Ingebrigtsen, Westrom point out session's highs and lows
ALEXANDRIA, Minn. - With another session of the Minnesota Legislature wrapped up, Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, and Representative Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, put a bow on it Wednesday.
During a media stop in Alexandria, they talked about what was accomplished - and what wasn't.
Both Ingebrigtsen and Westrom said the biggest disappointment of the session was Governor Mark Dayton's veto to restore some of the education funding that schools lost because of a funding shift.
Ingebrigtsen, assistant Senate majority leader, said the measure, which would have provided $430 million to schools, was a "clean bill with no poison pill in it."
Dayton called the measure irresponsible because it would have used money in the state's reserves.
"Now, without that funding, school districts will have to continue to borrow money and pay interest while the state has about a billion dollars in reserves," Ingebrigtsen said.
Westrom was disappointed that a measure to hold the line on property taxes didn't get approved. It would have required cities and counties to hold referendums if they were proposing levy increases greater than 2 percent.
Another disappointment Westrom listed was the defeat of welfare reform efforts. One would have prevented food stamp recipients from using electronic benefit cards (EBT) beyond the neighboring states. Another reform called for tighter monitoring of those who apply for welfare assistance with a criminal drug record.
Still, both legislators pointed out several accomplishments of the session - including bipartisan efforts like streamlining the environmental permitting process for businesses.
"It was all about cutting red tape and making Minnesota more business friendly," Ingebrigtsen said. "And we had the governor's support on it."
They were also proud of the fact that the Legislature was able to take a $5.2 billion deficit and turn it into a surplus.
Westrom noted that the bonding bill kept spending in check while providing much-needed infrastructure, such as making repairs and improvements to college buildings.
Locally, the bonding bill will benefit Lake Oscar because it includes $30 million for flood control, Westrom said.
The Republican legislators were also pleased that two Constitutional amendments will go before voters this fall - one requires photo ID to vote, and the other protects the legal definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.
They encouraged residents to go to the polls and vote on the amendments and noted that not voting counts as a "no" vote.
Helping small businesses was another goal of the session but not everything was accomplished. Both Ingebrigtsen and Westrom wanted to allow businesses to make certain purchases without paying sales tax but the bill was vetoed. Businesses can receive sales tax money back from the state but they must apply for it. Westrom said that probably half of the businesses either don't get the paperwork done or forget about it.
Ingebrigtsen, who is chair of a committee dealing with outdoor issues, was pleased that the Legislature enacted license fee increases for fishing and hunting. The fees haven't been raised in 11 years and will keep the Department of Natural Resources' game and fish fund in the black.
The measure also contained breaks for youth fishing and support for Let's Go Fishing's efforts to get more kids involved in the sport, Ingebrigtsen added.
The Legislature was also able to zero in on aquatic invasive species (AIS), such as zebra mussels, with stronger enforcement measures, the local legislators said.
Westrom noted that research into how to stop the spread of AIS is a priority. The University of Minnesota has funding and Westrom is trying to get the university to open a rural satellite station for AIS research in Douglas or Otter Tail County.
An issue that's important for city councils and county boards - local government aid (LGA) - is at a stalemate. The Legislature ended up keeping LGA payments for 2013 frozen at their 2012 levels.
Ingebrigtsen said he tried to get a bill through that would have designated Alexandria as a regional hub city to qualify for more LGA but it didn't go through. It met with opposition from other areas that would have received less LGA as a result.