After the Easter/Passover break, the Legislature reconvened on Tuesday this week. Work on the omnibus finance bills slowed as policy committees ramped up to make a Friday deadline. As the May 23 constitutional deadline approaches, the governor and legislative leadership have three weeks to come up with an agreement on how to address the budget deficit.
- Today is the deadline for all policy bills to pass through appropriate committees. Next Friday, May 6, all policy bills that made the first deadline in one body must pass committees in the other body. Between these deadlines ,the governor and the Legislature still continue to work solving the projected $5 billion budget deficit. While the Legislature has urged the governor to engage in negotiations during the conference committee, Gov. Dayton has said he would not formally begin negotiations until conference committees adopt one position.
- One policy proposal which got attention this week would dedicate portions of racetrack casino revenues to state job and economic development efforts. A rally was held this week in opposition to this proposed "racino" legislation. While some in the majority support such expansions of gambling, many Republicans remain opposed. Tribal leaders, workers from casinos across the state, and other supporters rallied against the bill on Tuesday. Both the House and the Senate are expected to hear these bills in committee next week.
- Some conference committees continued to work on the omnibus finance bills. The Tax Conference Committee met on Tuesday and is an important arena for negotiations. It appears Republicans and Gov. Dayton agree that business property taxes need reform yet have different ideas on how to accomplish that. The Senate would phase out the statewide business property tax completely, while the House would prefer to reduce the rate over a few years. Commissioner of Revenue Myron Frans, who was present at the conference committee, said the governor's position is to maintain local government aid as a way to hold the line on property taxes, both for homeowners and businesses. The fundamental differences on tax policy will be crucial in the final negotiations.
- Both the House and the Senate passed proposals this week to fund various projects with legacy money. The constitutionally dedicated funds for outdoor heritage, parks and trails, and arts and cultural programming passed as a ballot question in 2008. Rep. Dean Urdahl (R- Grove City) and Sen. Bill Ingebritsen (R-Alexandria) are chief authors of the legacy funding proposals.
- Other big policy initiatives this week include two constitutional amendment proposals and a bill requiring voter ID cards.
The two constitutional amendment proposals include a definition of marriage between one man and one woman and a proposal saying the Legislature could not pass tax increases without a 3/5 majority - unless accompanied by equitable cuts. Three definition-of-marriage bills were heard in Senate Judiciary on Friday.
The voter ID bill would require people to present an authorized photo identification card in order to cast a ballot. SF509 - authored by Sen. Warren Limmer (R- Maple Grove) - passed off the Senate floor on Thursday on a party-line vote of 37-36. While proponents argue this promotes election integrity, opponents say it makes voting more difficult for the elderly, disabled, and other vulnerable Minnesotans.