May means crunch time at the Minnesota Capitol. With three weeks left for lawmakers to complete their work, action has predominantly shifted from committees to the House and Senate floors. It translates into long hours and lots of votes, and it takes a keen eye to distinguish between what’s in strong shape and what’s hanging by a thread.
Here are some questions and answers about what's on the agenda this week.
1) House Republicans released their tax bill about a week ago. Are they really going to vote on it Monday?
The short answer is yes. Of course, they’ll have to wade through numerous amendments first. Democrats want the Republican architects of the bill to consider shifting more of the tax burden to corporations in order to to funnel more money to individual income tax cuts. And they will attempt to limit how much relief people at upper income levels receive.
But Republicans have the ability to fend off any changes, and barring a huge surprise, the bill should pass with many votes to spare.
As a reminder, a key feature is a modest cut to the second income tax rate. On the flip side, some deductions would go away. So House Republicans say more than 2 million Minnesotans would see a tax cut, and that between 100,000 and 200,000 would face a tax increase.
This bill will need to be matched up with what the Senate comes up with and what DFL Gov. Mark Dayton wants.
2) What is the Senate plan?
We still haven’t seen the particulars of a tax proposal from majority Senate Republicans. That, we’re told, is coming Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said late last week that Republicans held back half of the projected budget surplus to beef up their tax plan. He says as few as 2,000 people would be net losers from the forthcoming proposal, which is far less than the House version.
And if you think the House was moving quickly, the Senate bill is set to debut and go through committee on the same day. A floor vote is possible by week’s end.
3) The Senate appears to be further along on the spending side. Is that correct?
Yes, after 12 hours of debate last Thursday the Senate passed a sprawling budget measure. It combined most of the items in front of the Legislature.
The House is taking it in somewhat smaller parts. It passed an education proposal with money for school safety last week.
On Tuesday, the House is planning to vote on a plan covering social services. Some notable aspects include action plans to accelerate investigations of elder abuse at care facilities and to take steps to combat opioid addiction. Dayton doesn’t think the House proposals go far enough. That’s particularly the case on opioids and his call to hold the manufacturers of the drugs financially accountable for problems caused by medication abuse.
4) Is the Senate moving on those two fronts as well?
And something interesting here.
Those topics were covered in the big budget bill passed last week. But the Senate is also pressing ahead with separate bills that deal exclusively with vulnerable adult care and opioids.
There are a couple explanations we’ve heard about that: One is that it will focus more attention on what are session priorities. But others see it as an insurance policy for those items if a bigger budget agreement can’t be hammered out.
5) Is the gun debate all but over for the session?
The Senate pushed back a pair of gun control measures on a technical ruling last week. The House could see a similar debate Tuesday when a public safety budget bill comes up.
But Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt has said new gun restrictions lack the votes to pass and he assured party activists that he won't let them through.
You'll hear a lot more about guns during the upcoming campaign than we have in past election cycles.
6) Where’s the bonding bill?
An intriguing question.
Neither chamber has released a proposal yet, although leaders of both bodies say they’ll be aiming for a construction borrowing package of about $800 million, roughly half the size of what the governor proposed.
Democrats are worried about a repeat over the mad dash we’ve seen in past years when the bill emerges just days or even just hours before the session’s finale. Remember, Republicans need DFL votes to clear a three-fifths threshold to pass a bill like this that puts the state's credit on the line.