Sen. David Osmek characterized the 2019 legislative session as largely a holding action by the Republican senate against DFL efforts to raise taxes and grow government. Speaking to Senate District 49 program attendees on Tuesday evening, May 28, the Republican state senator from Mound expressed regret that some good legislation didn’t even get a hearing.
Gov. Walz signed Minnesota’s 2020-2021 biennial budget of $48.3 billion on May 30 after a 21-hour special session. The negotiations to get there covered a number of contentious issues, including increased taxes, growing state government control over health care, unrealistic energy mandates, and even a state model for K-12 sex education.
Sen. Osmek noted that the new budget did not include Gov. Walz’ 70% gas tax increase. But then, Osmek did not feel that the DFL really expected to get the gas tax increase. What they really wanted was to retain the 2% Healthcare Provider Tax.
The Provider Tax is imposed on medical professionals subject to regulation by the state, such as doctors, dentists, and nurse practitioners. It also must be paid by those that sell or repair hearing aids and prescription eyewear, or provide ambulance services. It increases Minnesota’s healthcare costs, as it is generally passed on to patients and to the state’s Medical Assistance program.
While the Provider Tax ultimately was reduced from 2% to 1.8%, Osmek believes that Gov. Walz achieved his real aim of eliminating the “sunset” provision, the requirement that the tax end on a specified date. This tax is also not earmarked to fund state health care benefits. Proceeds from this tax will go into the state’s general fund, providing a “slush fund” to cover future DFL desires.
As the chair of the Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy committee, Sen. Osmek was particularly concerned with the DFL proposals to shut down the state’s coal-fired power plants and extend the life of its nuclear power generators. He supports market-driven moves to increase renewable energy sources, but he wants to ensure that energy mandates do not excessively burden Minnesota rate payers.
He proposed legislation to better allocate the costs to rate payers of electricity from solar gardens vs. large industrial solar arrays. His bill did not get a hearing and did not make it into the final budget bill signed by the governor.
Osmek believes that we will reach a tipping point when solar and wind provide 40% of the state’s energy needs. Beyond that, we will likely encounter limitations in the current electrical power distribution infrastructure, requiring a significant expansion of transmission lines.
David Osmek is one of three Republican senators serving in districts in Hennepin County. He joins Paul Anderson of Plymouth and Warren Limmer of Maple Grove. Osmek noted that the DFL only needs to flip two Republican senate seats to take control of the Minnesota senate. Sen. Osmek expects to campaign hard in his re-election bid in 2020, but he feels that this legislative session made clear the choices the voters face. After two years under Gov. Walz, he is certain that Minnesotans will want to retain the pragmatic Republican majority in the Senate.