Budget in limbo with legislative deadline just hours away

Minnesota House
Members of the Minnesota Legislature spent most of the weekend working to pass pieces of a two-year, $38.3 billion budget -- the main work of the session. The House passed the tax bill that finances that spending earlier Monday morning after a six-hour debate by a 69-65 margin.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

The midnight Monday deadline is fast approaching for the Legislature to finish its work, with a lot more work to be done. The House and Senate adjourned early this morning after working long hours over the weekend.

Members spent most of the weekend working to pass pieces of a two-year, $38.3 billion budget -- the main work of the session.

The House passed the tax bill that finances that spending earlier Monday morning after a six-hour debate by a 69-65 margin. The plan increases income taxes on top earners, raises cigarette taxes and applies the sales tax to some business services.

DFL Rep. Ann Lenczewski, of Bloomington, says the money is needed to erase a $627 million budget deficit, provide property tax relief and increase funding for education and nursing homes.

"For 98 percent of Minnesotans, they're not going to get an income tax increase. But for the top 2 percent, they are. For smokers, they're going to be asked to throw in some more money to help us with the health care costs in Minnesota, but we're hoping some people will quit and we're hoping some people will never start."

No Republican voted for the bill. They called it a job killer and worried the bill could hamper the state's economic recovery.

Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, was concerned about putting the sales tax on warehousing. He said that could prompt Red Wing shoes to expand its operations at their plant in Missouri, instead of Red Wing.

"So what are they going to decide, where are they going to put that warehouse? If they put that warehouse in Missouri, where do they expand their business? Where do they make more shoes?" he said.

Nearly all of the budget bills are headed to Gov. Mark Dayton for his signature. On Sunday night, the Senate passed a $16 billion K-12 education budget bill. It increases funding for schools, pays for statewide all-day kindergarten and spends more on early childhood education, and special education.

The Senate still has to pass the tax bill but instead of doing it overnight, senators unanimously agreed on a scaled-back, $132 million bonding bill that pays for the renovation of the State Capitol building.

DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, a retired carpenter, said he's worried the cost of the renovation will rise if lawmakers fail to pass a bonding bill this year. He said crews would have to break down and then set up again.

"I know a little bit about construction. It doesn't make any sense to me to ask a contractor to leave and pay for the cost of re-mobilizing and then come back here and get set up again.," he said.

The bonding bill vote came after Senate Democrats decided not to consider a bill that would strengthen anti-bullying measures in the state's schools.

The Senate also passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow voters to decide whether an independent commission, rather than the Legislature itself, should set lawmakers' pay. The amendment will be on the ballot in 2016.

One bill that is still unresolved would allow in-home day care providers and personal care assistants to vote on whether to join a union. The House spent several hours over the weekend debating the bill. Protesters on both sides of the issue camped outside of the chamber trying to influence the vote.

Republicans appeared to be ready to run out the clock to kill the bill, but GOP House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt indicated a vote was likely before midnight.

"We have all been around here long enough to see how the last day of session goes and it can sometime be ugly. I don't think that serves anybody well. We understand that there are a few bills that need to go through tomorrow and we want to have a vigorous debate on those and we'll see how the day plays out," he said. "But I think we can work together to do that in a time to allow for a good debate and the ability to get the work done."

A minimum wage hike and a Legacy Amendment bill that spends sales tax money dedicated to the outdoors, the environment and arts and cultural programs are still in question. It isn't clear whether there will be votes on those bills before midnight.

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