Minnesota Senate Republicans unveiled the framework of their 2020 legislative agenda Monday, setting up the policy battles with Gov. Tim Walz that are expected to dominate the upcoming session.
The "broad vision" outlined by Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka includes proposals to cut taxes, increase tax credits for private school education, crack down on felons' access to guns, and trim the DFL governor's estimated $2 billion borrowing proposal for infrastructure projects around the state. The Nisswa Republican said he hopes to build on bipartisan work accomplished in last year's budget deal and still make gains on key GOP priorities in the politically divided Legislature.
That that would mean winning support from Democrats in the DFL-controlled state House. But top DFL leaders immediately blasted the GOP agenda Monday. House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, accused the GOP of "proposing tax giveaways for the wealthy while draining funding from our public schools, neglecting our roads and bridges, and failing to truly address high prescription drug costs." Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, meanwhile, criticized Republicans for giving short shrift to DFL-backed bills on health care, education and paid family and medical leave.
The debates will begin in earnest Feb. 11, when lawmakers return to St. Paul for roughly three months of policy work. Here's a look at where Senate Republicans stand on some key issues.
Lawmakers returning to the Capitol are expected to debate what, if anything, to do with the state's $1.3 billion projected budget surplus. Gazelka plans to make the case for tax cuts. One priority: fully exempting Social Security income from state income taxes. "Let's be one of those states that doesn't tax our seniors, when they've paid all the way through, and then now they have to pay again," he said. He also wants to update state tax law so that businesses and farms can deduct more equipment purchases. That change would bring state policy in line with federal law. Last year, Gazelka floated the idea of a "holiday" for vehicle tab fees, though he said that's not a top priority.
Gazelka said the GOP caucus plans to "renew our commitment to real school choice for families and students stuck in failing schools." Expect to see another push for a proposal to provide tax credits for people or companies that donate to scholarships for private schools. He also floated the idea of paying teachers more to move to struggling areas where they can help close racial achievement gaps. One thing Gazelka isn't interested in? A proposed constitutional amendment to guarantee all children the fundamental right to a quality public education. Gazelka said he's concerned that such a change could result in lawsuits that give too much power to the courts. "To me, it's an issue of the responsibility of the legislative branch," he said.
Health care, human services
Gazelka said that addressing management problems at the embattled Department of Human Services is "one of the most important things that we could get done this session." "I hope we think about it, finding a way to somehow divide it up and provide a little more oversight," he said. Another policy proposal would allow pharmacies to import and sell less-expensive drugs from Canada. Meanwhile, negotiations continue with DFLers on a plan to address the cost of emergency insulin.
Gazelka said the caucus will take a "strong look" at what he called a "very alarming" rise in violent crimes in the Twin Cities. Earlier this year, the senator floated the idea of tying state aid to local law enforcement spending. He was less committal on Monday, saying lawmakers haven't discussed the idea in detail. Hearings are also expected on proposals related to gun laws. Gazelka, who has previously opposed "red flag" laws and expanded background checks, expects support from his caucus for proposals to be "tougher on" felons who get guns illegally.
House DFL leaders are renewing a push to legalize marijuana for recreational use. That's nonstarter for Republicans in the upper chamber. Gazelka said he is "willing to explore" proposals to lower costs for medical marijuana, "as long as we're not creating a path that makes it easier to have recreational marijuana."