By John McLoone The Hastings Rotary Club recently hosted State Sen. Karla Bigham and State Rep. Tony Jurgens at a meeting, to get an update on what’s going on in state government. The two appeared …
By John McLoone The Hastings Rotary Club recently hosted State Sen. Karla Bigham and State Rep. Tony Jurgens at a meeting, to get an update on what’s going on in state government.
The two appeared with members of the Rotary Club in a meeting that was held on the Zoom virtual platform. After the two gave their own updates on what’s up at the State Capital, Rotarians were able to ask them questions.
Club member and Dakota County Board Commissioner Mike Slavik introduced the legislators.
“These two are going to be incredibly busy in about two weeks,” he said at the Jan. 20 meeting, as the House and the Senate are back in session. “With the State Legislature getting back into session in the beginning of February, I thought this would be a great opportunity to have them share a little bit about the session. It’s always nice when they can come together and show their bipartisan skills. It doesn’t always happen up at the Capitol. We’re fortunate in Hastings that both Sen. Bigham and Rep. Jurgens work well together.”
Bigham said the focus of the session will be bonding and policy.
“Those will be our big focus,” she said. “We have an over $8 billion positive balance in our budget and in accounts, so that’s obviously a positive thing for Minnesota. It gives us an opportunity to invest in our people and our communities.”
She listed stemming the growth in crime as a legislative priority, as well as jobs and education issues.
“We have to address the increasing crime. We have to address jobs and the economy. Schools, we need to look at school funding and schoolteacher shortage,” she said.
She’s also hopeful that one of her pet policy projects – legalized sports gambling – gets passed in Minnesota.
“One thing that I’ve been doing since I have been in the Senate, because it’s way overdue, is legalization of sports wagering needs to happen. We are now an island on that.”
On crime, she says officer recruitment and retention are needed, as are enhanced penalties for car theft and fleeing officers.
“A lot of these ideas will be introduced in coming weeks,” she said. “Additionally, we need to look at prevention and gangs, gun prevention, gun violence prevention, youth intervention, juvenile justice – all these programs. We need to be addressing these now to get ahead of the crime as well, do preventative policing, do community policing. That means you need more officers to be able to investigate and build those relationships in the community. That’s going to be a top priority.”
She’d like to see federal money utilized to enhance broadband where needed.
“We need border-to-border broadband. That helps our economy. More people are working from home, obviously, and schools need it. That needs to be a top priority,” said Bigham.
With money in state coffers, Bigham said tax cuts can be looked at.
“And notice when I said ‘taxes,’ nobody flinched, because we have money. We have money to do targeted tax cuts,” she said. “We should be looking at refunding and replenishing the unemployment fund. We should be looking at middle class tax cuts. I’m not going to steal this from Tony, because he’s been working on it. We have to continue to make sure our seniors don’t pay Social Security taxes on Social Security. We have to keep addressing that. We’ve done it twice. We’ve chipped away at it.”
She said that with schools passing levy increases, “That means property taxes increase, so the state has to do their job and property fund schools And the federal government needs to do the job of properly funding schools on their commitment with special education and other programming to alleviate that pressure off your property taxes.”
Jurgens then took the stage, joking, “It was smart to let Karla go first, because then I could just say, ‘What she said.’ Most of that stuff.”
“The biggest thing we’re going to be dealing with this year probably is what to do with the $8 billion surplus. It’s not in a budget year. We did the budget during the special session in June. So, state government is funded for the entire biennium,” said Jurgens. “With the $8 billion surplus, you know we’re going to have a suggestion or two on what to do with that. It will be a combination of spending and tax cuts.”
Jurgens has been chief author in the House on work to get the Social Security income tax cut.
“I’m hopeful that really gets some traction,” he said.
He cautioned on using surplus dollars to start new programs.
“You have to be concerned with starting new programs that you can pay for now because you have that surplus,” he said. “What are you going to do two years from now, three years from now. You don’t want to start programs that might cause funding shortages in the future. The exception to that, though, is the Social Security taxes. Minnesota is one of only 13 states where our seniors still pay income tax on Social Security. I think it’s time that we eliminate that even though that does go into the future. That money, if it stays in the pockets of the seniors, they’re going to spend it, and that’s going to generate income tax and that’s going to generate sales tax and other things. It’s not like that money is going to be lost. It’s just letting the Minnesotans decide how they spend it rather than having the state government spend it.”
In-person meetings were difficult at the state level too in thepandemic, but Jurgens said the Capitol will be open this session.
“I think you’ll see a lot of us spending more time in the Capitol building so that we can actually meet with people and see people, rather than sitting in our office building that’s locked down. That’s what I’m looking forward to,” said Jurgens. “It’s going to be a good session. A $8 billion dollar is unheard of, but it’s sure better than an $8 billion deficit. It’s going to be interesting. We’ll see where it goes.”
The question was raised on what the surplus is attributed to.
Jurgens answered, “I think the biggest thing is all of the federal money that was pumped into the economy to help keep people afloat. That money comes into the economy, and people spent it. You saw an increase in sales tax revenue. That was a big part of it.”
Could a sales tax cut be on the horizon, the duo was asked.
“I think that would be on the table,” said Jurgens. “That’s going to be discussed. There will be a lot of discussion on which taxes should be cut.”
“Just remember that when you deal with the tax rates especially on sales tax, there’s longterm implications for that,” said Bigham. “We have an over $8 billion surplus now, but that doesn’t mean we’re always going to have it.