Senate GOP priorities include tax relief for farmers, social security recipients

Senate GOP leaders at podium
Speaking at a news conference on Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, and other Republican lawmakers outlined their agenda for the 2020 legislative session.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Tax cuts, prescription drug imports and a bonding bill heavy on road and bridge projects will be among the priorities Republicans in the Minnesota Senate will push for the 2020 session, leaders said Monday.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, broadly outlined the GOP agenda during a news conference in St. Paul. He said details will emerge during committee hearings once the session begins next month.

“[For] some things we have pretty firm in our minds where we’d like to go. Other things we realize that there needs to be more conversation,” Gazelka said.

Lawmakers have a projected $1.3 billion budget surplus to work with, and Gazelka said he wants to give some of the surplus back to taxpayers. For example, Senate Republicans want to fully exempt Social Security income from state taxes and to provide some additional relief to farmers when they buy property, he said.

The Republican plan for health care will include a measure on drug imports to help lower the cost of prescriptions, he said. Senate Republicans also want improvements in Department of Human Services operations.

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On education, Gazelka said the Senate GOP plan will focus on closing racial achievement gaps and expanding school choice options.

“We can do this,” he said. “It’s just not doing the same-old, same-old and expecting different results.”

Gazelka is also concerned about crime in the Twin Cities metro area. He said many people who live outside the metro wonder whether it’s safe for them to visit.

“We just need to assure them that we have a handle on this, so we’re going to take a strong look at this,” he said.

Gazelka said he wants a reasonably-sized bonding bill that emphasizes “big projects.” He said the list would include roads, bridges, higher education campus projects and wastewater facilities. DFL Gov. Tim Walz is recommending about $2 billion in state borrowing, but Gazelka says he is more comfortable staying under $1 billion.

The DFL-led House has yet to formally outline its priorities. In a written statement, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, criticized the GOP plan.

“Senate Republicans are failing on the issues Minnesotans care most about — affordable prescription drugs including insulin, gun violence prevention, paid family leave, addressing climate change, world-class public schools, and more,” Hortman said. “House DFLers will continue our efforts to build a Minnesota that works better for all of us.”

Senate Democrats also criticized the Senate GOP agenda. Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said Republicans have been ignoring many DFL-backed proposals.

“They’ve refused time and again to even give important bills a public hearing — proposals that could increase access to affordable health care, help students succeed in school, make our communities safer, and ensure Minnesota workers have access to paid family and medical leave,” Bakk said in a written statement.