DFLers in both the House and Senate have said all session long that property tax relief was one of their top priorities. But now, they say their property tax relief package is in jeopardy.
Gov. Pawlenty gutted the plan when he vetoed a bill that increased income taxes on top earners as a way to fund property tax relief.
Standing alongside Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL House Speaker Margaret Kelliher told reporters that homeowners shouldn't expect direct property tax relief this session. But the DFL leaders hope at least to slow property tax increases by giving more money to local governments.
"I think the governor blocked the most significant property tax relief that Minnesotans would have seen, so the issue now is are there resources left to do anything to hold down and stabilize the level of property taxes going into the next year?" Kelliher said.
It also appears that an income tax increase is off the table. Pogemiller said Tuesday night that the House and Senate are putting together a new slate of budget bills that excludes an income tax hike.
Gov. Pawlenty has said he would veto any bills that include a tax increase. He delivered on that promise on Tuesday. Pawlenty vetoed the DFL income tax increase and a transportation bill that relies on a nickel-a-gallon gas tax increase.
In total, Pawlenty has vetoed seven tax and spending bills this session. Pogemiller says DFL leaders are using Pawlenty's veto letters as a roadmap for crafting the next set of budget bills.
"I think with these bills there has been a lot of movement. We're trying to figure out a way to get signed bills. I don't think a governor intends every word he puts in a veto letter. I hope not," he said.
But Brian McClung, spokesman for Gov. Pawlenty, says the DFL concessions may not be enough. He says the House and Senate are moving forward without making sure the measures are acceptable to Pawlenty.
"There's no guarantee that these bills that are being worked on without our office's input or agreement will be signed," he said.
McClung also said Gov. Pawlenty has not ruled out providing some kind of property tax relief as part of a final budget agreement.
With less than a week to go in the session, the governor and DFL legislative leaders appear to be in a political stare-down with neither side willing to blink. Truth is, they can't stare at each other. They're not even in the same room.
Usually by this point in the session, the governor and legislative leaders are meeting privately to negotiate budget details. Those meetings have been few and far between this year.
Several Republicans in the Minnesota House say they're disappointed that significant property tax relief appears to be dead for this year.
Rep. Laura Brod, R-New Prague, blames the Democrats for botching their own top priority. She called the DFL plan linking lower property taxes to an income tax hike a "false choice."
"If something is one of your top priorities, do you set it up contingent upon something else? Especially if that something else is unacceptable to another group of people who really matter? Especially when the governor has said it's not acceptable and he would veto it," she said.
Lawmakers have until Monday at midnight to complete a two-year budget if they want to avoid a special session.