DFL and Republican leaders will enter the 2011 session with high hopes and a cooperative tone, but with key differences on legislative priorities.
In a press conference, the new House and Senate leaders offered a preview of their agendas for the new legislative session, which is scheduled to begin Tuesday. One of the top legislative priorities will be to pass a balanced budget. The state faces an estimated $6.2 billion deficit in the next two-year budget cycle.
House Speaker-Designate Rep. Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove) said Republicans plan to hold down government spending and make Minnesota a friendlier place for businesses.
“We want to be the most competitive state in the country,” he said.
Zellers and Senate Majority Leader-Elect Sen. Amy Koch (R-Buffalo) cited regulatory reform as a key Republican priority. In particular, they hope to streamline the environmental permitting process and make it less costly for businesses to build and expand their operations.
Both leaders reiterated their party’s opposition to increasing taxes, and said the state would have to learn to “live within its means.”
Other priorities mentioned by Republican leaders include education reform and lifting the state’s ban on new nuclear power facilities. On the issue of a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings, Zellers said Republicans are open to the possibility, but added there are “lots of what-ifs.”
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader-Elect Rep. Paul Thissen (DFL-Mpls) said DFL legislators will measure their performance in the upcoming session by how well they protect middle-class families from potentially painful budget cuts.
“We know that an all-cuts budget … is going to squeeze middle-class Minnesotans with higher property taxes, with higher tuition, with more expensive fees,” Thissen said.
He expressed skepticism about Republican plans to cut environmental regulations and reduce mandates on local governments, arguing that “the mandates are there for a reason.”
While leaders from both parties expressed their desire for an open and civil legislative process, they admitted that some friction is likely. Thissen said he hopes the budget can be balanced without lawmakers needing a special session.
The Legislature is constitutionally required to adjourn by May 23, 2011.