Legislature blows past self-imposed deadline

Gov. Mark Dayton
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, right, gives reporters an update after meeting with key lawmakers Monday, April 30, 2012, in St. Paul, Minn., where he discussed the status of pending legislation. Dayton and legislative leaders were meeting Monday afternoon to negotiate end-of-session strategies. Dayton is pushing hard for the Vikings stadium bill, while Republican lawmakers want a deal with him on a tax policy and provisions for state construction projects.
AP Photo/Jim Mone

The Minnesota Legislature is back in session this morning after missing a self-imposed deadline to finish its work by Monday night.

Gov. Dayton and GOP legislative leaders continue to negotiate on three issues: a Vikings stadium, a tax bill and a public works bonding bill. Legislative leaders are now set to task as the constitutional deadline to adjourn, May 21, draws near.

On Monday morning, GOP legislative leaders promised to work around the clock and pass a tax bill that they could send to the governor. Many Capitol insiders wondered if the House and Senate would adjourn for the year after that vote, leaving the stadium bill and the bonding bill for another day. But the House and Senate knocked off in time for dinner Monday, saying they would come back Tuesday. By 8 p.m., the only activity at the Capitol were five Vikings fans tailgating on the Capitol lawn.

Diggz Garza of St. Paul and his buddies had planned the tailgate at the Capitol with the hope of influencing lawmakers to vote on the stadium bill. That vote and the tax bill vote did not happen, leaving Garza frustrated by Republicans who are holding up the vote on a Vikings bill. That holdup persists, despite pledges by House Democrats to put up half the votes.

"Now it's something different. Now we got to get this tax bill, now we got to get this bonding bill and this education bill, we get to get all of this," Garza said. "Why didn't you say beforehand and not just say it was the 34 votes you needed? Be clear. Be truthful. Be honest. If your agenda is to do something different and not deal with the Vikings then just say it."

Republicans said they don't intend to vote on a stadium bill until they reach an agreement with the governor on a tax bill. Dayton met privately for 90 minutes with legislative leaders on Monday afternoon. No agreement was reached but Dayton said he was hopeful that they could still find some resolution.

"Where there's a will there's a way, but we have some significant differences on that tax bill so we'll have to see what's possible," Dayton said.

Republicans are pushing for a mix of business tax cuts that would create a $52 million budget hole in the current budget cycle and a $139 million budget hole in the next two-year budget. They propose to pay for the initial round of cuts by tapping the state's budget reserve. Dayton has objected to that idea, arguing that any tax cuts should be offset with other revenue increases.

Democrats later offered a compromise tax plan that provides $51 million in one-time tax cuts only for this budget cycle. Republicans have yet to respond.

GOP Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem acknowledged that his party blew through their April 30 deadline but declined to say when they hope to finish their work.

"I think we're going to work up to the level of need, whatever that might be," Senjem said. "As the speaker pointed out, we have the tax bill, certainly bonding and the stadium is in front of us. Where that goes nobody knows, but those are the three big issues facing the Minnesota Legislature."

Both Dayton and legislative leaders say there was little discussion Monday about a public works bonding bill, but House Capital Investment Chair Larry Howes said he isn't worried, and that lawmakers could pass a bonding bill quickly if the other issues are resolved.

"I think it would take us ten or fifteen minutes," Howes said. "We all know what we want. We would all know the size at that point. It wouldn't take long to put it together."

The Legislature has three weeks until their mandated deadline to adjourn, but the constitution also limits the number of days the House and Senate can meet in session over a two-year period. Under that equation, they have five working days left, so leadership will need to use those days carefully.

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