MN Senators reflect on legislative session in 1-on-1 interviews

Sen. Kari Dziedzic (left) and Sen. Mark Johnson (right)
Sen. Kari Dziedzic (left) and Sen. Mark Johnson (right)(Quinn Gorham)
Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 5:59 PM CDT
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ST. PAUL, MN -- In the weeks following the 2023 legislative session, lawmakers in St. Paul are already reflecting on the busy and historic session. As part of a series of sit down interviews with MN Capitol Reporter Quinn Gorham, Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic (DFL - Minneapolis) and Mark Johnson (R - East Grand Forks) explained their thoughts on how the year went.

“We had... knocked on over 500,000 doors the previous few months, and so we kind of knew what people were telling us. They wanted to end gridlock. They wanted us to get things done,” Dziedzic said.

The Senate was held together by a single DFL vote, making it a perfect battleground for some of the more contentious bills passed this year. Dziedzic was able to hold together the party despite their thin margin.

When asked how their small majority impacted their work, Dziedzic replied confidently.

“Shortly after the election, we had a caucus. And we started having conversations... people talked about their district, what the needs were in their district. And so we got to know each other. And then those conversations just continued throughout the session... Everybody was part of this. Everybody was active. Everybody was engaged and committed to getting stuff done for Minnesota,” she said.

The tightly-held priorities that allowed the DFL to pass sweeping legislation were popular among members of their party, but surprising to those across the aisle.

“We had a $19 billion surplus, you would think some of the Democrats would say, ‘You know what, we don’t need to raise a gas tax. We don’t need to raise any more of the taxes that we were looking at,” said Johnson.

Taxes seemed to be the main focus for Republicans for much of the session. The party pushed back on any and all tax increases put forth by the DFL, including an increase to the Metro Sales Tax, a new 5th tier income tax, and a tax on corporations with global earnings.

The DFL’s Tax Bill included several tax relief measures, totaling to a record-breaking $4-billion in tax cuts across the state.

“They’ll say it’s a historic tax break for Minnesotans. The reality is the only tax reduction in there was a small amount on the Social Security income tax adjustment... When you look at it, it’s mostly just wealth transfers within that bill,” Johnson said.

The bill also included child tax credits, rental assistance, and direct rebate checks to Minnesotans, among other measures.

”This tax bill had many numerous tax cuts in it. And so it helps with child tax credits and helps reduce property taxes across the state. So there’s a lot of good things in that bill,” Dziedzic said.

Regardless, the GOP had little voice on whether the Tax Bill or any others passed. The one bill they has some semblance of control over was bonding, which required a supermajority to pass.

“So the stance when that first hit the Senate floor was ‘Absolutely, we want to see this bonding bill happen, we really do. But we need to see some other things along with that as well,’” Johnson said.

Since the party hadn’t seen their asks addressed with other legislation, they initially voted down the bill and tabled it for a later date. They promised to continue doing so unless the DFL made some concessions.

When pressed about whether they held the bonding bill hostage, Johnson chalked it up to standard political strategy.

“I mean, this is legislating, right? I mean, we have priorities that we need a voice in as well. And so where we have the opportunities to assert, you know, our ability to vocalize, hey, here’s some needs that Minnesotans want to see. We will take absolutely every opportunity to do that,” he said.

Negotiations continued until the very end of the session.

“We just kept telling them we’d like you to join us and have a bipartisan bill. I think that it was better for the state, we thought it was better for the state,” Dziedzic said.

Finally in the last days of the legislative session, the two parties struck a deal. Republicans agreed to pass a $2.6 billion bonding package if the DFL would include an additional $300 million for nursing homes across the state. The GOP had been prioritizing nursing home funding for months, and even with provisions made for the facilities in several omnibus bills, wanted to see additional straightforward funding.

“I really appreciated working with Senator Dziedzic, the majority leader, she was actually a very good partner in those discussions throughout that bonding bill. And [she was] I think a big reason why we got it, got it done at the end of the day,” Johnson said.

“It’s a great project. It’s got jobs and will create jobs going forward for Minnesota. It will, it will preserve our Minnesota heritage and our infrastructure going forward. And I just think it is a tremendous opportunity,” said Dziedzic.