BEMIDJI – Two area legislators will lead Senate committees in the upcoming legislative session.
The Senate’s committee chairs were announced Wednesday, with Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, chairing the powerful tax committee and Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, leading the State Departments and Veterans division of the finance committee.
Skoe, who has previously chaired the property tax subcommittee in the Senate, defeated Republican challenger Dennis Moser in last week’s election, when the DFL took over control of both the House and Senate.
Skoe said Thursday that the first priority will be balancing the state’s budget. How that task is accomplished will become a bit clearer once the state’s fiscal forecast is released in the coming weeks.
The February 2012 forecast from the Minnesota Management and Budget Office projected a $1.1 billion deficit in the next budget cycle.
Skoe said he expects some cuts along with revenue to come with balancing the budget, but how exactly it’s accomplished is unclear.
“Obviously I have ideas, but I’m one of the 34 votes that’s needed to pass a tax bill,” Skoe said.
Following that, legislators will be taking a look at potential tax reform, he said.
“Once we see the end in sight on that work, and maybe somewhat at the same time, we’re going to start a tax reform process where we’ll be trying to bring balance back into Minnesota’s revenue system,” Skoe said.
The tax reform division of the tax committee will be led by Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope.
Skoe said Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration is putting together his budget proposal to present to the Legislature in January. Another fiscal forecast will follow in February.
Saxhaug defeated fellow incumbent John Carlson, who represented the Bemidji area as a Republican in the state Senate since 2010. He has chaired various divisions of the environment committee since first being elected in 2002, including the forestry and game and fish divisions.
He said Thursday that he still plans on having a say in those discussions.
As for the committee he’s chairing in the upcoming session, the goal is similar to the Legislature as a whole: balance the budget.
“Well I think the goals for all the committees is to cut where you can, to be more efficient where you can,” Saxhaug said. “And if there’s things that absolutely have to be done, we need to raise revenue.”
“So it’s going to be a balanced approach.”