because it’s hard for some people to get around,” he said. “We really want to get into as many communities as possible to reach people who maybe wouldn’t be able to come to Canby, Granite Falls or Marshall.”