Just across the finish line: Eden Prairie legislators reflect on session

Cwodzinski

After a special session comprised of a whirlwind of late nights in the State Legislature, the 2017 session has wound to a close.

Each of Eden Prairie’s representatives, Sen. Steve Cwodzinski (DFL), Rep. Laurie Pryor (DFL) and Rep. Jenifer Loon (R), reported catching up on sleep in the days that followed.

Each looked back on the session with mostly satisfaction, as well. The final week of the session was one of compromise, but as Pryor pointed out, both chambers of the Legislature had passed a budget and bonding bill, among their highest priorities.

“I think where we ended is that we did not fail,” said Pryor. “We did the basic job, which is that we passed budget bills that are likely to be signed, and we passed a bonding bill.”
Rep. Loon echoed that sentiment.

“Well, I feel good about [the session] overall,” said Loon. “It definitely was a session of compromise. All of the funding bills were all negotiated with the governor very closely … In whole, it’s a very good legislative product. No one got everything they wanted, but that’s how it works when you compromise.”

Cwodzinski, having voted against the tax bill, still registered approval of the sections of the budget and the bonding bill.

“I think that the bonding bill is good — I think that it was a great compromise,” said Cwodzinski. “I voted against the tax bill, in that I think that the system right now is so good. It resulted in a $1.6 billion surplus … I wish we’d invested it wiser, [because] the next thing you know, we’re in a recession and running deficits. It was a tough vote though.”

Jenifer Loon

Loon pointed out that the budget returns much of that money to the taxpayers through a fairly significant tax reform package.

“Whether you have student loan debt, or you’re a senior currently paying taxes on your social security or you’re paying child care expenses, there’s tax relief,” said Loon. “Overall, it’s a very thoughtful, very balanced approach to putting our budget together.”

Pryor’s assessment of the tax cuts was not as generous.

“I don’t think the budget is really structurally balanced anymore,” said Pryor. “The tax cuts were too large, and they get larger in the future, [but] there really wasn’t a way to change spending so that spending will not also increase.”

Pryor pointed to some cases where reductions in state spending will push costs to smaller entities, be they cities, counties or other bodies. She touched on child protection services and
foster care as examples.

“These are the ones that the state has been paying for, and the counties are the ones that execute it,” said Pryor. “My understanding is that the state will continue to mandate it, but won’t be paying for it. I think in Hennepin and all the counties in the state, there’s likely to be an increase in property taxes to pay for it.”

Cwodzinski, Pryor and Loon expressed mixed feelings on the outlook for school funding. Loon described the 2 percent funding increase for schools as “strong,” but Cwodzinski, a former schoolteacher at Eden Prairie High School, expressed some concern.

“The education formula got 2 percent over both years — at face value, it’s a very wonderful compromise,” said Cwodzinski. “I think students in Minnesota came out okay, even though it doesn’t keep up with inflation. But the teacher’s union, I think, took a hard hit.”

Cwodzinski said that he didn’t think the restructuring of the teaching license system would be good for teachers. He also expressed disapproval of the state-level changes with regard to seniority-based, “last in, first out” policies.

“A lot of people think it should be gotten rid of, and I guess you’re meeting the needs of the constituents,” admitted Cwodzinski on the “last in, first out” changes.

Loon, on the other hand, expressed support for that particular change, having pushed for it in the first place. Cwodzinski used that point of disagreement, however, to point out that though differences existed between all three Eden Prairie legislators, mutual respect was strong between them.

“We might disagree on ‘last in, first out,’ but they’re still public servants, and they’re willing to sacrifice,” said Cwodzinski.

Loon agreed, lauding the work of Pryor and Cwodzinski over their freshman terms.

“It’s nice to see people coming in who are really enjoying their service,” said Loon. “Despite the long hours and long days, you have to want to work for the people in your community, and they seem to both really enjoy that.”

For their part, Cwodzinski and Pryor reflected back fondly on their first term.

“I’m going to say this like a freshman in the minority, but I was so fortunate to be part of an experience that I never dreamed I would ever be a part of,” said Cwodzinski.

Pryor

Pryor agreed, while heaping praise on legislative staffers for their efforts.

“If you hear about an all-night session, don’t feel sorry for the legislators — feel empathy for the staffers working through all of that,” said Pryor. “I’m just appreciative of my colleagues in the House and Senate. I think, at the end of the day, we got it done, and it’s just an honor to have been a part of that process.”

Pryor will hold a post-session town hall 10-11:30 a.m. Saturday, June 3, at Eden Prairie High School. Rep. Loon said she was also planning such a session, with date yet to be determined.

“We’re just waiting to see if the governor signs the bills — I think everybody’s just been catching up on their sleep,” said Loon.

Contact Sean Miner at [email protected]