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Minnesota budget still undone, but leaders report progress as deadline nears

Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt, left, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka brief reporters Tuesday, May 16, 2017, on the status of state budget negotiations. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 4
Chairman Jim Knobloch of the Minnesota House Ways and Means Committee is all smiles Tuesday, May 16, 2017, as he walks to budget negotiations in the governor's office. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 4
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton says on Tuesday, May 16, 2017, that he and Republican legislative leaders have made progress in budget neogitations, but significant differences remain. Don Davis / Forum News Service3 / 4
Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt, left, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka brief reporters Tuesday, May 16, 2017, on the status of state budget negotiations. Don Davis / Forum News Service4 / 4

ST. PAUL — A rookie Minnesota senator may have said it best in social media. "With less than a week left of legislative session, here's a list of what we still need to finish: 1. Everything."

That Tuesday, May 16, summary of the Legislature by Sen. Matt Little, D-Lakeville, said it all, other than progress was being made at the highest levels.

Republicans who control the Legislature and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton eached moved about $800 million toward the other Tuesday as they began serious negotiations to pass a $46 billion, two-year budget. Writing a budget is the main job of the 2017 legislative session.

The first success negotiators reported was to increase agricultural spending nearly $5 million, leaving ag committee chairmen and Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson to work out a couple of details.

The remaining ag issues are among some that created strong disagreement between the Dayton administration and GOP ag leaders in recent days: whether to raise a fee on pesticide companies and if farmers should seek pre-approval for using some pesticides. Both sides said they expect the issues to be solved quickly.

But the ag funding bill is the smallest of 10 needed to set the budget, and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said it is not time to declare an overall budget victory.

Dayton said both sides made significant movements Tuesday, but significant differences remain.

One of the changes was with tax cuts. Dayton suggested increasing tax cuts $200 million more than his earlier proposal, bringing his total tax cut plan to $500 million, compared to more than $1 billion Republicans sought. The GOP dropped its request to $870 million.

One of the biggest remaining differences come in a transportation funding bill, legislation that in the last few weeks Dayton and Republican leaders predicted may have been one of the easiest to solve.

Dayton calls for $322 million in vehicle license fee increases. Daudt said Republicans cannot accept that.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said on April 20, Dayton indicated he would give up his revenue-raising ideas, including a higher gasoline tax, to fund transportation projects. Republicans prefer to transfer taxes collected on vehicle-related sales from other state programs to roads and bridges.

"This will be a significant burden on families," Senate Transportation Chairman Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said of the Dayton plan. "Minnesotans can't afford another tax increase, nor do we need one when the state already has a $1.65 billion surplus."

All the spending bills, as well as tax legislation, are tied together. If Dayton gets his wish to increase pre-school spending, Republicans must agree to cut spending elsewhere or to lower their tax-cut expectations.

Also on Tuesday, the Senate approved a measure to allow the state Racing Commission to remain open even if lawmakers and the governor fail to pass a budget. Without a budget, most agencies would shut down, at least partially.

The provision by Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, was amended so it would not apply if there is no budget this year.

Pratt said horse racing the commission oversees should be allowed to continue because the commission is not funded by taxpayer money.

Wednesday is shaping up to be a day with more than budget negotiations up for discussion.

Anti-gun groups plan a rally before the expected vote on a bill to give Minnesotans more rights to use deadly force as defense.

The Stand Your Ground Bill would "encourage armed vigilantism" by encouraging people to use guns when there are other alternatives, according to a release from the protest groups.

Also Wednesday, a House health committee plans to hear a bill to lessen the requirement that approval be obtained before some medications may be prescribed. Opponents of the existing law say the pre-authorization requirement was established to allow insurance companies to avoid paying for medicines. The committee does not plan to vote on the legislation, meaning it likely will not receive more attention until next session.

Besides continued budget negotiations, Wednesday's big event likely will be the House debating a public works bill borrowing $800 million by the state selling bonds.

The House Ways and Means Committee approved the bonding bill Tuesday night.

'We have critical needs in the state," bonding Chairman Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said. "We have a crumbling infrastructure."

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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