Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka giving a press conference on Monday morning.

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Minnesota Senate Republicans plan to return money to taxpayers once they’ve funded budget priorities and filled the states’ reserves, fully exempt Social Security income from taxation, and provide agriculture tax relief for buying properties through section 179 of the Minnesota Department of Revenue.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka announced his caucus's priorities at a Monday news conference.

“Let’s be one of those states that doesn’t tax our seniors when they’ve paid all the way through, and then, now they have to pay again," Gazelka said.

Regarding healthcare, Gazelka said Republican lawmakers plan to lower pharmaceutical pricing through the drug importation program.

Gazelka said he wants to hold the Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) accountable for past million-dollar mistakes and, with the help of Democratic-Farmer-Labor Gov. Tim Walz, divide MDHHS to provide more oversight.

“Report after report after report from our nonpartisan auditors shows that there’s a lot of dysfunction there, and it’s time to clean that up,” Gazelka said, calling it, “one of the most important things we could get done this session.”

Gazelka said they planned to address Minnesota’s “persistent achievement gap” from the youngest grades by using data-driven policies to choose the programs that work.

GOP lawmakers plan to renew their commitment to school choice for families and students stuck in failing schools, Gazelka said, adding that he’s seen several options that are used in other states.

Walz announced a planned $2 billion bonding bill last week, and he told WCCO on Sunday that the state’s strong financial position justified the record-high bonding amount.

“The state has the capacity to leverage about $180 million to leverage $2 billion at the lowest interest rates we have ever seen at just a little over 1 percent, so to be able to catch back up on these projects, what is expensive is to not do them,” Walz said.

Gazelka said the state’s forecasting budget for the bonding bill was $755 million, which is the number they can bond without having to pay any more in interest than what they planned.

Gazelka pointed to the state’s $1.3 billion cash surplus as an option for projects instead of a bond bill, because “at the end of the bond, you still have to pay that back over 20 years,” Gazelka said, emphasizing the importance of not taking on too much debt in an uncertain economic future.

“We’re publicly saying we think we should have a bonding bill. I think it should be closer to the numbers that we’ve had before,” Gazelka said. “The last two were $825 million and $988 million. The closer it is to that number, the more support I have for it.”

Gazelka said the group is committed to working with the governor and the speaker to pass a bonding bill focused on wastewater infrastructure, higher education buildings, and roads and bridges.

This article originally ran on thecentersquare.com.

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