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Duluth Priorities Uncertain as Legislative Session Concludes

Baihly Warfield
Updated: May 21, 2019 10:37 PM

The regular session of the 2019 Minnesota state legislature has ended. But lawmakers have unfinished business, which means they are expecting to be called back for a special session soon. 

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Some members of the Duluth delegation, such as Sen. Erik Simonson (DFL-Duluth), are hoping for that because the outlook for some top local priorities is uncertain. 

The street sales tax, which voters approved in 2017 but the legislature did not during the 2018 session, remains in a tax bill. 

Simonson said there were other external factors that prevented the .5% tax from being passed last year. 

"It's not like it failed on its merit. Coming into this session, different story, different players, different combination. It felt like we got pretty good reception for that bill," Sen. Simonson said. "I'm 99.5 percent sure that that project will be included."

Mayor Emily Larson said she is not done with the session until the special session is over. So for now, she's optimistic. 

"There is always a chance that something will not happen, and my job is to continue to show up and make it incredibly difficult to disrespect or dishonor the will of an electorate who has a plan," Larson said. 

If it is passed in special session, the sales tax would be added to purchases most likely beginning sometime in 2020. 

Duluth also requested $164 million in state funding for the medical district project, which includes Essentia's Vision Northland investment. 

Larson said that money would help the city ensure public benefit from a major private investment. 

"It's one of the ways that we can embed our District Energy system, that we can do connectivity, that we can ensure that the needs of the community, the walkability, the livability, the workforce, the housing, also get met," she said. 

Simonson said he wishes he had more definitive information, but he doesn't at this point. He said the medical district request is expensive, but it's about economic development. 

"I think more and more of us are saying, look, if a private employer comes forward in your community, whether it's Duluth or Rochester or Thief River Falls, with a significant investment like that that the state can take advantage of and help, that's an opportunity that we shouldn't pass up," he said. 

According to Simonson, he expects to be called back for a special session sometime in the next two weeks.

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Baihly Warfield

Copyright 2019 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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