Gunther reviews legislative session

FAIRMONT — State Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, has a negative analysis of the recently concluded 2019 legislative session, but in a positive light.

“It was not what was done as much as what wasn’t done,” he says.

Positive, however, because Gunther is perfectly pleased — for the most part — that certain things did not become law. First and foremost, he points to the 20-cent per gallon gas tax hike proposed by Gov. Tim Walz. Gunther says his Republican colleagues in the Minnesota Senate held firm in their opposition to the gas tax proposal, stopping it in their final negotiations with Walz, a Democrat.

Gunther himself is not opposed to some increase in the gas tax, as Minnesota faces billions of dollars in backlogged road and bridge projects around the state. But the 20-cent hike would have had a harsh effect on rural Minnesotans, who spend more time on the highways. Especially those who commute around the region to get to work.

At the same time, Gunther is disappointed that lawmakers did not continue a program that was setting aside $600 million annually for some Minnesota cities, including Fairmont, to help them with street work. The program had run for three years but will end this year.

Gunther believes the gas tax issue has not gone away. He expects a more reasonable gas tax hike plan to come up again.

Gunther has served in the Minnesota House since 1995, and he now represents all or portions of Blue Earth, Faribault, Jackson, Martin and Watonwan counties. He notes that one of the main occupations in his district is long-term care provider. So he is pleased that the session did not result in any more cuts to nursing homes, assisted-living or long-term care facilities. Gunther estimates that 2,500 people work in these fields in District 23A. Lawmakers also worked to restore previous cuts in this area, he said.

Another “didn’t happen” involved proposed gun laws. While the House passed bills aimed at restricting private gun sales and creating a “red flag” law, neither proposal made it through final negotiations. “Red flag” laws allow police or family members to petition a court to temporarily remove firearms from a person who may present a danger to themselves or others. Gunther previously criticized the bill as attacking the assumption of innocence. He said Second Amendment rights issues generated the most emails to his office, and he was happy to be able to stand strong in defense of gun rights.

There also was no bonding bill this session, as minority House Republicans exercised their right to deny it. Democrats in the House would have needed six Republican votes to pass a bonding bill. Gunther has mixed feelings on the matter, wishing he could have obtained funds for some projects in his district. However, he says the bonding bill is likely to be revisited when the Legislature reconvenes in February.

The bonding bill’s failure means Martin County is not getting $20 million to build a new jail. The county Veterans Memorial, to be built in Fairmont, also is still short $300,000. A Jackson bike trail also lost out on $100,000.

The Veterans Memorial did receive $100,000 in a separate bill, while the Green Giant Museum in Blue Earth got $140,000 in that same bill.

On other issues:

Taxes

Final negotiations resulted in a middle class state income tax rate cut from 7.05 percent to 6.80 percent. Gunther says the cut will affect those who earn in the range of $30,000 to $40,000 per year. He says Republicans also blocked many proposed tax increases, seeing them as unnecessary given a state budget surplus.

Education

K-12 education received more funding, with 2 percent increases scheduled for 2020 and 2021.

“[The session end result] could have been a lot worse if the Minneapolis Democrats and the governor would have had their way,” said Gunther, summing up. “We would have had gun laws and a lot of other things we don’t want to have.”

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