Torkelson, Dahms discuss Democrats’ trifecta during 2023 Legislative session
NEW ULM — Nursing homes, school, transportation and the $17 billion surplus were the top topics of conversation with State House Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) and State Senator Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls) during their town hall meeting at the New Ulm Public Library.
The town hall meeting as a wrap up for the 2023 legislative session, which recently concluded.
Torkelson described it as a busy legislative session, but as a Republican he mostly watched because the Democrats had a “trifecta” with a majority in the House, Senate and Governor’s office.
Torkelson said this was session was different from the last time Democrats had trifecta under Mark Dayton.
“This time they were very aggressive and passed a lot legislation,” Torkelson said.
Unlike 10 years ago, the state had a $17 billion surplus to work with this session. Torkelson said even with the surplus, the Democrats added new taxes and fees. He estimated the state budget grew by 40%.
“There is going to be a lot more state government,” he said.
During the town hall, Dahms and Torkelson were asked if there was anything that could be done about the partisan divide at the Capitol.
Dahms said many of the Democratic Senators running the caucus were newly elected and did what they wanted because they had the votes.
“They had no idea of the protocol in the Senate. They had no idea of the rules you work within and they had no idea of the proper way bills pass,” he said.
Dahms believed the philosophy between the right and left had gotten much wider than when he first joined the Senate.
“We still have lots of conversations across the aisle,” Torkelson said. “I look at this work as finding solutions that work for everyone, not just a select few.”
Nursing Homes were a priority for Torkelson and Dahms this session. Rural nursing homes are struggling with funding. Staffing shortages at nursing homes and long-term care facilities are forcing some facilities to turn away seniors. In October, over 11,000 Minnesota seniors were turned away from long-term care facilities.
Another concern was the 20-month delay in reimbursement. It is taking 20 months for the state to reimburse rural nursing homes for expenses.
Torkelson said he and Dahms worked to increase compensation for nursing homes from the start of the session, but were unable to get support until the end of the session.
He said they were successful in receiving extra funding for nursing homes, but believed the Walz administration did not appreciate how challenging the situation is for nursing homes.
Dahms said $300 million in new money was put in nursing homes over the next four years. He said this was not enough to solve the problem facing nursing homes, but believed it was a good start.
“It should stop the closing of nursing homes,” Dahms said. “It should take pressure off some of the hospitals who end up keeping patients.”
The town hall was attended by Oak Hills Living Center staff who thanked the legislators for listening.
Oak Hills Funds Development Director Wendy Broderson said nursing homes were almost slated to receive no additional funding, but the last minute deal provided some assistance.
Broderson warned there would continue to be funding challenges. She said this new money would give Oak Hills around $3,500 a month, but the Oak Hills operating budget is around $11 million for the year.
“When you talk about the state receiving $300 million and Oak Hill alone operates on $11 million, you have to put that in a little bit of perspective,” Broderson said. “We really need to go back next session and keep working on it.”
Dahms and Torkelson acknowledged additional work was needed. Torkelson said there seems to be a misunderstanding at the Capitol on how reimbursements are administered to rural nursing homes.
Education funding was another priority for the session. The legislators had expected some extra funding for educations but were disappointed with the mandates attached to the funding.
Dahms said with education Sen. Republicans wanted to give 5% into funding formula in the first year and 5% in the second year. This would cost between $700 and $800 million.
Dahms said the Democrats instead spent $2.5 billion in new money for education and only increased the funding formula 4% the first year and 2% the second year.
“That puts our local school districts in a position where between 50 and 55% of the unfunded mandates are not going to be funded by the formula,” Dahms said. He predicted extra funding will be taken out of local school district reserves or through property taxes.
As an example, Dahms said the paid family leave bill passed this session will cost school district 2% per year off the basic formula.
Torkelson and Dahms were optimistic about transportation funding. Torkelson said extra funding would be available for small towns. Additional federal funding was also available for roads and bridges.
Dahms said typically communities under 5,000 received little transportation funding, but this year funding is available for these communities and will continue to have extra funding in future years.
At the end of town hall, Torkelson addressed the signing of the Cannabis bill. He said this would be a significant change for Minnesota as it became the 23rd state to legalize recreational marijuana.
Starting Aug. 1 marijuana use and possession will be decriminalized and home growing of cannabis plants will become legal for people 21 and older.
He said there will be many ramifications related to the change including the creation of the new Office of Cannabis Management.
The entire town hall hearing will be broadcast on New Ulm Community Access Television.