Legislative notebook: Dayton rejects GOP school payment plan

By Danielle Nordine and Don Davis

Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a Republican plan to take money out of the state reserve fund to repay money owed Minnesota school districts.

The Democratic governor on Thursday called the plan an irresponsible “raid” on state reserves.

He also criticized a GOP Senate plan to take $100 million more from the reserves to deliver a business property tax reduction.

Republicans shot back harsh criticism for the veto.

“If a family pays all of their bills and finds they still have money leftover, shouldn’t they use some of that money to pay down any outstanding debts?” asked Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington. “Prudent financial management says when you have cash on hand, the first thing you do is pay off debt.”

The Dayton administration said state reserves would have been drained.

Commissioner Jim Schowalter of Minnesota Management and Budget said the bill could have meant the state would be forced to take out loans.

“The cash position of the state is really perilous,” Schowalter said, even without the school repayment plan.

“We have a good ways to go to dig ourselves out of the hole we inherited,” Dayton added.

The state owes school districts around the state $2.4 billion after delaying payments for several years. Some schools have been forced to borrow money when cash ran short.

Minnesota GOP Chairman Pat Shortridge said Democrats like Dayton are wrong to keep money in the bank.

“Only in DFL la-la land is paying back money borrowed from school districts ‘irresponsible,’” Shortridge said. “In fact, it’s the only responsible thing to do. If we leave hundreds of millions of dollars lying around in St Paul, the liberal Democrats in the DFL will do what they do best, spend it.”

Stadium moves forward

Two stadium-related bills may move forward, despite missing legislative deadlines.

The House rules committee voted Thursday, without discussion, allow bills by Republican Reps. Morrie Lanning of Moorhead and John Kriesel of Cottage Grove to be considered by committees.

Lanning’s bill focuses on the stadium and its funding, while Kriesel’s modifies tax rates for charitable gaming and allows for electronic pull tabs and sports-themed tip boards with additional state profits used to fund a stadium. The Lanning bill moves on to Government Operations Committee, while the Kriesel proposal heads to the Taxes Committee.

Meetings have not been scheduled.

In the meantime, a stadium-construction bill remains stalled in a Senate committee and there has been no indication if the situation will change.

Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said the Senate is looking for ways to move stalled Vikings stadium funding proposals forward.

“There’s still uncertainty about the horsepower, if you will, behind e-pulltabs” and how much money they really will provide, he said.

The Lanning bill authorizes a nearly $1 billion stadium in downtown Minneapolis, with $398 million coming from the state via charitable gambling tax revenue. The Vikings would pay $427 million and Minneapolis would provide $150 million.

Stadium plans face opposition from those who say the state should not be involved in building stadiums as well as those who oppose gambling.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said he supported Kriesel’s funding bill.

“I believe in tax relief for charities,” he said.

He said they should benefit more from the funding raised through charitable gaming.

If it helps the Vikings proposal that is good, he said, but charities are the priority.

Environmental disagreement

The House passed a bill dealing with environmental issues 74-52 Thursday, but the two sides disagreed on what it does.

“There’s a serious effort to streamline that process and bring some of that together,” said bill sponsor Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings. “Let’s get business moving forward and not put up barriers.”

Steve Morse of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership said the bill will lead to loss of wetlands, allow pollution-related permits to be automatically approved and limits citizen input for pollution issues.

McNamara’s bill would keep the Minnesota Zoo and hunting and fishing license sales open if there is another government shutdown. It also would limit the state’s payments to buy land to no more than 290 percent above assessed value.

The bill says the state cannot have higher water standards than the federal government.

State parks will not close under the bill, McNamara said, but some could be combined or used for other purposes.

Lawmakers take a break

Minnesota legislators left the Capitol Thursday night for an extended Passover-Easter break.

The traditional recess ends April 16, with many major issues of this legislative session yet to be decided.

Gov. Mark Dayton said he would be available to meet with lawmakers during the break, and indicated Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, may take him up on the invitation to discuss taxes.

Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said he hopes to wrap up the session relatively quickly after lawmakers return from the break.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said he had assumed the session would be further along that it is by the time they reached the recess.

Others said they were hoping to the break would not be necessary at all.

“In January, I made it clear that I thought we could adjourn by Easter,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said. “I’m very disappointed today that we have not made headway on that.”

Heavy equipment OK

The House voted 122-0 Thursday to allow farm equipment heavier than the current 24,000-pound limit to use state roads.

Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said his bill also allows dealers to deliver equipment their trucks instead of the current farm tractor requirement for heavy equipment.

Attorney guns OK

A bill allowing county attorneys and their assistants to carry guns passed the Senate 53-10 Thursday.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said the bill does not overrule judges who want their courtrooms to remain weapon free.

The bill passed the House in February.

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