Legislature pushes ahead on budget bills

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Rotunda rally
Union members, religious groups and backers of a $15 an hour minimum wage rallied in the Capitol rotunda, calling for Gov. Mark Dayton to veto many of the bills headed for his desk as the legislative session winds down. Tim Nelson | MPR News

After hanging around the Capitol all night Tuesday and not getting much done, legislators made some progress Wednesday afternoon and then took the night off.

Both the House and Senate v0ted on a tax cut bill and an education funding measure, but they still have to resolve some differences before sending them to the governor.

Other bills, including funding measures for health and human services and state departments, still need to be passed, and lawmakers still hope to pass a public works construction bill.

And as the House and Senate struggled to pass bills Wednesday, some DFL-leaning groups tried to put pressure on Gov. Mark Dayton to start over to try to get a better deal.

It all came after the Republican-controlled House and Senate missed a self-imposed 7 a.m. Wednesday deadline to finish what had been intended to be a brief special session. Now that session will stretch into Thursday and possibly beyond.

The House passed a transportation funding bill Wednesday afternoon that relies on general fund revenue to fund road and bridge projects. The bill also would deny state money to pay for operations of future light rail transit projects, including the proposed Southwest line between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie.

Republicans called it the largest investment in roads and bridges in a decade, putting billions toward the state’s transportation needs over the next 10 years without raising the gas tax or license tab fees.

“This historic transportation deal is a victory for Minnesotans who have waited for years for legislators to come together to fund our roads and bridges," said Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, Chair of the House Transportation Finance Committee.

Democrats said it was a two year bill, because the next Legislature could just as easily pull back the general fund money in the bill to spend on other priorities.

As the House was debating transportation, the Senate passed a bill that cuts taxes by $650 million over the next two years, but because senators added language that allows bars to stay open until 4 a.m. during next year's Super Bowl, it will have to go back to the House for final approval.

Among other provisions, the bill freezes a commercial property tax inflation clause now in state law. The change is due to cost $94 million in lost tax revenue the next two years and jump by $100 million more the following two.

The bill also includes tax cuts for Social Security recipients, college graduates paying off loans, farm land owners and others. the bill would also cut taxes on premium cigars and remove inflation-adjusted increases for cigarette taxes that were approved in 2013. There are also exemptions for a new professional soccer stadium in St. Paul and for Super Bowl events to be held next year in Minneapolis.

Meanwhile DFL-leaning groups have been trying to put pressure on Gov. Mark Dayton to reject some of the bills the Legislature is sending him.

In particular, they oppose a provision in the public safety budget bill that bars unauthorized immigrants from getting drivers' licenses. They've been staging a sit-in at the governor’s office since Tuesday afternoon. State rules already prohibit those immigrants from getting licenses, but Republicans insisted the ban be put in law.

Several unions also staged a rally at the Capitol Wednesday afternoon with people waving “veto everything” signs, telling the governor to reject all the work done so far and go back to the drawing board. You could hear them chanting from inside the house chamber during the transportation bill debate.

State employee unions are upset that an extension of a paid leave benefit has been put in the preemption bill that Dayton has said he will reject.