Democrats leave session with issues they still want to do

End of session chatter

By Don Davis and Danielle Killey

There is little doubt the 2013 Minnesota Legislature will be remembered for its historic vote to allow gay marriage and a $2 billion tax increase.

Democrats say the session that ended seconds before its midnight Monday adjournment deadline also will be remembered for “investing” in education, jobs and other key state programs. Republicans claim Democrats overreached when they gained control of the House, Senate and governor’s office for the first time in 22 years by hiking taxes too much, handing unions too much power and spending more than the state should.

But even if Democratic-Farmer-Laborites overreached, they did not accomplish everything they wanted.

Take the minimum wage. Democrats wanted to raise it from the current $6.15 an hour. Senators voted to up it to $7.75, and the House and Gov. Mark Dayton preferred something north of $9.

It became too sticky a subject to finish as the legislative session ended. But House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said it would be atop their to-do list when lawmakers return to St. Paul on Feb. 25.

Bakk said he would encourage legislative minimum wage negotiators to spend time before the next session to talk to businesses about what would work.

The speaker also said the 2014 priority list should include more infrastructure funding, especially for transportation and transit projects.

Dayton said he was disappointed an $800 million public works finance bill failed this year, and indicated he would push a big bill next year to help create thousands of jobs.

Next session also may be a time to make changes to provisions lawmakers passed in the past few days.

For instance, DFL leaders have sent strong signals that they will look to provisions in a tax bill that added sales taxes to some business purchases.

“We need to find out what some of the unintended consequences may be,” Bakk said.

Tax bill writers delayed implementation of some of the provisions until April, giving them time to rewrite what is needed.

The bill senators passed was supposed to exempt farm equipment repair from the new tax, Bakk said, but it did not. Also, farmers could be charged tax when buying fertilizer stored in facilities they do not own.

Other industries also could face issues with the new warehouse sales tax.

Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said companies need to know about their tax future, and firms such as Red Wing Shoes must make decisions and not wait until April to see if the tax changes.

Rural Republican lawmakers have lots of concerns with the sales tax being added to farm purchases and said they are not sure just what might be taxed.

House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said she hopes a bill designed to prevent school bullying will come back and pass next year.

The 2013 session, which began Jan. 8, wrapped up with almost no time to spare even though Democrats control state government for the first time in 22 years.

Among the final bills lawmakers passed is one to allow some day care providers and personal care attendants to join unions. The House vote ended in shouting, in the most dramatic episode in the House this year.

On Tuesday, Democrats patted themselves on the back for a job well done in 2013. They praised their work on increasing education funding, reforming taxes, lowering property taxes and raising what the top 2 percent of Minnesota earners pay the state.

However, in briefing reporters, the governor and legislative leaders never mentioned two of the most contentious issues that brought thousands of people to the state Capitol: the unionization vote and legalizing same-sex marriage.

Right after the Legislature adjourned, Bakk highlighted funding all-day kindergarten and some tax reforms such as eliminating sales tax counties and cities pay as top achievements of the session.

He said the Democratic budget plan makes important investments and provides stability.

“It’s going to leave Minnesota a better place,” Bakk said.

He also said funding state Capitol renovation work was a priority for him.

“I wasn’t going home without the Capitol renovations,” Bakk said.

Republicans were not happy with the session.

“This budget’s going to be tough on everybody,” said Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls.

He said lawmakers did not need to pass such a large tax increase to fill a $627 million budget deficit.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Democrats went too far: “If I would use one word to describe the session, it would be ‘overreach.’ ”

Thissen said that if Republicans want to call DFL action overreach, he can accept it.

“I think Minnesotans actually want government officials that want to set an ambitious agenda,” Thissen said. “If that is overreaching, being ambitious, that is what it is.”

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