The new speaker of the Minnesota House, Margaret Kelliher, says DFL lawmakers have spent months spelling out their priority issues for 2007: Health care, education and property tax relief.
She says the first round of bill introductions shows they've gone beyond talk, and are now walking the walk.
"From Warroad to Worthington to Woodbury these are the priorities of Minnesotans. We stand before you with seven bills for '07 that will get our first attention," she said.
House DFLers are proposing the creation of a children's health security program to provide medical coverage to kids from low-income households beginning in 2008.
Other bills would fund all-day kindergarten by increasing the state aid sent to school districts for children enrolled in the voluntary programs. Overall funding for K-12 education would also increase three percent each of the next two years.
The House DFL will try to ease property taxes through increased state aid to cities, counties and school districts. Existing refund programs would also expand.
DFL leaders did not estimate the cost of the package. DFL House Majority Leader Tony Sertich of Chisholm says some of the money will come from the state budget surplus, which is projected at $2 billion over the biennium. He says additional revenue could come from an estimated $1 billion in uncollected state taxes.
"We're very realistic in understanding that the number is not $1 billion. We could never recoup all of the money. But we believe there will be significant resources available in that and in the surplus to cover this cost," Sertich said.
House Republicans will outline their own list of priorities later this week.
"If they just say, 'we like K-12 and we like health and we like property tax relief,' well we could write that quickly on a piece of paper and say here's our plan," said House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall. "We just want to make sure that people firmly understand that we can live within the budget we have right now and that we should have to ask the taxpayers for more money."
Seifert predicts a collision ahead between Republicans and DFL leaders in the House and Senate. Minnesota Senate Democrats introduced a first-round of bills last week that included increases in the sales tax and gas tax.
Gov. Pawlenty has promised to veto such tax hikes. He's also expecting support for his own list of priorities. The Republican governor's latest proposal is a $75 million package of benefits and tax breaks for military personnel and veterans. "There's dozens of things that everybody wants to do and they're all good things," said the governor. "But in the end, the resources have to be prioritized. And one of the benchmarks for success from my vantage point will be for the session will be did we properly prioritize veterans programs and support for members of the military, and I want to see a significant package come through the Legislature." Another Pawlenty priority is renewable energy. But his approach differs from House Democrats. Pawlenty wants to set a goal of getting 25 percent of the state's power from renewable sources by 2025. The DFL plan demands that it be done five years sooner.
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