Legislative Notebook: No Tax Cut Vote

By Don Davis

Minnesota senators will not rush to judgment on a $500 million tax cut the House passed last week.

On Monday, Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, wanted senators to immediately take up the tax bill House members passed Thursday, but Democrats defeated the attempt 38-26.

Gov. Mark Dayton wants the tax-cut bill on his desk by Friday. Hann agreed.

“Thousands of Minnesota are in the process of filing their taxes and they deserve to know what we are going to do.,” Hann said

Senate Tax Chairman Rod Skoe, D-Clearbrook, said that the tax cuts need more “contemplating.”

The House bill matches state law to many federal tax provisions, saving Minnesotans money as they file taxes this time of year. However, the “marriage penalty” that costs couples more in taxes was not included for taxes being paid this year. The penalty would be eliminated if state and federal tax laws matched.

Skoe said the marriage penalty is one of the issues the Senate needs to examine.

In an interview last week, Skoe said the Senate will cut taxes less than the House.


Lunch aid passes

Minnesota will increase its school lunch subsidy for poor students if a bill headed to a full House vote passes.

The issue arose after it was revealed that a majority of Minnesota public schools withhold hot lunches to students who could not pay. There also were reports that school officials took away meals from students in lunch lines and dumped them in the trash if they had no money in their lunch accounts.

A bill the House Ways and Means Committee approved Monday would spend $3.5 million to increase state support to hot lunches from 12.5 cents to 52.5 cents per meal. Federal money pays the bulk of the cost of lunches for poor students.


Pay increase OK’d

Minnesota state employees will receive raises, in some cases for the first time in years, if the House agrees with the Senate.

Senators Monday approved 43-22 pay raises of 3 percent this year and again next year for most state workers.

“More than half of our state employees received zero percent increase,” Sen. James Metzen, D-South St. Paul, said, because of a struggling economy. “These state employees helped us get through the recession.”

While workers will get more pay, Metzen said they also will pay more for health insurance.

Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said some private businesses have not recovered from the recession, indicating it may be too soon to give government workers more money while private firms continue to struggle.

A business in her community, she said, laid off people and cut existing workers’ pay. “Little by little, as the economy recovered,” the pay has increased, she added.

The bill also is moving through the House committee process.


Money aimed at obesity

A Minnesota senator wants the state to pay $65,000 to fund a study to find how to reduce and prevent childhood obesity.

Sen. Alice Johnson, D-Fridley, talked about her idea for a nine-month study on Monday. “Currently, when a doctor or school nurse identifies an obese child there are no intervention programs to refer that child to. The purpose of this study is to help develop such a program.”

The study would provide help to 80 children diagnosed as obese. Results of the study could influence future legislation.

The Minnesota Department of Health estimates that the effects of obesity cost the state $2.8 billion annually.


Broadband bill advances

A Senate committee unanimously voted to spend $100 million next year to boost rural high-speed Internet.

The committee deals with rural issues, and is composed mostly of rural lawmakers. The bill could face opposition in its next stop, the Senate Finance Committee.

Bill sponsor Sen. Matt Schmit, D-Red Wing, said there is “a drastic difference” between rural and urban Internet speeds.

A governor’s broadband task force set speed goals, and most rural parts of the state fall short.

Rock County Commissioner Jody Reisch said he has worked for an East Coast insurance company for 20 years, and now can meet on line instead of flying to New York.

However, he said, it is difficult to get broadband speed fast enough in rural Minnesota.

It is not just businesses that need the fast connection, he said.

“My kids no longer take textbooks home,” he added, but need to log onto web sites for their homework.

Gov. Mark Dayton has said he supports high-speed broadband, but does not think there is a plan to expand the service to rural areas with enough specifics for him to support.


House turns down gifts

The Minnesota House wants to overturn a law passed last year that allows organizations to buy meals for lawmakers.

“They love us to come and eat their free food…” Rep. Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, said Monday before the House passed his bill to ban such group feeds 123-3. “They want their agenda on our minds.”

Last year’s law allows organizations to treat legislators to a meal, as long as all legislators are invited. Winkler’s bill would leave previous law that banned the practice of giving lawmakers gifts.

Rep. Debra Hilstrom, D-Brooklyn Center, said that many groups “cannot afford the same access” as those who put on the legislative meals.

Winkler’s bill would take effect Aug. 1. A similar bill has not moved in the Senate.