By Sen. Karla Bigham, Senate District 54
The Legislature is racing against a fast-approaching May 21 deadline to complete big unfinished business: Passing a jobs bill, preventing a middle-class tax hike and addressing the opioid epidemic. I am eager to work with my Republican colleagues to address these challenges, but I see little to no urgency on the other side of the aisle to get our work done on time.
By pushing the Legislature's big business to the closing weeks of the session, Republican lawmakers could shut average Minnesotans out of the process. Transparency and accountability are important to our citizenry, but when lawmakers conduct their work in the middle of the night behind closed doors, they fail to meet the high standards we should hold ourselves to.
Whatever the outcome of my first session as your new state senator, I will be able to say that I worked hard to represent our values and did not engage in any political game-playing. Here is a closer look at the Legislature's big unfinished business and how it could be addressed.
Federal tax conformity is the process by which lawmakers could align our state tax code with the federal tax reforms signed into law last year. If state lawmakers decide to fully conform our state tax code to the new federal changes, taxes will increase for nearly one million Minnesotans by an average of $489 next spring. If state lawmakers do not conform, taxes will increase for more than 300,000 Minnesotans by an average of $200.
Rushing through this extremely complicated issue at the end of the session could result in errors and unintended consequences for taxpayers, so I urge my colleagues on the Taxes Committee to pick up the pace and get moving on passing a bill. I will not support a tax conformity bill unless it treats middle-class Minnesotans fairly and does not raise their taxes.
Public construction projects create thousands of jobs and help maintain infrastructure that is collectively owned by the state's taxpayers (such as veterans homes and college campuses). This year, local governments submitted more than $3 billion in project requests, which underscores the huge need to repair buildings, improve wastewater treatment facilities, fix cracks in the road, and much more.
These kinds of construction projects are financed through a "bonding bill," which requires three-fifths of support from each legislative body (81 representatives and 41 senators). This means that DFL and Republican lawmakers must work together and find common ground before awarding funding for projects. I am sponsoring the following jobs projects and will be a fierce advocate for their inclusion in a final bonding bill:
• Construct a Health and Emergency Response Occupations (HERO) Center in Cottage Grove (Senate File 2645)
• Repair and preserve the Hastings Veterans Home (Senate File 203)
• Repair Hastings City Hall, police station, and other nearby public buildings (Senate File 1670)
• Improve water quality at Seidl Lake in South St. Paul (Senate File 2619)
• Repair and preserve South St. Paul Library (Senate File 2947)
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, opioid overdose deaths in Minnesota have increased 600 percent since 2000. This is a crisis of epidemic proportions that is shattering the lives of our loved ones and neighbors.
To address the problem, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, including myself, are asking pharmaceutical corporations to share in the responsibility of rising public safety and substance abuse costs. A bill to enact a "penny a pill" fee for opioid manufacturers has strong bipartisan support, but drug company lobbyists are pushing back hard.
I think it's important that taxpayers alone are not responsible for solving the problem. We didn't create the problem, yet big corporations want us to cover all the costs. If lawmakers in states like Kentucky can pass legislation asking drug companies to share in the cost of the mess they created, then it's about time we do the same in Minnesota.