Area’s Republican lawmakers frustrated at minority-party status
By Erik Sandin and Avery Cropp
Two years ago, the St. Croix Valley’s Republican state lawmakers were part of a GOP majority in the Minnesota House and Senate.
Today, Reps. Kathy Lohmer of Lake Elmo and Bob Dettmer of Forest Lake and freshman Sen. Karin Housley of St. Mary’s Point are part of Republican minorities in both houses at the State Capitol watching as DFL majorities set the legislative agenda with just weeks left in the 2013 session.
With the legislature in recess this week for the Passover and Easter holidays, area lawmakers took stock of the session so far and looked ahead to the closing days.
“I’m very concerned about the way things are going,” Lohmer said. “It feels to me like it’s union payback time big time.
Lohmer believes the 2011-2012 Republican-controlled legislature did many positive things for the state. But now Republicans in the legislature can do little to affect DFL legislation.
“There’s not much of a voice for our party right now. There’s nothing we can do to stop it (DFL legislation),” she said. “When we were in the majority, we were presenting good things. To be on the defensive is not much fun.”
“It’s a little frustrating being in the minority and feeling you don’t have a voice,” Housley added. “But I’m doing everything I can to voice the concerns of the people of my district.”
One local issue Lohmer said she is working on is legislation giving some relief to the Lower St. Croix Valley Fire Department, which is required to answer calls on Interstate 94 between Woodbury and Hudson. She noted that her bill regarding the issue is “jacketed.”
“I’m told I’m going to get a hearing,” she said.
Housley said she has spent her first session as senator listening and learning. She admits being surprised by what is contained in some proposed bills.
“Some (bills) are so ridiculous I wonder if I’m on Candid Camera,” she said.
Both Lohmer and Housley were critical of Gov. Mark Dayton’s original tax reform package that included raising income tax on the wealthiest Minnesotans, expanding the sales tax to some professional services and clothing that costs more than $100.
Dayton has since dropped some of his tax proposals in the face of criticism from businesses and some of his fellow Democrats in the legislature.
“I think it was a real overreach with his first tax proposal out there. We heard a lot of push back from the professional services,” Housley said.
Lohmer said she was pleased the governor dropped the idea of expanding the sales tax to some clothing items, saying the clothing exemption from sales tax helps the state’s economy.
“People from Wisconsin shop here because they don’t have to pay sales tax on clothes here,” she said.
But Lohmer also believes Dayton still seeks some form of higher state taxes.
“He wants to spend more money and he wants to take from taxpayers,” she said. “I can’t tell you where it’s going to come from.”
“I’m sure there’s going to be some tax reform and some people won’t like that,” Housley added.
In an email to constituents, Dettmer outlined the House DFL proposed fiscal year 2013-2014 budget that includes $39.3 billion in spending; covers the $626.7 million deficit; adds a fourth tier 9.85 percent tax rate for individual taxpayers making $150,000 or married couples earning more than $250,000; a fifth tier tax rate to pay off the final payments of the multi-year school funding shift, and dedicates an additional $700 million in K-12 and higher education spending and fully funds all-day kindergarten in state public schools.
Dettmer criticized the fifth tier income bracket on the wealthy individuals, saying it would give Minnesota one of the nation’s top tax rates.
“While DFL leaders say the top tax rate will be ‘temporary’ until the shift is paid off, the rate would make Minnesota number one or two in the nation (depending on how you look at the numbers) which will leave consumers paying more, cost us jobs and make Minnesota less competitive in the global market,” he said in his email.
Dettmer also notes that the DFL budget and tax proposal comes as “numerous states are looking at eliminating income tax systems.”
“Because of smart financial decisions in 2011, our economy is heading in the right direction and revenue is rising by about three percent on its own, without the need of tax increases,” he said.
On the education side, Lohmer said she does not support funding all-day kindergarten.
“Obviously families may like it and so many parents work now that they may need to find their kids a structured day. At this point it’s a moot point, but why not just make it optional? I’m all for parental choice, parents know best,” she said.
Housley said she wants to see school funding equalized in districts, which would help two Washington County school districts.
“Just make sure the funding is fair to all school children. Stillwater and Forest Lake get the short end,” she said.
Lohmer and Housley have different views about how the last weeks of the session will unfold. Housley said she expects a busy session to get busier when lawmakers return next week.
Lohmer, however, sees things differently.
“It’s much less busy, and I think that’s the same for all Republicans. People aren’t coming to you to help them support their bills and you’re mainly playing defense,” she said. “There’s not as many lobbyists coming to me either because they don’t need my help. The frustrating part is not being able to have a say. It’s almost like your vote doesn’t count.”