Legislative leaders preview differences over minimum wage, taxes

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Minnesota lawmakers could move quickly this year to increase the state’s minimum wage.

The issue is a leftover from last year’s session, when DFL legislative leaders couldn’t reach a compromise before they adjourned. The House had passed a bill to increase the hourly rate to $9.50, while the Senate passed a $7.75 measure.

During a TwinWest Chamber of Commerce event Friday in St. Louis Park, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said there will be an increase.

“There’s a number somewhere between where the House and Senate are, and it may be the House’s number that we land on,” Bakk said.

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But Bakk remains concerned about the impact of a higher rate on small, rural businesses. He said he wants those concerns adequately heard before passing a bill.

“I think we need a couple of conference committee meetings, maybe three, where we make sure we get the adequate testimony from all the different stakeholders out there that are potentially are going to be impacted. “

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said he too is worried about the impact on small businesses, and warned that many won’t be able to easily adapt. He said the state should help nursing homes with a funding increase.

“We ought to be willing to pay for the increase that they’re going to need to make that work,” Hann said.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, remains convinced that a minimum wage increase will hurt the state economy and cost jobs. Daudt said he thinks younger workers will take a disproportionate hit.

“Raising the minimum wage simply just isn’t fair to the Minnesotans that are going to lose their jobs because of it,” Daudt said.

House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, argued that most minimum wage earners are actually adults, and many of them have families.

“Someone who works a full-time job at $9.50 is likely in most parts of the state to not bring in enough money to actually raise a family,” Thissen said. “Most of those folks are going to have to work more than one job.”

On the subject of taxes, Thissen answered with an emphatic “yes” when asked if he supports a repeal of the business sales taxes passed last session. The two GOP leaders also want the taxes repealed. But Sen. Bakk wouldn’t make a similar commitment.

“I’m not going to say whether I support it or not, because it will be totally contingent upon how much money we have available in the February forecast,” Bakk said.

This is an election-year session for the governor and House, but not the Senate. All four leaders said the passage of a transportation funding package that includes some form of tax increase is unlikely this year.