Workforce programs funded

Senators favored job-training programs over state bureaucracies when they passed a budget package funding workforce and economic development programs.

Bill author Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said Tuesday that his economic development package targets state agencies for a 7 percent cut in the next two-year budget period, but some workforce programs may receive smaller reductions or even slight budget increases.

The bill proposes spending $296 million during the budget period beginning July 1, down about 7 percent overall from the current state budget.

The bill funds workforce training, housing and economic development programs. The bill maintains funding for a Perham-based workforce development program, increases state aid to lure film production to Minnesota, reduces the state tourism agency’s budget and makes ice hockey the official state sport.

Senators passed the economic development finance bill 49-15. Similar legislation is advancing in the House.

‘Pirate’ amendment planned

A legal case stemming from the recent international hostage incident involving pirates’ takeover of a U.S. ship is the basis for proposed legislation in the Minnesota House.

Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said Tuesday he will ask representatives this week to support an amendment denying non-profit status and taxpayer-funded grants to groups that aid pirates.

Seifert said his plan is in response to reports that the leader of the St. Paul-based Somali Justice Advocacy Center was providing legal assistance to a Somali man accused of piracy when an American ship captain was taken hostage earlier this month.

Seifert said he will bring up the issue when the House debates a public safety bill.

Senate relies on income tax increases

JoAnn Zoff and Sen. Tom Bakk

Most Minnesotans’ income taxes would rise under Senate Democrats’ solution to the state budget deficit.

Combined with budget cuts and the use of federal economic stimulus money, the $2.2 billion tax increase would help fill what otherwise would be a $6.4 billion deficit in the two-year budget beginning July 1.

The tax plan unveiled Tuesday would raise taxes on all but 15.5 percent of Minnesota’s 2 million taxpayers, Senate Tax Chairman Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said.

A married couple with two children and a $90,000 annual income would pay $400 a year more.

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Shaken-baby training OK’d

Lawmakers gave final approval to a bill expanding a requirement that child-care workers be trained in the risks of shaken baby syndrome and sudden infant death syndrome.

The bill requires training for workers serving children from infancy to age 5. Current law applies to those who work with infants.

Senators voted 64-0 for the proposal, following House approval. The bill is headed to Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s desk.

Senators approve judiciary budget

The state judiciary would experience a budget cut and Minnesotans who use some court services would pay higher fees under a budget proposal senators approved Tuesday.

The Senate voted 40-25 to cut the state’s court system by about 1.5 percent for the two-year budget period beginning July 1.

Senators approved the $740 million spending package that supporters said would result in a 7 percent budget cut, if not for fee increases included in the bill.

The bill proposes $52.6 million in cuts and $34 million in fee increases.

“It gives me great displeasure to submit these reductions, but I believe we have done the best we could,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Leo Foley, DFL-Coon Rapids, told senators.

Before passing the bill, senators voted to remove a provision that would have prohibited law enforcement agencies from charging administrative penalties to enforce state laws. The amendment removing the prohibition, authored by Sen. Yvonne Prettner-Solon, DFL-Duluth, passed 47-18 to allow cities to charge the penalties instead of fines.

“I think we can put our trust in our local officials out there that are saying, ‘it’s working,’” said Republican Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen of Alexandria, a former county sheriff.

Senate tax bill comes out

The Minnesota Senate will consider raising all state income taxes, with married couples earning more than $250,000 annually being taxed at a new, higher 9.25 percent rate.

Higher income taxes are the key to the Democratic-Farmer-Laborite controlled Senate plan that raises taxes $2 billion all told.
Today’s announcement sets up a three-way battle with the House and Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

The DFL-controlled House on Monday begin looking at a plan that keeps all income taxes the same except for couples who earn more than $300,000. They would pay 9 percent of their income in taxes. The House bill would raise tobacco and alcohol taxes.

"It’s bad enough that Democrats propose giving Minnesota one of the highest income tax rates in the nation and raising taxes on someone having a beer or a glass of wine," Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said. "But they really go over the cliff when they propose to increase taxes for child care or for donating an organ."

Republican Pawlenty continues to say he will not accept a state tax increase. However, he does add revenue to his budget proposal by borrowing $1 billion.

The Senate plan raises the lowest income tax rate from 5.3 percent to 6 percent. Middle-income Minnesotans now pay 7.05 percent of their income in taxes, but under the Senate plan it would rise to 7.7 percent. The former upper bracket taxpayers’ rates rise from 7.85 percent to 8.5 percent.

The Senate’s proposed tax increases would run through 2013.
It also allows Cook County to use its existing local sales tax for more uses than one community center and allows the Seaway Port Authority of Duluth to levy a property tax up to 0.01813 percent. It also allows Cloquet and Perch Lake Township to levy a property tax up to 0.2835 percent of taxable market value.

Also, the bill eliminates truth in taxation hearings that local governments now are required to hold, giving the public a chance to comment on budget decisions.