ST. PAUL, MN — Minnesota’s 2019 legislative session kicked off Tuesday, and Duluth lawmakers are aiming to make sure 2018’s unfinished business gets done this time around, despite having a new Governor and new control in the state House, with a divided Legislature.
Duluth lawmakers are hoping the bi-partisan approach, as well as a change in leadership, will help bring 2018 projects across the finish line this year.
“We had a lot of bills that got vetoed last session that had a lot of good policy wrapped up inside of them, and I think, you know, getting some of those things across the finish line will be a high priority for the beginning of this session,” said Sen. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth.
A statewide focus will be on infrastructure, affordable health care solutions, education, and a budget.
Northeastern Minnesota lawmakers are focused on approval of Mayor Larson’s half percent sales tax increase, street plan, and nearly $200 million to spur economic development for Duluth’s medical district, as part of the Essentia Health “Vision Northland” project., both of which are leftover items from 2018.
“Hopefully the sales tax, the half-cent sales tax will go into a big tax omnibus bill, and I don’t see a problem with that. It’s not controversial, it had bipartisan support and it should have passed last session,” said Rep. Jennifer Schultz, DFL – Duluth.
We spoke with Republicans in both the House and the Senate, and they agree.
Senator Justin Eichorn and Representative Sandy Layman say when Duluth does well, the entire region benefits, which is why they hope these projects get done in 2019.
“We like to work regionally. And so, particularly with health care, and regional health care centers, we want to support any kind of investment in Northeastern Minnesota that really helps our economy. So, it’s really easy for us to work in a bipartisan fashion that way,” said Rep. Sandy Layman, R – Grand Rapids.
“If Duluth wants to tax themselves, who are we to tell them we can’t? So, as long as we have a bi-partisan tax bill that Governor Walz will sign, I wouldn’t see why Duluth wouldn’t be included in that,” said Sen. Justin Eichorn, R – Grand Rapids.
In 2018, the plan was to include Essentia’s nearly $200 million ask in a bonding bill.
However, In 2019, lawmakers will try to pass it as it rides on a tax bill.
“Representative Schultz is going to carry it, and I’m confident we can at least get it through that body,” said Sen. Simonson.
With a fresh administration, and almost all new commissioners still to be brought up to speed on the asks, local lawmakers hope the second time is the charm.
There’s some new projects on the table for Duluth – those include additional funding to fix our seawalls, and passing tax conformity.
Lawmakers are optimistic that Governor Walz will sign off on them, because he is the first Governor from outside the metro since Rudy Perpich in the 70’s and 80’s.
Walz has already said for Minnesota to succeed, the focus has to be put on areas outside the metro.