The Minnesota Senate will vote on the tax bill before the end of the week, DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said Tuesday, after Gov. Mark Dayton accused Bakk of holding up the bill in order to get approval for a new Senate office building.
The governor appeared in public on Tuesday for the first time since undergoing major hip surgery five weeks ago to suggest that DFL lawmakers and the tax bill were giving him more problems than his repaired joint.
"I think it's unacceptable that this bill has not been passed," he said. "The differences on tax policy are relatively minor and easily resolvable and it doesn't just do justice to the people of Minnesota to be in this situation right now."
Dayton declined to say who was holding up the tax bill but he was clearly focusing his ire on DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk. The House has already passed a $503 million tax cut bill. The Senate hasn't even released its proposal yet.
The Senate also repeatedly disregarded Dayton's initial deadline to pass the tax cut bill by March 14. After that, Dayton said it had to be passed by the end of this week.
Just hours before Dayton's news conference, Bakk said he was more inclined to pass a bill by April 1. But after Dayton's news conference, he said the Senate will vote on the bill on Thursday. Bakk downplayed talk that the Senate wasn't acting quickly enough.
"That is a significant piece of legislation and for that to happen this early in the session is quite a testament to our willingness to run this session in as expeditious way as we can to get in and get the people's work done and go home," he said.
Senate Tax Chair Rod Skoe said the Senate bill will meet Dayton's call to have the state's tax code conform to the federal code. It will repeal three business taxes passed into law last session, provide $430 million in tax cuts and put $150 million into the state budget reserve.
Meanwhile, Bakk also criticized leaders in the DFL-controlled House for not giving final approval to the Senate Office Building. The House Rules Committee is the final hurdle for the new building and Bakk has repeatedly said further holdup could delay the entire Capitol renovation. The Senate needs the approval so there are plans in place when senators and staff are moved out of the building at the end of the 2015 session. He also said every Capitol tenant will have more space after the renovation except the Senate.
"All of the parties that currently have space in the Capitol are going to gain space all at the Senate's expense and all predicated upon the fact that we're going to have to build a new place for the Senate to be officed. And to think that the Senate is going to give up all of this space and be kicked up in the street. That's just not going to happen," Bakk said.
The rift over the Senate Office Building has been at a slow boil for several months. Both Dayton and House Democrats are on the ballot this November and are sensitive to GOP criticism that they may build a multi-million dollar office building for politicians.
House Majority Leader Erin Murphy said the House isn't holding up approval of the Senate Office Building. Instead, she said they're waiting for further information on whether they can cut the building costs or build temporary space for the Senate.
"Both Democrats and Republicans have wanted some information about alternatives. I think that they want to make sure that we're making the right decision about the Capitol restoration and the housing of the Senate moving forward. And that's been our pursuit in the Rules Committee and it's an important question for Minnesotans because this is our Capitol together."
Dayton says he has also asked the Department of Administration to look at ways to lower the cost of the building.