The Session will begin on February 20, 2018. This year is typically a bonding year with the major tax and funding bills having been passed in the 2017 session. Due to the Federal Tax Reform passed by Congress, the Legislature has little choice but to tackle another tax bill this session. It could be limited to adjusting Minnesota tax codes to conform with the new Federal Tax codes, but anytime they try to address something very specifically, it tends to open it wide open for other spending or tax issues. Top priorities for the Legislature will be to pass a bill to fund the Legislature, since at the end of the 2017 session, Governor Dayton eliminated their funding. As for the bonding bill, Governor Dayton has proposed $1.5 billion dollars in bonding, primarily focused on government buildings, parks and infrastructure. Speaker Daudt thinks $800 million is more appropriate, while Senator Bakk suggests at least $1 billion. As always RAMS will be promoting local bonding projects from our region to be included in the final bill.
DAILY SESSION UPDATES
RAMS – 2018 LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES:
- Local Government Aid payments – Since it is not a tax bill year, LGA should not be a major topic of discussion, but Republican leadership generally does not support LGA, so if dollars are tight, LGA may become and issue and RAMS will monitor these discussions closely, as rural Minnesota cannot afford any reductions in the LGA formula.
- Broadband expansion across the Taconite Assistance Area –(long term goal). RAMS will become a member of MN Rural Broadband Coalition this year and that group will provide more visibility, focus and advocacy for broadband funding. Support funding of the Office of Broadband. Fund the Border to Border Broadband Fund ($100 million recommendation) Fix the Border to Border Broadband Fund – certain policy impede the advancement of broadband expansion and a new standard for broadband networks should be included at 100 Mb/20 Mb when installed.
- Capital funds allocated for early childhood; pre-K to provide Districts the opportunity to remodel, restructure or construct space for the programs.
- Amend the Municipal Tax Aide formula in the Taconite Tax Formula to provide for an increase to our municipalites, something that has not occurred since 1983. By dedicating the price inflation index or escalator clause to the Municipal Aide formula, communities would be assured of a slight adjustment each year in the fund dependent of course on total taconite tonnage.
- Continue to advocate for economic development in the region, including mining, forestry, tourism and other ventures for Northeastern MN.Support for collaborative projects such as the East Range Joint Powers water extension, the West Range Sewer project. the NorthShore tourism projects and the Grand Rapids multi purpose complex.
- Funding for completion of Highway 169 to complete 4 lanes of traffic from highway 65 to Coleraine.
- Address the problem with the Wild Rice/Sulfate standard with serious consideration for the repeal of the standard and providing a funding mechanism to provide for improving wild rice habitat and growth.
- Address the future operation of the Hill Annex Mine (State Park). The DNR should continue to operate the park as it has significant historic value not only in the region but for the state.
- Address the need for additional funding for rural mental health care that includes addressing the severe shortage of juvenile mental health care beds and facilities. Along with the opioid crisis impacting the state, there is a real need to immediate legislative support for these treatment programs.