The 2001 Legislature will boil down to the same two issues that are preeminent every year, Rep. Steve Wenzel said.
"Taxes and spending will dominate the session," the veteran DFL lawmaker said. And once again lawmakers will spend much of their time trying to figure out how to handle a huge revenue surplus.
Central Minnesota legislators were asked to look ahead to the session which convenes at noon Wednesday in St. Paul. Rep. Wenzel; Sen. Don Samuelson, DFL-Brainerd; Rep. Larry Howes, R-Hackensack; and newcomer Dale Walz, a rural Brainerd Republican who will represent District 12A, all favored some sort of tax relief.
While some might argue that a $3 billion surplus is a nice problem to have, Wenzel points out lawmakers will probably spend 30 percent of their time debating how to give the surplus back to the citizens, when to give it back and under what conditions.
"We have no time for a multitude of other problems," the Little Falls legislator said.
Wenzel said the succession of state revenue surpluses make it clear the state is collecting too much money. He would like to see the Legislature lower property, income and sales taxes.
Walz, of rural Brainerd, who will represent District 12A, is in favor of permanent tax cuts. He wants to cut income taxes and restructure the property tax system.
"The only reason we get surpluses is that we're collecting too much," Walz said. "Leave the money with them (the citizens) to start with."
The lawmakers had little enthusiasm for Sen. Roger Moe's proposal to create an endowment for state projects from the money currently pegged for rebates.
"At first blush I'm not very hot about it," said Sen. Don Samuelson, DFL-Brainerd. "It would be a very tough sell."
Moe's endowment plan was not received favorably by Wenzel or Howes either.
"He'll get one vote for it," Wenzel said. "His own. There's no way politically the governor would ever sign a bill (similar to that)."
"We passed a law," Howes said. "The governor wants it rebated. I don't see any sense to debate that issue at all. I think we should just return it."
For a six-year period that includes the last four years and projections for the next two, state officials are estimating the state will incur $11 billion in surplus revenues, Wenzel said. He spelled out three areas where he'd like to see tax relief: sales tax, income tax and property tax. On the first day of the legislative session, Wenzel said he'll introduce a bill to lower the state sales tax from 6.5 cents for every dollar to 6 cents. He also wants to restore an old law that allowed full deductions for any person or employer for health care and health insurance costs. Wenzel also wants to see reduction in agricultural property taxes.
"The farmers are the one group that hasn't shared in the national prosperity," Wenzel said.
The Ventura education plan for the state to take over most of the school funding for kindergarten through 12th-grade programs also got mixed reviews from Brainerd area lawmakers.
Wenzel is opposed to it or at least is leaning against it, he said.
He will also introduce, on the first day of the 2001 session, a bill to ban partial birth abortions.
In addition to pushing for permanent tax cuts Walz wants to see an equitable funding system for education and a fair redistricting plan.
He hopes to get assigned to a committee dealing with crime prevention.
"I'm just looking forward to getting down there," he said.
Samuelson, who will preside over the Senate as its president this year, will be part of the Senate's leadership team. In his new post he will assign bills to committees and make rulings on whether amendments are germane.
"It's going to be interesting," he said. "To be elected by your peers is quite an honor."
He will chair the Tax Committee on Property and expects to wrestle with Ventura's plan to revamp K-12 education funding. Samuelson said he has some concerns about where the money will come from and how local control will be maintained.
"If you've got the money, you've probably got the power," he said.
Samuelson wants to slow down efforts to deregulate electrical utilities, provide property tax relief by having the state pick up more of the counties' cost of out-of-home placements and introduce his patient's bill of rights and a substantial cost of living adjustment for nursing home workers.
In addition to reducing the property tax and income tax, Howes wants to see the sick tax and the tax on prescription drugs repealed. He doesn't want further reductions on perch limits. Last year it was lowered from 100 in possession to 20 a day and 50 in possession. Effective on Dec. 1, it went down to 15 a day and 30 perch in possession. He said further limits may be sought by the DNR.
The choices by the Legislature in regard to redistricting may be the most important ones the lawmakers make, Wenzel said. Most lawmakers said the ultimate decision may be made by the courts if the Legislature can't come up with a plan that satisfies everyone.
"My feeling is that it will go the courts," Howes said. "My district, I believe, will shrink" because of an increase in population.
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