Road projects, farms the focus of bills putforward by area legislators
ST. PAUL — Minnesota Senate Republicans unveiled a proposal to change state taxes today, but tax relief isn’t the only issue that Republican legislators are working on this session.
This week, Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, and Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, gave updates on bills aimed at funding rural roads and bridges and helping young farmers.
“We’ve got several things going on in the Senate,” Dahms said.
One is a bill that Dahms helped author, which proposes to put all of Minnesota’s auto parts sales tax revenue toward repair, maintenance and construction of roads and bridges. Under current law, only part of the sales tax revenue goes toward transportation infrastructure.
“That yielded about $125 million per year,” Dahms said. “Now this year, we have a bill to take 100% of the sales tax from the auto parts and accessories and put that into the roads and bridges fund.”
Dahms said the change would add about another $200 million a year for transportation funding.
“That money is going to have some guard rails around it,” Dahms said.
A related Senate bill calls for 15% of the auto parts sales tax revenue to go to road projects in small cities and townships.
“That’s something that is really needed. We have a lot of small communities and townships that really struggle with keeping the roads up,” Dahms said.
“It’s a very good way to fund road and bridge transportation. And we are behind — I mean, we’ve gotten behind over the years,” he said. “This would a way to start getting caught up on that. We would still do our bonding proposals like we do currently. We will still continue with the gas tax, like we continually do.”
This week, Swedzinski also gave updates on a bill he authored to help speed up the turnaround time on Rural Finance Authority loan program applications. The bill, which would appropriate $80,000 to the Department of Agriculture to speed up the RFA application process, recently passed its first committee test in the House, Swedzinski said.
The House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee set Swedzinski’s bill aside for possible inclusion in an omnibus agriculture package.
“This is a pretty straightforward bill to help us meet a growing need as agriculture transitions,” Swedzinski said. “The RFA does a great job, but it gets inundated with applications and has struggled to keep up with demand. The goal of this bill is to make sure the RFA has the tools and the staff it needs to make sure young farmers have an opportunity to grow and be successful in their operations. “
Swedzinski said the bill would be helpful to prospective farmers trying to leverage the RFA’s beginning farmer tax credit program.
“The RFA is an extremely valuable resource to farmers in Minnesota, especially young farmers,” Swedzinski said. “My bill just helps make sure the RFA can effectively and efficiently deliver the great services it provides so more farmers can benefit.”
Dahms also talked about the state budget surplus and the Republican tax proposal, which was announced Thursday.
“We’ll be looking at reducing or eliminating the Minnesota income tax on Social Security,” Dahms said.
The Senate Republicans’ proposal would also reduce first-tier income tax rates to 2.8%.
“For people that are working, they’ll have a lower income tax rate and therefore keep more money for their essentials,” Dahms said.
“You know, if you have a $7.7 billion surplus, it kind of indicates that maybe you’re a little too high on your taxes,” Dahms said.
He said it was also important for legislators to remember that part of the surplus is one-time funding.
“With the one-time money, you’ve kinda got to make sure that’s spent on one-time spending, or as I would like to do, put a lot of that back into a rainy day fund or just not spend it right now.”
“Just because we have a surplus of money, it doesn’t say that we need to go ahead and spend a bunch of money,” Dahms said.
Last year, the Legislature and the governor already compromised to pass a state budget.
“We sat down and evaluated what we felt we needed to do in the state of Minnesota to be fair and to handle things properly, so that was reflected in last year’s budget,” he said.