By Don Davis
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday used his first public appearance since Feb. 8 to accuse fellow Democrats who lead the Senate of stalling a tax-cut bill until they won approval for a new Senate office building.
An hour and a half later, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook and Tax Chairman Rod Skoe of Clearbrook showed off a tax bill they hope senators pass Thursday, without a building agreement. They denied that Dayton’s comments changed their plans.
Dayton, who has been in a body cast since Feb. 10 hip surgery, walked to a podium aided by crutches Tuesday afternoon and began to rip Bakk for telling him and House Democratic leaders that he would not allow a tax bill to pass until the House rules committee approves a new Senate building.
“I’m very, very, very disappointed they would not pass a bill,” Dayton said.
The House passed a $500 million tax cut March 6. It would stop three sales taxes businesses pay as well as conform to federal tax laws.
Dayton and Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans said that tax cuts needed to be finished by today or Minnesotans would struggle to get tax breaks that come from matching state and federal laws.
Skoe had been saying that senators wanted more time to investigate implications of various tax provisions, and they would wrap up a bill by month’s end.
Democratic and Republicans senators must agree to suspend Senate rules before the Thursday vote will occur.
When Bakk and Skoe sat down with reporters after Dayton’s comments, they began talking about the tax bill, not mentioning Dayton. Bakk did not directly answer the question, asked multiple times, about whether in meeting with Dayton and House Speaker Paul Thissen he linked the tax bill with a new building.
Thissen, D-Minneapolis, agreed with Dayton that Bakk linked the two.
“We have all along urged the House rules committee to act …” Bakk said when asked about the tax-building link. “We don’t understand why the House rules committee hasn’t acted.”
The only action needed before a new Senate office building is constructed is House rules committee approval. However, House members have joined Dayton in expressing reservations about the building.
Bakk said it is needed.
Due to an extensive Capitol renovation project, Bakk said, senators will not have offices or a chamber in which to meet in 2016 if something is not done. Construction will continue at least through 2016.
The renovation is stealing space from the Senate, and doubling what the governor’s office occupies, and there will not be enough room for senators and staff in the finished building, the majority leader said.
Bakk said the Senate will lose 38,000 square feet to renovation.
While representatives have not decided whether a new building is even needed, Dayton said he thinks a modest one should be built. But he was not happy that Bakk linked lower taxes with it.
Dayton said he returned to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester on Monday to have the body cast removed, a week earlier than planned, because he needed to get back to the Capitol to fight for the tax cuts. “It was time for me to come back because of the deadline.”
“I can’t kick any field goals for a while,” he said, but other than using crutches most of the time he is doing well.
He may not be kicking field goals, but he kicked senators’ tactics. “These are DFL legislators, I’m sorry to say. … It’s just inexcusable.”
Dayton said an entire half-hour meeting earlier Tuesday was about the Senate building because the Senate insisted on discussing it before taxes.
“I need to take this to the people of Minnesota,” Dayton said, adding that he plans to start meeting with legislators about taxes today.
Thissen said Bakk wanted to include Senate building approval in the tax bill. Skoe and Bakk said there is no mention of the building in their bill, which they would not give to reporters Tuesday night.
Bakk said that taking up the tax bill by Thursday would be an “extraordinary accomplishment.” A second bill, including some tax cuts, is expected before lawmakers adjourn for the year in May.
The Senate bill will would cut taxes nearly $70 million less than the House, but would add $150 million to the state budget reserve, Skoe said.