BEMIDJI-Although the Minnesota Legislature passed a tax bill last year, Republican senators told constituents in Bemidji Thursday night that more work is needed this coming session.

At a town hall organized by the Minnesota GOP Senate Caucus, District 2 and 5 Sens. Paul Utke, Park Rapids, and Justin Eichorn, Grand Rapids, were joined by District 38 and 1 Sens. Roger Chamberlain, Lino Lakes, and Mark Johnson, East Grand Forks. During the event, the four recapped what was done in 2017 and what's expected from their party this year, especially with the passage of tax reform at the national level.

During the 2017 session, the Legislature passed a tax bill with $650 million in tax relief for the next two years. That legislation also included $15 million increase in Local Government Aid, tax credits for college graduates to pay off student loans and direct relief for 350,000 senior citizens.

Moving forward, though, Chamberlain, who's also the chair of the Senate Tax Committee, argued that federal tax changes would expose more income to state income taxes. As a result, Chamberlain said that the state would over-collect roughly $800 million in this biennium.

"It would be expensive for you, it would be complicated for you and we would continue to lose business and be less competitive. We have to do something," Chamberlain said. "I believe we should conform with the federal code and then protect your wages from any tax increases."

Chamberlain said that in response, the Legislature should act with a reform package, with tax relief included, in one bill.

"If we give this back to you, it's higher wages, more jobs and greater economic security," Chamberlain told the audience of about 20 at the Hampton Inn & Suites. "More economic growth is good for all of us."

Utke, who was attending with his fellow senators as part of the legislators' Wage Protection Tour, agreed with Chamberlain's idea for legislation.

"My hope is that we make the adjustments so that we follow the federal plan," Utke told the Pioneer. "We want to simplify our tax code; that's the ultimate goal, to make it easier. The federal level is reducing taxes across the board for the vast majority of our citizens and we want to do the same."

"We have a lot of small businesses in Greater Minnesota that were greatly impacted by what we did last year in a positive way," Eichorn said after the town hall. "So, I think we can certainly follow along those lines to help our Main Street people."

The Minnesota Legislature is scheduled to reconvene on Feb. 20.