A crowd of about 20 people stopped by city hall in Redwood Falls Dec. 12 to take part in a town hall meeting being hosted by District 16 Sen. Gary Dahms and District 16B Rep. Paul Torkelson. The meeting was held as a way for Dahms and Torkelson to reflect on the upcoming legislative session, which starts Jan. 8, 2019 and for them to hear from constituents about issues important to them.
Plenty of changes await those who will serve in 2019, as a new governor, Tim Walz, has been elected, and a shift has taken place in the House of Representatives where the Democrats will be in the majority.
“That is a big change for next session,” said Torkelson, who will not serve in a role as committee chair during the session.
Torkelson added in the coming days the new governor will begin to announce those who will serve as commissioners for different state departments, and whoever fills those roles will provide an indication for the legislators about what they can expect when the session starts.
With 35 new members coming in, Torkelson said there will be a huge learning curve going on as things start.
“These are people who have never voted on a bill,” said Torkelson, adding that likely means things are not going to move all too quickly especially as the new session begins.
Dahms said the Republicans will have a majority in the Senate, and he will continue to serve as the chair of the commerce committee.
Dahms and Torkelson briefly addressed a number of issues the anticipate will be debated in St. Paul during the session from childcare and healthcare to tax conformity to opioids.
However much of the town hall meeting focused on one topic that has been an area of concern for some time – transportation funding. In a time when infrastructure needs are rising, how is the state proposing to address the need to pay for it?
Dahms said he is hopeful more of the funding from sales tax on auto parts that is being collected can move from the general fund to fund transportation needs, as he said that is how it was originally being used.
The reality, added Torkelson, is that the needs do continue to rise. The problem is that it is easy to kick transportation needs down the road to address some of the other needs of the state.
Dahms said when legislators send out surveys that request the public to prioritize issues in a top five transportation is always at the bottom of the list.
The challenge, added Dahms, is that with a $45 billion budget, about 78 percent of that is allocated to two areas – human services and education. The other 22 percent is left for everything else. As the aging portion of the population continues to grow that’s not going to change.