The 2019 legislative session looms large for Rep. Josh Heintzeman.
With ascension to assistant leader by the vote of his Republican peers, the three-term Republican state representative from Nisswa returns to St. Paul in a more prominent role and a different environment than the GOP has previously enjoyed since 2014-a split Legislature, with a narrow lead in the Minnesota Senate and a minority in the House, to say little of four more years with Democratic management in the form of Governor-elect Tim Walz.
Now, Heintzeman said, it's representing the interests of Greater Minnesota and presenting more voices outside of the Twin Cities metro that ultimately prompted him to run for assistant leader in the House Republican Caucus.
"I saw that a lot of the members in my caucus who were interested in leadership positions, most of them were a lot closer to the metro," Heintzeman told the Dispatch during a Thursday, Dec. 6, phone interview. "I'm not saying that's bad, I just wanted to make sure that Greater Minnesota had a voice and make sure that the issues that are relevant here-especially in the lakes area-had stronger support. I threw my hat in and I was really excited to see my colleagues support me."
While he's been happy in his more minor role these past four years, Heintzeman noted the role of assistant Republican leader puts him in a better position, whether that's in terms of addressing pivotal pieces of legislation or the potential for a voice on various committees, all the way down to parking based on seniority.
"Even though this third term I find myself in the minority, I'm still continuing to have more opportunities to speak to issues and decision-making," said Heintzeman, who noted the Republicans' change of fortune in Minnesota didn't factor into his decision to run for assistant leader.
Early caucus meetings have been a preview to the kind of responsibilities that come with the position-though, Heintzeman noted, it's something of on-the-job training, the full breadth and scope of his new role that will only come into focus with experience.
Still, much of his mission remains the same. As examples, Heintzeman pointed to his push for protections and economic improvements tied to environmental resources in the lakes area-whether that's continuing to support the National Loon Center in Crosslake, or substantially increasing fines on boaters transporting invasive species.
In terms of business, two issues stand as significant battlegrounds in the Minnesota government-the advent of cities mandating minimum wage requirements individually across the state, and the business property tax.
"A patchwork of compensation and minimum wage requirements around the state is incredibly difficult for business owners statewide," said Heintzeman, who also noted the current iteration-which exempts the first $100,000 in value-of the business property tax is a good foundation to build and improve upon.
The budget surplus
Thursday marked the release of the November budget, which indicates the state is riding a $1.5 billion surplus, with a total $2 billion budget reserve going into the 2020 biennium.
Heintzeman observed this stands even higher than many GOP state representatives predicted and discussed back in September and October-when the election season was in full swing and candidates were haggling with a predicted surplus in the upper $800 millions to more than $900 million. Republicans criticized it as an indication of statewide over-taxation.
"My first thought when the numbers came out is that-'There is no reason to be raising taxes,'" Heintzeman said. "I didn't hear that just around my office, I was getting voicemails and text messages from my constituents and emails along those same lines."
DFL leaders in the Minnesota Senate have characterized the surplus as a reserve to fall back on and buffer against slower economic growth projected in the future, when the tax base won't be able to sustain as much of a burden.
"A balanced budget with fiscal stability protects Minnesota's economy," said Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, in a statement. Cohen serves as minority leader on the Finance Committee. "Any new spending and tax cuts must be balanced in times we experience economic prosperity. Protecting our state's economy from future instability is even more prudent now as we anticipate slower economic growth."
Heintzeman said he doesn't buy into that interpretation. While he might have accepted that line of thinking as a freshman lawmaker in 2014, he noted, his experience has taught him DFLers aren't looking to create a nest egg, as much as they're looking to expand government and attached services.
"It's almost a little bit silly because the DFL historically has found ways to spend that reserve down and spend down these additional revenues decade after decade," Heintzeman said. "Constitutionally, there will be a required sweep of a portion of those revenues into the reserve fund, but that can be spent. I think you're gonna see a push for increased spending all over the board."
While there are areas that need to be addressed and see increased cash flow-notably, infrastructure and state facilities, Heintzeman added-this shouldn't give the DFL license to continue growing government.