Political notebook: Bills go forward, but without Dayton deal

Republican state budget plans will become clear in the coming week, although no one expects the governor to agree.

A week ago, the GOP released a budget outline, and legislative committees now are debating details.

Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said that Republicans who control the Legislature will send their own budget bills to Democrat Gov. Mark Dayton. While she said that Dayton’s aides will be welcome to testify as budget committees wrap up their work by Friday, she stopped short of promising that lawmakers will produce bills Dayton can sign.

Chairman Greg Davids of the House Tax Committee made it clear that in the critical tax area provisions such as cutting the bottom two tax rates set up future negotiations. “It’s a start,” he said of the bill.

Davids, R-Preston, said he does not expect Dayton to sign the tax bill.

Dayton left no question that he opposes what he has seen from Republican budget builders, especially those who wrote the tax part of the plan. He wants to raise taxes on the rich, while Republicans would give them give bigger breaks.

The Legislature will send Dayton several budget bills, and if history is any indication the governor could sign some of those spending relatively little money with little controversy while rejecting bigger ones,

Lawmakers and Dayton have until May 23 to agree on a budget if they are to avoid a special legislative session.

Gambling for classrooms

Education should receive any new state gambling revenue, Gov. Mark Dayton said.

While he did not include any type of expanded gambling in his budget proposal, he has not rejected it.

“I’m not going to rule out any legitimate source for revenue,” he told reporters.

However, he hastily added, any new gambling money the state receives should be spent on education.

Several gambling proposals await discussion in the Legislature, including slot machines in bars, casinos at horse-racing tracks, a casino at Mall of America and a casino in downtown Minneapolis. All would provide the state with revenue.

They face opposition from both sides of the political spectrum: Liberals do not want the state to expand gambling because it competes against American Indian casinos and many conservatives oppose gambling on religious or moral grounds.

GOP wants reform

Coming into the legislative session, Republican lawmakers said they wanted to fulfill promises made during the campaign to reform state government.

Now, they promise to include reform proposals as they work on a budget.

“It may not be easy, but as we craft our balanced budget we’re following through on our promise to the people of Minnesota and building a strong economy and laying a strong foundation for our kids’ economic future,” House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said.

Dozens of bills have been introduced under the reform banner, such as reducing public union authority, cutting the state workforce by 15 percent, using the Web for more health-related programs, finding more fraud by health-care program recipients, establishing a way to close unneeded government agencies and consolidating duties among agencies.

“Gov. Dayton’s proposed budget relied on tax increases, without even considering these reforms,” Zellers said.

Dayton often has said he wants to make government more efficient.

Farmers green

A new federal report saying that Minnesota farmers do well in using clean energy is good news for the state, the commerce commissioner says.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently reported that a survey showed Minnesota famers doing better than others in producing power from methane and wind.

“Clean energy is critical to a green economy and jobs as well as a healthy environment for our children and future generations,” said Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. “It’s re-assuring to see the state’s farmers embrace clean energy technologies and realize real energy and long-term cost savings as a result.”

Minnesota farms host 144 small wind turbines, more than any other state. When all sizes are included, Minnesota trails California, Texas and Colorado for number of turbines.

The USDA report also showed that Minnesota was top methane producer.

The state offers no-interest loans for farmers to buy and construct methane-producing equipment.

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