Legislative Session Opens Bright, But Problems Await

Sunlight turned decorations atop the Minnesota Capitol dome a brilliant gold as state legislators prepared to begin their 2013 session at noon today.

But in the background, clouds were approaching and fog surrounded downtown St. Paul.

It was like what was going on under the dome. Legislators were bright and optimistic on their first day, especially 62 newly elected members, as they hosted families and friends on the ceremonial opening day. At the same time, they knew clouds of controversies awaited nearby.

The 2013 Legislature faces the main question of how to adopt a balanced two-year budget with a $1.1 billion deficit. They will be asked to approve higher taxes on the rich, as well as reforming the tax system so property taxes do not rise as quickly.

Non-budget issues such as gun control and gay marriage await hearings, too, but legislative leaders say the budget work must come first.

A new budget likely will top $35 billion. The first indication of its size, and how it would be funded, will come Jan. 22 when Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton releases his tax and spend plan.

After Dayton’s announcement, lawmakers will examine every aspect of the budget proposal.

The Legislature features more rookie lawmakers than usual, 20 out of the 67-member Senate and 44 from the 134-member House. Two of the newly elected House members resigned Monday after accepting new jobs, leaving those seats empty until special elections can be held.

The outcomes of those special elections will not affect control of the House. Democrats hold a 72-60 margin there and 39-28 in the Senate, giving the party control of both chambers and the governor’s office for the first time in more than two decades.

The state Constitution requires the Legislature to adjourn by May 20.