Reflecting on State of the State Address

Small-business owners, who would undoubtedly suffer from Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed tax increases, were in the House chamber as the governor recently delivered his State of the State Address.

I was pleased to be joined in the House by special guests John and Dee Forbes, who own Heartthrob Exhaust, Inc., of Litchfield. One component in Dayton’s plan to increase taxes by $3.7 billion includes a business-to-business tax. State officials estimate the governor’s proposed taxes would cost our businesses $1.5 billion in 2015 alone.

This would damage companies like the Forbes’ and put our state at a further disadvantage in the competitive marketplace. The same day Dayton delivered his speech, a prominent headline on Page 1 of the Pioneer Press read: “Dayton tax plan has a fan – in Wisconsin.” The article indicated a Wisconsin lawmaker sent a letter to Minnesota business owners, urging them to relocate across the border.

Concern from small-business owners all across the state was voiced during a roundtable discussion prior to Dayton’s speech. It was a group of mainly everyday people trying to make a successful living, not exactly the picture Dayton painted in our minds when he focused on making the “rich” pay more in taxes.

Dayton has moved from his “tax the rich” campaign rhetoric to a tax-everyone plan.

With Democrats controlling the House and the Senate, our new state budget could include many of the tax increases the governor is proposing. People championing tax increases continue to say middle-class Minnesotans would not pay more under the governor’s plan. That is simply wrong. We cannot raise state taxes and spending to record levels and expect the “rich” will be the only ones impacted.

It was interesting how, in his State of the State speech, the governor acknowledged policies championed by Republican majorities the last two years are delivering positive results for Minnesota. We have 72,000 mo

John and Dee Forbes join me as special guests on the House floor for Wednesday’s State of the State Address by Gov. Mark Dayton.

re jobs, we dramatically improved our state’s bottom line and paid back the entire K-12 funding shift from 2011.

Our state’s economy is growing at 3 percent, yet the governor proposes raising taxes by billions to fund state spending growth of 7.6 percent. This would threaten to undo much of the progress he noted in his speech. Making middle-class citizens – and even the poorest Minnesotans – pay more taxes to feed government’s never-ending appetite for spending is the wrong approach.

The positive in all this is at least Dayton is offering ideas – even if many are misguided – that will get budget discussions moving.

Ask ourselves: How will this help our economy?

By Rep. Dean Urdahl

The question we should ask ourselves in examining various components of a new state budget this year is this: “How will this help our economy?”

Gov. Mark Dayton recently issued his proposed budget for the new biennium. Dayton is not empowered to draft legislation, but his recommendations are likely to serve as guideposts for the new Democratic majorities as they craft bills. We are still working to sift through the details of the governor’s proposal, but several things are clear right off the bat.

The governor proposes increasing state spending by $2.5 billion and seeks a state-record tax increase of $3.7 billion. Dayton’s plan ends up being $1 in spending reductions for every $16 in tax increases. Our economy is growing at a 3-percent annual rate and it concerns me the governor wants to exceed that threshold, particularly with such an imbalanced plan.

I also am concerned about the $2.1 billion in sales-tax increases the governor proposes. Sure, he wants to lower the sales tax to 5.5 percent, but extending the sales tax to previously untaxed goods and services would be detrimental to middle-class citizens. Things like haircuts, oil changes and Internet purchases would be subject to taxes. He also proposes increasing taxes on cigarettes by 94 cents per pack.

Dayton has consistently said that he wants the rich to pay their “fair share,” but these taxes would hit all of us, not just the so-called rich. This would be another blow to most Minnesotans, who recently saw their take-home pay reduced by 2 percent because the federal government allowed payroll taxes to increase.

I favor the governor’s proposals to reduce corporate taxes by 1.4 percent and to freeze business-property taxes for two years. On the other hand, Dayton also is seeking to increase taxes which state officials estimate would cost businesses $1.5 billion in 2015 alone.

Our state economy is showing signs of recovering from the recession and I am concerned new business taxes would deal our state a setback. Consumers would likely absorb much of these costs in the form of higher prices. Our businesses climate already is ranked among the nation’s worst and new taxes would put us at an even greater disadvantage.

For all the increased spending and additional taxes, one item is conspicuously absent from the governor’s budget plan: Prioritized repayment of funds we owe our schools. Democrats campaigned hard on repayment of the K-12 school shift, yet Dayton’s budget would not retire this debt until 2017.

We already have repaid the entire 2011 shift and trimmed a significant portion the former Republican majority inherited. What remains is $1.1 billion in K-12 debt enacted under the previous Democrat majorities and Gov. Tim Pawlenty. This old debt should be paid in full before we even consider raising taxes and spending new money in new areas.

I will be reading the details of the governor’s budget recommendations with great interest in the upcoming days and weeks. The true work in establishing bills that will form our budget will begin in earnest after we receive an updated state economic forecast in February.

All indications are the trend of generating surplus revenues will continue as the improvements we made in the last biennium take root. That is all the more reason to limit our spending to available revenue, protect Minnesota taxpayers from further burden and let our economy grow. Those are three key components to keep in mind as ask ourselves, “How will this help our economy?”

 

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URDAHL RE-NAMED TO CAPITOL RESTORATION PANEL

ST. PAUL – Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Acton Township, has accepted re-appointment to serve on a commission which will continue to advance a massive restoration project at Minnesota’s aging Capitol.

Estimates indicate it will cost approximately $240 million to restore various structural facets of the Capitol, which was built in 1905. The Capitol Preservation Commission on which Urdahl will continue serving began the restoration process by successfully obtaining $44 million in last year’s capital investment bill. The group may plan to seek $109 million in bonding this year to keep the project on track.

Projects experts deem necessary range from repairing a leaky roof dome to restoring aging artwork, improving deficient electrical and plumbing systems, and securing crumbling marble on the building’s exterior.

“If we do a bonding bill this year, I hope money for continuing this project is included,” said Urdahl, who is serving the commission for a second biennium. “This is the people’s house and, as far as I’m concerned, it is one of the most important buildings in Minnesota. We need to keep the roof from leaking and keep our restoration project going before our Capitol falls into a further state of decay.”

The commission was established through legislation Urdahl authored as chairman of the House Legacy Division in 2011-12. It is chaired by Gov. Mark Dayton and includes 22 members, a mix of legislators, at-large citizens and other officials.

A behind-the-scenes video provides images of the Captol’s deteriorating infrastructure. Log on to www.mnvideovault.org and enter “Capitol restoration tour” in the search field to view the footage. The pertinent footage begins at the 18-minute, 45-second mark.

“Many people see the Capitol from afar and think everything looks just fine with the building,” Urdahl said. “This video provides some very telling footage, allowing people to see exactly why this restoration project is necessary.”

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Dean Urdahl represents District 18A in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Rep. Urdahl can be contacted by email at rep.dean.urdahl@house.mn or by phone at 651-296-4344.

Voter ID passes House; state economy surging

Minnesotans hold election integrity sacred. The House recently passed a bill allowing our state’s citizens to decide if photo ID is an appropriate measure to strengthen our process.

Upon Senate approval of this legislation (H.F. 2738) would place the following question on ballots Minnesotans will receive in November: “Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification on election day and that the state provide free identification to eligible voters?”

The intent is to make sure all eligible voters are afforded an opportunity to participate in elections, but to also ensure voting is conducted as intended. I do not want anyone who is eligible to vote to be disenfranchised and I believe measures are in place to prevent that from happening.

The vast majority of Minnesotans should be able to produce a photo ID without a problem, but safeguards would be in place to help eliminate potential hang-ups. As stated in the constitutional question, eligible citizens who lack a state-issued photo ID may request a voting card free of charge. If, for whatever reason, someone is unable to provide a photo ID at the poll, they still may submit a provisional ballot and verify their identity after the fact.

Surveys continually indicate Minnesotans overwhelmingly support a photo ID requirement. An online poll conducted this week shows approximately 75 percent of respondents are in favor of this measure, a figure that is consistent with others I’ve seen.

STATE ECONOMY CONTINUES TO REBOUND

We received more good news regarding our state economy this week. A report this week indicates another 6,000 jobs were added in Minnesota last month, bringing our total for the last three months to 32,300. The article also says we have regained more than half of the jobs lost during the recession.

An interesting twist to this development is unemployment actually increased a tick last month, from 5.6 percent to 5.7 percent. There is a silver lining to this, however. Many people who gave up looking for jobs during the recession were not accounted for in recent unemployment figures. A number of those people have resumed looking for jobs now that businesses are hiring again, reappearing on the unemployment radar.

Small businesses drive our economy and it is important to note many of these new jobs are in the private sector. This will help to broaden our tax base and put our state on a more sustainable course, a departure from the days of using taxpayer dollars to put fellow taxpayers to work by expanding government.

The decisions we are making in St. Paul are producing strong returns. Entrepreneurs are more apt to innovate and expand with the certainty we are providing. Let’s all hope this leads Minnesota to a full economic recovery and return to prosperity in the near future.

Let’s pay delayed school funding

A plan to repay delayed K-12 education funding is the latest bit of good budget news to come from the Capitol.

The proposal (H.F. 2083) uses funds from our $1.2 billion state budget surplus to not only pay back the rest of the delayed funds from 2011, but also to chip away at funding shifts enacted by the previous majority.

The state owes schools $2.4 billion – $400 million from the last session and $2 billion the former Legislature borrowed from schools in 2010. We already are using $318 million from surplus funds to start paying back schools and now this new bill puts another $430 million toward squaring up our K-12 debt.

Again, that would completely erase the 2011 shift and make a dent in what the current majority inherited.

This proposal should be embraced by both sides of the aisle. First of all, it is not right for the state to hold a pot of money when schools are borrowing to cover for delayed payments. Also, this proposal would help restore our state’s credit rating by reducing long-term debt. Our cash-flow account would remain intact and we would tap into our reserves, aka the “rainy day” account.

The fiscally responsible decisions we are making in St. Paul continue to produce results. I recently wrote how, in less than a year, we turned a $5.1 billion shortfall into a $1.2 billion surplus. Our unemployment rate is now down to 5.6 percent and more than 27,000 jobs were added in the last two months alone. Our economy is on the upswing and now it is time to do the right thing and repay our K-12 debt.

I have received input from a number of local citizens who agree with me in making repayment of K-12 shifts a top priority; I would have preferred avoiding shifts altogether as we erased a substantial budget shortfall last year. But this bill is an opportunity for us to take action and make things right.

We will work to get this bill on the floor quickly and I encourage the governor to do what is right by approving the bill as soon as it arrives on his desk. Please join me in supporting this initiative.

 

Good news: Another state budget surplus

We recently received news of a second consecutive state budget surplus. What we are doing in St. Paul to get our state economy back on track is working.

Our economic turnaround is remarkable. We eliminated a $5.1 billion shortfall last year and have generated a combined $1.2 billion in surplus funds the last two forecasts ($876 million in November and $323 million in February).

That’s a $6.3 billion improvement since last year, largely because the budget we passed in 2011 limited government growth, provided long-term spending restraint and created opportunity for private-sector job growth. We reduced our projected government spending increase from 22 percent to 6 percent. Now, we have less government and more money. Our projected state spending projection is down to $33.8 billion this biennium, which is far more affordable than the $39 billion on the books before we set a new budget last year.

Speculation was the new budget forecast from Minnesota Management & Budget would show a flat bottom line, or maybe even reveal a shortfall of $200 million or so. But the budget we enacted last year continues to perform beyond initial projections.

Again, what we are doing is working. Our state’s 5.7-percent unemployment rate is considerably better than the 8.5-percent national average. This difference is greater than normal, a key indication Minnesota’s economy is getting back on track more quickly than others. This positive economic growth may have been stifled had we raised taxes by billions of dollars as some proposed.

I am very pleased this improving outlook allows us to pay back at least $318 million of the K-12 school shift. We still have a long way to go for a full payback, but it is good we are able to begin the process.

Government reform remains a top priority this session at the Capitol in order to put our state on even better fiscal footing for the future. The last two budget forecasts should serve as tangible evidence the difficult choices we made in 2011 are paying dividends. This should provide us with even more incentive to stay the course to help us reach full economic recovery and better withstand the impact of future downturns.

Civil War Commemoration Task Force unveils winning Civil War logo, introduces artist

We just finished up a news conference unveiling the winning design from a statewide logo contest. Congratulations to Michael Campbell for his winning submission. Below is a news release issued this morning with more details.

-Dean

ST. PAUL – Today, co-chairs Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Acton Township, and other members of the Civil War Commemoration Task Force presented the winning design from the task force’s logo contest and introduced the artist who created it: Michael Campbell of Chanhassen.

The CWCTF received an enthusiastic response from Minnesota’s artists – nearly 50 logo contest entries were submitted. Campbell’s eye-catching red, white and blue design was chosen because of his unique use of Civil War images that clearly capture the connection between the war and Minnesota – exactly what the Civil War Commemoration Task Force asked for in the statewide contest guidelines.

“As a Minnesotan, I have always held a certain pride in my heart for the exploits and sacrifice of the farmers and woodsmen who donned a blue uniform and fought for the young North Star State – and ultimately the preservation of the Union,” Campbell said. “It was with this same sense of pride that I submitted my logo for consideration in this contest.”

Campbell combined key identifying elements and thoughtful subtleties to create a crisp logo that will be Minnesota’s official symbol for the Civil War’s 150th anniversary. The logo’s image, representing the monument dedicated to the heroics of the First Minnesota at Gettysburg, consists of a Civil War soldier’s white silhouette cast over the state of Minnesota. The logo’s deep blue banner of 11 stars is a tribute to the 11 Minnesota regiments that served in the war.

“I think it had all the elements we wanted in a design,” Task Force selection committee member Brian Rice said. “It has the image of the state, it has 150 years and it has the words ‘Civil War’ on it for easy identification.” Rice also said he likes the action displayed in the forward-charging soldier and found symbolism in the poised bayonet, which parallels Minnesota’s Arrowhead region.

As the winner of the Civil War Commemoration Task Force logo contest, Campbell will receive a one-year membership to the Minnesota Historical Society and two books: The Last Full Measure by Richard Moe and Brother of Mine: The Civil War Letters of Thomas and William Christie.

“I want to take this opportunity to thank all the talented Minnesota artists who submitted their logo design concepts for our consideration and congratulate Mr. Campbell for his outstanding design that will be prominently featured in all of the Civil War Task Force’s citizen outreach, education and marketing initiatives,” Ritchie said.

Urdahl, who has written a trilogy of books pertaining to Minnesota events during the Civil War, said the subtleties within Campbell’s design are natural story-telling portals.

“Minnesota soldiers fought with bravery in the Civil War and were involved in pivotal moments during several battles,” Urdahl said. “There are stories behind each regiment which should be shared.”

Campbell has been in the graphic design and marketing communications field for 27 years. He currently is manager of marketing communications at Nash Finch Company, where he oversees the company’s communications and branding initiatives.

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Local caucuses Tuesday

Dear Neighbor,

Precinct caucuses will take place Tuesday, Feb. 7 this year and I highly encourage citizens to attend their local events.

Caucuses are an important part of our political process. These meetings provide Minnesotans with the opportunity to decide what policies are important in national, state and local government, along with electing local leaders. It is important that local citizens voice their opinions during the discussion of issues, since these views eventually influence the platforms of Minnesotas political parties.

The Minnesota Secretary of State website has a statewide Caucus Finder page (http://caucusfinder.sos.state.mn.us/) to help citizens find their meeting locations. The more people we have involved in this process, the better and I hope you can attend. Feel free to bring friends and family as well.

Sincerely,
Dean

CAPITOL RESTORATION PANEL ISSUES PROPOSALS

Here is a news release my legislative office issued regarding a plan to restore the Capitol:

ST. PAUL – Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Acton Township, and other members of the Capitol Preservation Commission have formulated three different restoration proposals to be considered by the Legislature.

Each of the three bonding proposals is for $241 million and accomplishes the same restoration work; it’s the dispersal periods which vary. Urdahl said he favors the two options which let the bonds over two and three years instead of one up-front bond.

The Capitol is more than 105 years old. Urdahl said experts indicate the building has eroded to the point rehabilitation may never catch up if immediate action is not taken. This includes leaks in the Capitol’s roof and potentially loose exterior panels. Other structural deficiencies, code issues and accessibility shortcomings also must be addressed, Urdahl said.

“This building will be in serious trouble if we don’t take care of this now,” Urdahl said. “To allow our Capitol to crumble into a state of even further disrepair is unthinkable. I just don’t think people realize what poor condition it is in.”

Urdahl said he will be authoring bonding requests for the two proposals he supports. One plan would require a bond of $146 million in 2012 and $95 million in 2014. The other would bond $40 million in 2012, $106 million in 2013 and $95 million in 2014.

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