Democratic doubts remain as Daudt prepares to lead Minnesota House

Daudt

Memories of 2011 remain fresh for Mark Dayton.

That was when Dayton, Minnesota’s Democratic governor, faced a conservative Republican Legislature and as time ran out the two sides could not agree on a state budget, throwing Minnesota into a three-week government shutdown. While no one is predicting another shutdown in 2015 as legislators and Dayton work to write a two-year state budget, it is obvious the shutdown haunts the governor as he prepares for his second term in office.

In 2011, both chambers of the Legislature were Republican and the GOP was trying to take advantage of the party’s unusual power. In 2015, the Senate is in Democrats’ hands, as is the governor’s office, while the House is back in Republican control after two years in the minority.

Dayton and the Senate majority likely will agree on most major issues and spending decisions in 2015, but it will take House Republican approval to get things done. And leading the House as speaker will be Republican Kurt Daudt of Crown, a third-term representative considered a nice and moderate guy, but who calls himself as conservative as most in his caucus.

When asked if he trusts Daudt, Dayton responded quickly: “I have no reason not to.”

But he immediately added that he had a good relationship with Rep. Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove, speaker during the shutdown. The governor recalled that things went south in session-ending negotiations when the two sides could not agree on a budget.

“I knew that he was captive of his extreme right-wing caucus that was so inflexible … that if he would agree to something reasonable that he would not be speaker an hour later,” Dayton said of Zellers.

Applying that experience to budget talks next year, Dayton said that success rests on whether “Rep. Daudt has the latitude and authorization to agree to or not.”

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said the problem is that Republicans long ago established an executive council that can control a speaker.

“I do think he sincerely wants to have a smooth session,” Bakk said of Daudt.

The incoming speaker himself said that he understands negotiations mean giving up something.

“We aren’t going to get everything we want,” Daudt said.

The amount of freedom the executive council gives Daudt could determine the session’s success, Bakk said, adding that he has worked well with Daudt in recent years.

“I don’t know the extent they are going to empower him,” Bakk said. “Is the Kurt Daudt I know the one I will negotiate with or will he bring some baggage with him?”

In a recent interview, Daudt did not address the executive council, but said he has good relationships with Dayton and legislative leaders, including outgoing Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, who will be House minority leader.

The speaker-designate said that he believes the person who will be Democrats’ key negotiator, Dayton, has the best interest of Minnesota at heart and is trustworthy.

However, Daudt added, “he has always been unpredictable.”

Daudt said that while he knows Bakk well, he needs to learn more about Dayton.

As for a shutdown, Daudt echoes comments from many other lawmakers: “We are in a completely different situation.”

That situation become known earlier this month when state officials announced a $1 billion surplus, although they also said there really was little surplus because inflation would eat up that $1 billion.

A surplus “helps our relationship,” Daudt said.

Still, there will be tension.

While Dayton blamed what he calls the inflexibility of Republicans to negotiate for the 2011 budget stalemate, Daudt recalled things differently in his first year in the House. He said that the governor did not tell Republicans just where he stood on many budget items, and Dayton’s commissioners were not empowered to speak for him during budget meetings.

One of the Democrats’ leaders had only good things to say about Daudt.

“He was fair on the House floor,” Assistant Minority Leader-elect Paul Marquart, D-Dilworth said. “He gave spirited speeches and debate, but he was never personal. … I think he has a good track record.”

One of Daudt’s assistants, Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, called him “an exceptionally talented young man.”

“He has a lot of support throughout the caucus,” Torkelson added.

Veteran Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said Daudt and other leaders will work well as Republicans dealing with Democrats who control the Senate and governor’s office. “We know the situation; we need to work with both the Senate and the governor’s office.”

The 2011 shutdown may have been caused by “a few people coming in with more horsepower than they needed,” he said.

“That was probably the most unusual session I have been through,” Nornes said. “We learned from that.”

The incoming speaker, at 41 the youngest in that position since the 1930s, approaches things a bit differently than some of his colleagues.

Daudt said would like to see legislators stop presenting solutions, in the form of bills, before problems are thoroughly vetted by legislative committees. His idea is to come into session to examine problems, then as information is gleaned, solutions can be discussed and bills written.

As it is, he said, many legislators introduce bills as soon as the Legislature begins work.

Whether talking about how to approach problems or budget negotiations, Daudt indicates he is optimistic about the legislative session to begin at noon Jan. 6.

“In the end, we will get it done,” he promised, and without a shutdown.

Political chatter: 2012 ag controversy continues with committee assignments

Republicans who will control the Minnesota House next year angered Democrats by leaving a strong environmentalist off the environmental committee.

House Speaker-designate Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, released a list of committee members Thursday night, and the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee list did not include Rep. Jean Wagenius, D-Minneapolis. She has served on the committee each of her 14 terms in the House, earning a reputation of detailed-oriented environmentalist.

“I am deeply disappointed that Speaker-designate Daudt has taken the unprecedented step of refusing to accept the individual the minority caucus has designated as its lead on a Minnesota House committee,” current Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said. “So much for the ‘balanced approach’ the Republicans touted repeatedly during the campaign.”

Two years ago, when Democrats took control of the House, Thissen put Wagenius in charge of an environment and agriculture committee, angering rural Republican who said Wagenius is against traditional farming and that putting the subjects together reduces the importance of agriculture.

Republicans gained control of the House in last month’s election, and established several rural-oriented committees. Rep. Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake will be chairman of the Agriculture Finance Committee, while Rep. Paul Anderson of Starbuck will lead the Agriculture Policy Committee.

Daudt’s office said little about the decision, but issued a statement from him: “We have put together a committee structure that is balanced and we look forward to rolling up our sleeves and getting to work on problems Minnesotans care about.”

Thissen said Wagenius’ voice is important for the committee.

“Just because House Republicans don’t take climate change or protecting Minnesota’s water and air seriously doesn’t mean that the majority of Minnesotans agree with them,” Thissen said. “Rep. Jean Wagenius is a woman of great integrity who would bring much needed experience to the important work of the environment committee.”

Democrats’ rural problems two years ago were not limited to the Wagenius chairmanship. They also took heat by making Minneapolis’ Thissen speaker and Erin Murphy of St. Paul majority leader, skipping over Rep. Paul Marquart of Dilworth. He had run to give a rural balance to leadership; next year he will be an assistant minority leader after 10 rural seats flipped from Democrat to Republican in the November vote.

Bachman doesn’t go quietly

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann surprised no one as she exited Congress for the unknown.

The Republican firebrand was critical of Democratic President Barack Obama to his face at a White House holiday party, she weaved critical remarks around thank-yous in her final floor speech and she sent an email blasting her own party’s congressional leaders.

“Speaker John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and the GOP leadership cut a deal with the Obama Democrats to approve another staggering $1.1 trillion in new spending,” she wrote in an email from her political action committee. “What happened to the Republican commitment to fight the reckless Obama agenda, balance the budget and save our country?”

She added: “Unfortunately, I can’t say I am surprised. Dismayed, disappointed and angry — but not surprised.”

Franken for Hillary

Hillary Clinton has the support of both of Minnesota’s Democratic U.S. senators.

Sen. Al Franken told MSNBC that he is in the Clinton camp. Amy Klobuchar already expressed her support, despite talk that she could be a presidential candidate herself.

Clinton has not announced she is running in 2016, but she is expected to and is considered the leading Democratic candidate, by far.

“I think that Hillary would make a great president,” Franken said in the MSNBC interview.

“I think that I’m ready for Hillary,” he said. “I mean, I think that we’ve not had someone this experienced, this tough, and she’s very, very impressive.”

 Solid agreement already

Minnesota’s legislative leaders and governor are feeling out each other to find out what to expect in the coming legislative session, but they already agree on one thing.

“We are going to the last day,” House Speaker-designate Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, predicted.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said he, too, thinks legislators will use every day until the constitutional deadline to adjourn. He said all deadlines for the session will be set with that date in mind.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton probably would not argue. He often has said that the nature of a Legislature is to use all of the available time.

The 2015 session begins at noon Jan. 6. And while it must end by May 18, Dayton could call legislators back into session if they do not complete a budget or new issues arise. However, Dayton has shown a reluctance to call special sessions.

Seifert to lobby

Former state Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, will lobby for greater Minnesota issues in the 2015 Minnesota Legislature.

He has joined the Flaherty and Hood law firm, which represents the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and several cities that belong to that group.

Seifert has lost two campaigns for governor, including a Republican primary loss this year in which he ran as the only greater Minnesota candidate.

Franken in Uber fight

The fast-growing Uber transportation service and U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota are engaged in a privacy battle.

Franken, an outspoken privacy advocate and chairman of a subcommittee on the subject, has complained about Uber’s data collection practices. He also has wondered whether Uber misuses consumer data.

“I believe Americans have a fundamental right to privacy, and that right includes the ability to control who is getting your personal location information and who it’s being shared with,” Franken said. “I recently pressed Uber to explain the scope, transparency and enforceability of their privacy policies. While I’m pleased that they replied to my letter, I am concerned about the surprising lack of detail in their response.”

Uber’s response indicated that the company that connects riders with drivers for hire has disciplined its workers who broke its privacy policy.

Part of the problem, as Franken explains it, is that the global positioning system Uber uses allows the new company to track riders’ locations.

Inflation eats away surplus

Lots of charts

The Minnesota state budget surplus sits at $1 billion, but not really.

While state officials said a Thursday economic and budget report was good news, Minnesota’s top finance official said that inflation will eat up what many called a surplus. Still, political leaders agreed that the added money, unlike deficits they often have been dealt, will make budgeting easier when legislators return to St. Paul Jan. 6 and that no overall tax increase will be needed.

“Inflation is essentially everywhere,” Commissioner Jim Schowalter said of the state budget, and the $1 billion “surplus” mostly will be used to counteract it in the state’s two-year budget that begins next July 1.

“Yes, if you add in inflation, it evens out,” his boss, Gov. Mark Dayton, said.

However, Dayton and most other political leaders said Thursday’s report was good news and the governor insisted there is a surplus.

After raising taxes more than $2 billion in 2013, Dayton said that he sees no need for a general tax increase. On the other hand, the Democratic governor said that some type of new revenue is needed to inject needed money into road and bridge budgets.

House Speaker-designate Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said that he does not think higher taxes will be needed for transportation, although all ways to increase transportation funding “are on the table.”

Dayton said that what he called a “surplus” could help fund some child care tax credits, increased broadband facilities across greater Minnesota and other needs.

As soon as the $1 billion surplus was announced, groups ranging from the University of Minnesota to those representing nursing homes said they need some of that money.

Part of the $1 billion is $373 million that is not being spent in the current budget and can be spent in the next two years. State law automatically requires another $183 million to remain in the reserve and not be folded into the next budget.

The news gives Dayton a benchmark as his administration works on a budget proposal that he plans to give legislators Jan. 27. The Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate will draft their own budget plans, most likely based on the Dayton budget, after another revenue report in late February or early March. Dayton will tweak his budget after that report.

Thursday’s report, known as a budget forecast, takes a look at the national and state economies and predicts how much is available to spend on state programs.

The state general fund budget has grown from $31.5 billion in 2006-2007 to $40 billion now. It is expected to top $40 billion for the two years beginning next July 1, a figure state lawmakers and the governor will work out in the legislative session that begins Jan. 6.

The general fund budget is that part of state spending funded by Minnesota taxpayers. When federal and other funds are included, the state’s total spending can be twice the state-funded total.

While Democrats, who have controlled the Legislature and governor’s office the past two years, were celebrating Thursday’s report as good news, Republicans had their doubts.

Daudt said that the state is bringing in more money, but Minnesotans’ personal budgets do not appear to be improving.

The Minnesota economy is closely tied to national trends, State Economist Laura Kalambokidis said. That includes a worse-than-expected housing market, which affects industries across greater Minnesota such as lumber and window makers.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said that he hopes the budget cushion announced Thursday gives lawmakers a chance to work on one of greater Minnesota’s most pressing issues: housing.

Industries located in communities from Roseau in the north to Jackson in the south say they have jobs available, but need housing for workers, and in many cases potential workers need more training.

Most of the state’s key political leaders specifically said after Thursday’s budget forecast that it means no overall tax increase will be needed. However, Dayton emphasized what he sees as the need to raise revenue for transportation.

While he said he is open to ideas about how to raise that revenue, one possibility he has discussed would be to add a tax on gasoline at the wholesale level. The current gas tax is added at the pumps.

Daudt, whose Republican candidates this fall campaigned on improving roads and bridges, said he is not convinced higher taxes are needed. He and other Republicans have said they prefer to cut other state programs that may not be needed and transfer those funds to transportation.

In general, state political leaders were waiting for the budget forecast to draw up specific proposals.

Besides transportation, Dayton specifically mentioned the need to fund expansion of high-speed Internet, known as broadband, across the state.

Broadband, he said, is “crucial for economic development over the state.”

Dayton and legislators this year approved a down payment for improving broadband access, but some projections indicate that billions of dollars more are needed to bring greater Minnesota to the same level as the Twin Cities.

 Key budget numbers

in next two-year budget

$1.037 billion: More money expected than earlier projections

$412 million: Lower revenues expected than earlier prediction

$502 million: Expected drop in overall state spending

$443 million: Less spending needed than expected in health programs

$2 billion: Expected gain in individual income tax receipts

$598 million: Expected increase in sales tax collections

Bakk

Dayton

Daudt

State economist

Rural votes decide House control

New House GOP majority

By Charley Shaw and Don Davis

Rod Hamilton summarized the Republican takeover of the Minnesota House: “This election should be a wakeup call to all state leaders! Do not turn your back on greater Minnesota!!”

Indeed, the Mountain Lake Republican legislator’s tweet pointed out, 10 of 11 House seats Republicans picked up from Democrats came from outside of the Twin Cities.

The GOP rural performance gave the party a say in state policy after Democrats controlled the House, Senate and governor’s office the past two years. Voters Tuesday retained Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, while the Democrat-controlled Senate was not up for election.

With the Tuesday election, it appears Republicans will control the House by a 72-62 tally after Democrats held a 73-61 edge for two years. However, one race is headed toward a mandatory recount.

Republicans and Dayton agreed on Wednesday that they did not want gridlock like occurred when Republicans controlled the Legislature and a newly elected Dayton was in the governor’s office in 2011. That was when state government shut down for three weeks as the two sides could not agree on a budget. Dayton and House Republicans said Wednesday they would give no promise that will not happen again next year.

If Republicans do not want to compromise, Dayton said, “it’s a prescription to gridlock unless we rise above it.”

House Republican Leader Kurt Daudt of Crown, one of at least two people running for speaker on Friday, said that cooperation “is up to the Democrats.”

There was plenty of talk about hope among those headed to the Capitol when the new Legislature convenes Jan. 6.

“I’m excited about working with a good two-party system,” Rep.-Elect Dave Baker, R-Willmar, said as Republicans celebrated their House majority.

He learned that he beat Democratic Rep. Mary Sawatzky just before 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, who said that in her first term “we made great strides across the board in carrying for people.”

In a story heard often, the race between Baker and Sawatzky had been the target of a massive advertising blitz by the Republican and Democratic parties, as well as by outside political action groups that had filled voters’ mailboxes with fliers during the campaign season.

Like many Republicans who won Tuesday, Baker said he ran for office because he believed that in the past two years the state produced a “bad tax policy” that was harming private sector job growth and there were “too many unfunded mandates in public schools.”

Daudt said Republicans won in greater Minnesota because Democrats ignored the area outside of the Twin Cities.

“We are not going to forget about any part of the state, especially rural Minnesota,” said Daudt, who lives on a farm north of the Twin Cities.

But House Speaker Paul Thissen of Minneapolis said that his party has taken care of rural Minnesota.

“If you look at the objective facts, I think we did quite well for greater Minnesota,” Thissen said, citing additional funding for nursing home, education and broadband.

The biggest factor in losing the House majority, the speaker said, was low turnout. Just half of Minnesota’s voters cast ballots Tuesday, with the average in recent non-presidential years about 60 percent. When turnout is low, it generally is because Democrats stay home.

“We need to really think from our party perspective about what we missed in some of those races this year,” Thissen said.

Twenty-six new members (or those returning after an absence) will be sworn in on when the 2015 session convenes; all but five are Republican.

Most of the 11 Democratic incumbents who lost Tuesday were first-termers, but veterans ousted included greater Minnesota Democratic veteran Reps. John Ward of Baxter, Andrew Falk of Murdock and Patti Fritz of Faribault.

DFLers held onto all but one of several competitive seats in the Twin Cities suburbs that they had picked up in 2012. The exception was House District 56B where Rep. Will Morgan, D-Burnsville, lost to Republican businesswoman Roz Peterson of Lakeville.

Like in rural Minnesota, parts of the Twin Cities likely will continue to be a battleground as many contests were decided by slim margins, notably House District 48A where Rep. Yvonne Selcer, D-Minnetonka, awaits an automatic recount in the race that shows she beat former GOP Rep. Kirk Stensrud by 36 votes.

Among crucial House races:

2A: Republican Dave Hancock of Bemidji was first elected to the House in 2010 and served one term before he was defeated in 2012 by Rep. Roger Erickson, D-Baudette. Hancock, who co-owned a tire and automotive business for many years, won his seat back on Tuesday in a rematch by 4.87 percentage points. The district was predictably difficult for DFLers, having been won in 2012 by GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and on Tuesday by GOP 8th Congressional District candidate Stewart Mills.

10A: Four-term DFL House member John Ward of Baxter, who had managed to win decisive re-elections in previous years despite the Republican tilt to his district, met his match against Republican Josh Heintzeman of Nisswa. Ward won in 2010 by 15 points despite that year’s GOP wave that sent many DFLers in greater Minnesota packing. Heintzeman runs a log construction business.

10B: The victor of one of the DFL’s biggest upsets in 2012, Rep. Joe Radinovich, D-Crosby, knew he had a big target on his back in his rematch with Republican farmer from Aitkin, Dale Lueck. Radinovich won the first contest by a mere 1.47 points in a district that favored GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney by 9 points, but succumbed to Lueck on Tuesday by 3.86 points.

11B: Rep. Tim Faust, DFL-Hinckley, has had one of the most volatile electoral rides of any lawmaker in recent memory. Faust met his second re-election defeat on Tuesday in his east-central Minnesota district that also includes Mora and Pine City. Faust was first elected in 2006 on his second try to unseat former GOP Rep. Judy Soderstrom. He lost his seat in the subsequent 2010 election only for voters to send him back to St. Paul in 2012. After one term back in the House, Faust, a Lutheran minister, lost the swing district to Republican Jason Rarick, an electrical contractor from Pine City.

12A: Jeff Backer, a businessman and former mayor of Browns Valley, successfully won the seat from first-term Rep. Jay McNamar, DFL-Elbow Lake. McNamar had beaten his Republican opponent in 2012 points with an Independence Party candidate getting 6.14 percent of the vote.

14B: Jim Knoblach, who previously served six terms in the House and is a former Ways and Means Committee chairman, will return to the House. Knoblach, who retired from the House in 2006 to run unsuccessfully for Congress, won back his House seat against first-term DFL incumbent Zach Dorholt by 0.61 point, barely exceeding the threshold required to avoid an automatic recount.

17A: Rep. Andrew Falk, D-Murdock, saw his bid for a fourth term representing western Minnesota counties of Swift, Chippewa and Renville Counties upended by Tim Miller. The race was a rematch from 2012 when Falk beat Miller by a 7.9-point margin. Miller, a consultant from Prinsburg, eased past Falk on Tuesday by 10.9 points. Falk, a farmer, had worked extensively on agriculture and renewable issues in the House.

17B: Throughout Tuesday night, the race between Rep. Mary Sawatzky, D-Willmar, and her Republican challenger Dave Baker was agonizingly close. At times the secretary of state’s website showed a difference of less than a quarter of 1 percent. In the end, Baker, a hospitality business owner from Willmar, unseated the first-termer Sawatzky in a district that has swung back-and-forth since veteran DFLer Al Juhnke was upset in 2010.

24B: Rep. Patti Fritz, D-Faribault, lost her bid for a sixth term. Fritz, a nurse and leading advocate for anti-abortion issues that split the House DFL caucus, had won close elections before. This was another close contest. But Fritz was on the losing side of a race decided by 1.87 percentage points in favor of first-time candidate Brian Daniels. Daniels is a businessman and brother of Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, who ran unopposed this year.

27A: Republican challenger Peggy Bennett won big on Tuesday. The Albert Lea elementary school teacher beat first-term Democratic incumbent Shannon Savick of Wells by 13 points, with the wild-card factor that Independence Party candidate Thomas Keith Price of Alden garnered 6.9 percent of the vote. Democrats lost the House seat despite winning 27A in the governor’s, Congressional and U.S. Senate races. The southern Minnesota district has flipped between Republicans and Democrats in the last three House elections.

48A: Before Democrats’ hopes of holding onto control of the state House were dashed in greater Minnesota, victories in competitive districts in the Twin Cities suburbs provided them with early optimism on Tuesday night. Things have preliminarily gone the DFL’s way in 48A where Rep. Yvonne Selcer, D-Minnetonka, won by 36 votes, an outcome so slim that state law requires an automatic recount. Assuming the recount doesn’t change things, Selcer, a former Hopkins school board chairwoman, will have won a second term by defeating the seat’s former GOP incumbent Kirk Stensrud, whom she beat in 2012 by 202 votes, or 0.82 percentage point.

56B: Although the Twin Cities suburbs are loaded with swing districts, this Burnsville/Lakeville district was the only GOP pickup on Tuesday. Commercial realtor and Lakeville school board chairwoman Roz Peterson won a rematch with Rep. Will Morgan, D-Burnsville, from the race she lost two years ago by 0.8 percentage point. The race was one of that year’s marquee DFL pickups in the Twin Cities area, and Peterson began campaigning for a rematch shortly afterwards. On Tuesday she unseated Morgan, a Burnsville High School physics teacher, by 8.16 points. Morgan had served two terms in the House from 2007 to 2011, before himself being defeated and then regaining his seat in 2012.

Republicans count on election to gain voice in House

House

By Charley Shaw

Republicans have been shut out of power in the Minnesota state Capitol for two years, and in next week’s elections are seeking to regain some of their lost clout by winning back control of the state House.

All 134 seats in the currently Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party-controlled House will be on Tuesday’s ballot, while the similarly DFL-dominated state Senate isn’t up for election until 2016. If DFL incumbent Gov. Mark Dayton, who leads Republican rival Jeff Johnson in polls and fundraising, wins next week, then the outcome in House races would be all the more crucial for Republicans’ ability to influence state policy for the next two years.

“For the last year-and-a half,” University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs said, “folks in the business community and Republican circles were very clear that they had to break up the DFL monopoly and that their best option for doing that was to win the House.”

House Republicans need a net gain of seven seats to win back the majority they held for two years, until the 2012 election.

Control of the House has swung like a pendulum in recent elections. Republicans in 2010 swept into power in the midst of that year’s national wave of GOP victories. DFLers in 2012 won back the majority and established control of both the Legislature and governor’s office for the first time since 1990.

The outcome of this year’s House and governor’s races will set the stage for the 2015 legislative session that convenes Jan. 6. Lawmakers will have as their main item of business passing a budget for the next two years. Legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle have also signaled that transportation funding needs to be addressed, among other issues.

After winning several close elections in greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities suburbs in 2012, DFLers this year have several tough seats to defend in their bid to keep control of the House.

There are nine House DFLers who represent districts where GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney won in 2012, giving Republicans hope.

Hamline University political science professor David Schultz noted that expected lower voter turnout this year compared to the 2012 presidential election poses another challenge for DFLers.

“They’re defending a lot of, let’s say, marginal seats in a year when they are not going to have the pull of a presidential election and a popular president to drive turnout,” Schultz said.

House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, noted that turnout will be a key factor in determining whether his caucus retains the majority.

“There are a lot of races that are very close,” Thissen said. “It really is going to depend on who is going to show up on Election Day.”

While on the campaign trail, Thissen has highlighted DFL accomplishments in education. “Our education investments are clearly the top thing we’re talking about: All-day kindergarten, college tuition freeze and early childhood education investments.”

Among accomplishments related to Greater Minnesota, Thissen cited property tax relief and reducing the funding disparities between Greater Minnesota and Twin Cities-area school districts.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, however, disputed the numbers cited by DFLers that indicate improvements on property taxes and regional equity in school funding. He also criticized the health insurance exchange called MNSure among other policies supported by DFLers.

“Everything the Democrats have done from MNSure to unionizing daycares to increasing taxes has taken money out of the pockets and budgets of Minnesota families,” Daudt said.

Given another two years in the majority, Thissen said, transportation will be a major issue on the House’s agenda. “It’s going to be transportation that’s going to be the premier issue coming next year. It’s going to be roads and bridges, but also transit, and particularly transit in Greater Minnesota, which Republicans seem to want to entirely ignore.”

Daudt also said transportation will be a big issue if his side wins control of the House. Additionally, he said Republicans would try to improve the state’s business climate.

“We see every day that great Minnesota companies, while they aren’t leaving the state of Minnesota, when they grow, they grow in another state because our climate isn’t competitive,” Daudt said.

Whoever wins control of the House next Tuesday, it won’t have come cheap. In addition to spending by individual candidates’ campaigns, finance reports released Tuesday show independent groups have already poured $6.8 million into House contests.

Republicans look for opening

House GOP candidates

By Don Davis

Minnesota Republicans are looking for any opportunity to get a foothold in a state government dominated by Democrats.

Sen. Scott Newman announced Thursday that he is seeking to upset two-term Democratic Attorney General Lori Swanson and become the first Republican to hold the office in 43 years. The announcement means Republicans now have challengers for every statewide office.

A few minutes later, about 60 Republican state legislative candidates gathered on the Capitol steps, where their leader proclaimed that the GOP is ready to retake control of the House chamber after losing it two years ago.

And today, Republicans gather in Rochester for a two-day state convention that should produce endorsed U.S. Senate and governor candidates, even though the races move on to the Aug. 12 primary election.

Democrats gather in Duluth today with only a two-person secretary of state race to settle.

Democratic-Farmer-Laborite politicians hold every statewide office in Minnesota government and they control the state House and Senate. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, made it clear Thursday that will be used against Democrats.

“Single-party control hasn’t served Minnesotans very well,” he said, with new candidates and incumbents standing behind him at the Capitol.

Republicans need to win the seats they already hold as well as seven more to regain control. He said that nine House districts now held by Democrats voted for Republican Mitt Romney in the last presidential election, meaning GOP chances are good.

Phillip Nelson, a Bemidji candidate running against Democratic Rep. John Persell, said many of the Republican candidates are 35 younger. He is 32.

“I want to learn how to steer leadership,” he said.

Many of the GOP candidates come from business backgrounds, like Dave Baker of Willmar, who is challenging Democratic Rep. Mary Sawatzky.

“I’ve never done this before,” the 52-year-old Baker said, but he and other businessmen-candidates “know how to create a new job.”

Business has been “deeply hurt” under Democratic domination, Baker added.

Tim Miller of Prinsburg is making his second attempt to unseat Rep. Andrew Falk, D-Murdock. He is a consultant for businesses and non-profits.

“My skill is casting a vision,” Miller said, adding that Minnesota government lacks that ability.

While GOP candidates declared they could win back the House after two years of DFL control, Newman said that more than four decades of Democratic control of the attorney general’s office was more than enough.

The Hutchinson Republican cited what he called “a sense of entitlement to that office by the DFL Party” and said Attorney General Lori Swanson, has put party ahead of her office’s duties.

Newman said state agencies’ power has grown too much in the past four decades and that he would weigh in as attorney general to try to rein that in. Agencies now write rules, investigate alleged violations and then adjudicate them, Newman said.

DFL Chairman Ken Martin said that Republicans waited until a day before they were to endorse a candidate to get someone to run against Swanson.

“As a legislator, Newman has not served on commerce committees that deal with issues similar to those handled by the attorney general’s office,” Martin said. “He’s voted consistently with his party and has supported constitutional amendments denying people the right to marry or to vote without identification; eliminating middle-class jobs; and deep cuts to the state’s public higher education system.”

Doug Belden of the St. Paul Pioneer Press contributed to this story. The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.

Bonding bill due in House Thursday, but GOP balks

By Don Davis

The Minnesota House expects to debate a public works funding bill Thursday without a controversial house fire sprinkler provision and with partial funding for a southwest Minnesota water project, but possibly without enough Republican support for the statewide construction plan to pass.

Democrats released what they said was an agreement about how to spend $846 million in borrowed money and another $279 million from the state budget surplus. But getting enough votes to pass the $846 million, to be repaid by the state selling bonds, remained in doubt Wednesday night.

Republicans were dragging their feet on the only bill Democrats really need their help to pass. Bonding needs a three-fifths majority to pass, and Democrats do not have enough members to do that on their own.

House Bonding Chairwoman Alice Hausman, D-St. Paul, said negotiators reworked earlier bonding bills to include more projects in Republican districts. She said she assumed Republicans would vote for it because it fit a deal Republican and Democratic lawmakers made last year.

But Hausman did not get a guarantee of enough GOP votes as negotiations proceeded in recent days.

“Legislative leaders remain in discussions about a path forward on the bonding bill,” House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Wednesday night. “Today’s so-called agreement is nothing more than an idea between Democrat legislative leaders, and not a plan Republicans agreed to or were involved in crafting.”

Daudt said Republicans plan to continue to work on writing a bill members of both parties can support.

Hausman’s Senate counterpart did not appear worried about getting Republican votes for the bill.

“We worked very closely with the governor’s office, the House and our Republican counterparts in the Legislature to compile a bonding package that will benefit every corner of Minnesota,” Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer, said.

It was not clear when the House would begin debating the bill today, but it could last for hours.

Republicans and Democrats were filing a variety of amendments Wednesday night in preparation for today’s debate.

The Senate could take the bill up quickly after the House passes it, if it does, but only if Senate leaders can get enough votes to suspend rules that otherwise would not allow debate on the measure until Saturday. The state Constitution requires the final votes for this year’s legislative session to come no later than Sunday, giving little time to rewrite the bonding bill.

House and Senate leaders opted to remove a provision from the Senate bill that Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton blasted. It would have forbid his administration from enacting a rule requiring fire sprinklers in homes larger than 4,500 square feet.

Dayton said Wednesday that if people do not want to pay for sprinklers, they could build smaller homes. A majority of Minnesota homes would not need sprinklers under the rule.

In addition to sprinklers, the other fiery public works project is a nearly $70 million water system in southwestern Minnesota.

The Lewis and Clark system would pipe in water from South Dakota. Minnesota is being asked to pick up the tab after the federal government backed away from plans to fund it.

The Hausman-Stumpf bill includes $22 million for the project, which is enough to complete the next phase. However, Rep. Matt Dean of Dellwood, the top House bonding Republican, said that the Legislature generally funds an entire project, not just one phase.

Republicans have made Lewis and Clark their top bonding complaint.

Hausman said she was most proud of including $100 million for improving poor Minnesotans’ housing.

Among projects in the bonding bill are:

– $126 million to finish restoring the state Capitol building.

– $240 million for state-run college and university projects.

– $61 million for convention centers in Rochester, Mankato and St. Cloud.

– $18 million to acquire land for trails.

The cash bill would provide:

– $12 million to prevent floods.

– $56 million to remodel the state security hospital in St. Peter.

– $54 million for local road improvements.

– $24 million for local bridge replacement.

– $1.5 million for local ice arenas to replace outlawed cooling systems.

Political notebook: Sunday sales an evergreen issue in Legislature

By Don Davis

Rod Skoe doesn’t understand why Sunday drinkers can’t plan ahead.

Roger Reinert doesn’t understand why the state puts Minnesota liquor stores at a disadvantage to those in Wisconsin.

The two Democratic state senators usually vote alike, but are on different sides of a debate about whether Sunday liquor sales should be allowed.

It is hard to find any recent year when debate about selling liquor on Sundays was not on the Minnesota Legislature’s agenda.

It is not one of those issues that pits Democrats against Republicans. There is more of a geographic tinge to the debate, but even that does not tell the story. Liquor, gambling and a handful of other social issues draw on each legislator’s personal feelings more than any other factor.

A Senate debate in the past week showed some of the divisiveness of the issue.

Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, offered an amendment to allow liquor stores to sell their products on Sundays. But since unions complained that such a law would force their drivers to work Sundays, Miller’s amendment would ban Sunday deliveries in the hopes that Democrats who rely on union support would go along. It didn’t work.

Miller, like Duluth’s Reinert, sees constituents drive to Wisconsin to spend their booze money on Sundays.

Skoe, from northwestern Minnesota’s Clearbrook, said that Sunday sales would have “a pretty significant impact on property taxes” because competitive forces would force city-owned liquor stores to be open on Sundays. The stores would get the same profits as when they were open six days, Skoe said, but would face a seventh day’s expenses, thus reducing profits handed over to cities.

Reinert and Miller, on the other hand, say Minnesota stores near states such as Wisconsin that allow Sunday sales are losing money every Sunday. That hurts taxes, business owners and employees, they say.

But Skoe just doesn’t understand it. People should not need to run out and buy alcoholic beverages on Sundays. “People should be able to plan just a little bit ahead.”

Sen Branden Petersen, R-Andover, said Skoe was trying to force his feelings on others, sarcastically saying, “Sen. Skoe knows better.”

Stars in Legislature

MinnPost’s columnist Doug Grow has declared four Democrats the stars of this year’s legislative session.

Three of the four live in the Twin Cities, but three have deep greater Minnesota backgrounds, two connected to Bemidji.

The only truly big-city lawmaker of the four is Minneapolis’ Scott Dibble. At the other end, Rep. Carly Melin of Hibbing remains in a small town; she is a Bemidji State University graduate.

Rep. Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley is a Bemidji native. Rep. Dan Schoen of St. Paul Park came from west-central Minnesota and attended MACCRAY High School in Clara City and Ridgewater College in Willmar.

Dibble got lots of publicity last year leading a successful gay marriage legalization effort and this year championed anti-bullying and medical marijuana bills.

Melin, in her second term, is leading led the Women’s Economic Security Act and medical marijuana, as well as some lesser known legal industry efforts.

Winkler this year has been fairly quiet other than one of the session’s blockbuster issues: increasing the state minimum wage.

“The biggest surprise of the session, though, has been the work of Rep. Dan Schoen,” Grow wrote.

Schoen, a policeman in his first term, sponsored a bill that takes guns from domestic abusers, a measure known as Steve’s Law to help people who overdose with heroin and an issue that helps advance practice registered nurses.

Hot, hot debate

One of the most heated debates this legislative session came during a night meeting that got little attention.

When a Senate committee was considering how to spend $846 million on public works construction projects around the state, Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, offered an amendment to strip funding from several projects to boost money available to the Lewis and Clark water project in southwestern Minnesota. It set off an urban-greater Minnesota spat.

Sen. Richard Cohen, D-St. Paul, immediately offered, and quickly withdrew, a proposal to take money for the water project from St. Cloud and Rochester civic centers. Debate was hot about that, as well as when Sen. Matt Schmit, D-Red Wing, tried to increase spending for a riverside project in his community.

“This puts Red Wing in a very difficult position to receive less than half what we were asking for to complete this project,” the Post Bulletin of Rochester reported Schmit as saying.

“But Schmit’s amendment did not sit well with fellow DFL Sen. Bobby Joe Champion of Minneapolis,” the newspaper said. “He quickly moved to amend Schmit’s amendment to take away the $1.6 million Red Wing was given in the bill and redirect it to a study of light-rail transit in Hennepin County.

“‘We can take Sen. Schmit out of his misery, and he doesn’t have to worry about any of the money.’”

Cohen opened another committee meeting the next morning with: “I don’t expect as much drama today as we had last night.” He was right.

Where in the world is Cyrus?

A Cyrus public safety public works construction request produced a confession in the House Ways and Means Committee.

“I don’t know where Cyrus is,” Rep. Michael Paymar, D-St. Paul, admitted.

Everyone laughed, but no one volunteered to tell him it is east of Morris.

Paymar, who is retiring after nine terms in the House, also admitted he does not know where Montgomery is (south of the Twin Cities near New Prague).

The representative used the Cyrus project to complain about the process used to approve public works projects. As chairman of the public safety committee, he said that he should have been given the plan to investigate it. But it skipped his committee.

“I would like to see this handled in a different way in the future,” Paymar said.

He told fellow St. Paul Democrat Rep. Alice Hausman, chairwoman of the public works funding committee, that she appeared to have ignored his committee’s wishes on projects that his committee did examine.

“We had a very short period of time,” Hausman responded.

Tax bill a surprise

If there was one surprise this legislative session, it may have been broad agreement on several tax issues.

When the Tax Bill 2 agreement was announced Thursday, Democrats and Republicans alike were all smiles on a topic that generally generates heated debate.

When Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, was asked about House provisions in the bill that were not in the Senate bill, he said: “Those were not provisions I supported … but you have to be willing to give here and there.”

As Gazelka said, that is not something that always happens in the Legislature.

For House members, it may be less about a willingness to work together and more about the fact that this is an election year in each of the 134 House districts. As House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said, tax cuts are good for legislators in an election year.

Negotiators agree to new type of ‘Jesse checks’

Eken visits

By Don Davis

Farmers, homeowners, renters and businesses would share $103 million in a second round of Minnesota tax cuts after negotiators worked out a compromise that is expected to pass the Legislature next week.

Lawmakers from both parties hailed the agreement Thursday, saying that it is good to send part of the state budget surplus back to Minnesotans.

One tax negotiator compared the deal to checks Minnesotans received when Gov. Jesse Ventura was in office.

“The House (property tax break) provisions were what appeared to be ‘Jesse checks’ before an election,” Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, said.

Many farmers would receive an average $200 property tax break under the measure that is a blend of tax bills the House and Senate passed. The compromise bill would send $17 million to more than 90,000 farmers, mostly those who live on their farms.

Gov. Mark Dayton told reporters Thursday that rural lawmakers tell him farmers are seeing ever-increasing property taxes.

“I think that it is appropriate to give them some relief now,” the governor said.

“Farmers are going to get a new tax refund that doesn’t now exist,” House Tax Chairwoman Ann Lenczewski, D-Bloomington, said.

While the farm tax cut is permanent, renters and homeowners would get one-time increases in existing programs.

About 500,000 homeowners would receive 3 percent larger homestead credit refunds while those receiving renters’ credit refunds would see 6 percent bigger checks.

“You can view this as supplemental relief to what we did last year,” Senate Tax Chairman Rod Skoe, D-Clearbrook, said.

Negotiations on the tax bill are complete, but it will not be finalized until Monday to allow last-minute changes as the 2014 Legislature nears its adjournment.

When combined with an earlier tax-cut bill, there would be $550 million in tax cuts.

Dayton said that he will sign the bill once it passes and legislative Republicans and Democrats express their support.

“The best way we can spend the (state budget) surplus here in Minnesota is to send it back to Minnesotans…” House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said. “We know tax cuts are popular, even among Democrats, in an election year.”

While called a tax bill, Skoe said that it also helps the state economy.

“It takes more than just cutting taxes to grow our economy, and that’s why our tax relief package also invests in new workforce housing, protecting our lakes and streams from aquatic invasive species and new efficiencies for state and local governments,” Skoe said.

The bill provides $4.5 million this year and $10 million per year after that for 83 of Minnesota’s 87 counties with public-access boat landings. The money is to be used by the county to help with efforts to fight plant and aquatic invasive species.

Invasive species are forcing out native species, which many in the tourism industry say threatens their businesses.

“It is a really, really important provision for much of the state,” Skoe said.

The tax bill also:

– Increases Local Government Aid to cities by $10 million to keep up with inflation.

– Allows 14 counties to take part in a pilot project to attract and retain volunteer first-responders by providing a $500 stipend.

– Provides military personnel some tax advantages.

– Gives parents and guardians of students struggling to learn to read tax credits of up to $2,000.

– Begin to eliminate a requirement that businesses pay some of the June sales tax they collect earlier than normal.

Minnesota Legislature’s end is near

By Don Davis

The Minnesota House takes up medical marijuana today in what could be a debate lasting well into the night while pieces fall into place on tax and spending bills as the Minnesota Legislature nears the end of its 2014 session.

Debate on the much-discussed proposal to allow children with seizures and adults with extreme pain to use marijuana extracts is expected to begin in the early afternoon, and could last hours. Senators overwhelmingly approved a more liberal bill earlier in the week, but it may go too far for Gov. Mark Dayton to sign it into law.

On Thursday, Dayton would not commit to backing a more restrictive marijuana bill by Rep. Carly Melin, D-Hibbing, that only allows one medical marijuana manufacturer, instead of 55 in the Senate-passed bill. Allowing 55 centers around the state “seems to be quite unworkable,” said Dayton, who has required medical and law enforcement support before signing off on any marijuana plan.

The Democratic governor said that Health Department staffers have been working the last several days to make sure any medical marijuana bill that passes is workable.

“Legislators’ hearts are in a good place,” he said. “They want to do something, but it has to be functional.”

If the House passes Melin’s bill today, House and Senate negotiators will take up the complex task of merging the two different bills into a compromise proposal. And it must be done in just a few days.

The state Constitution requires the Legislature to adjourn no later than May 19. While some legislative leaders had predicted a pre-Easter adjournment, the final day now looks to be no earlier than mid-week next week.

“The sooner we are done the better,” Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said. “I would really like to get done this week. … No one is safe until the Legislature adjourns.”

Formal and informal negotiations continue on several unresolved issues. Prime among them are how to spend a budget increase and what public works projects get state money.

Legislative leaders sent four key lawmakers into a room Thursday to negotiate a public works bill, to be funded by the state selling bonds. The hope is that the four can work out the bonding bill so it is acceptable to the House and Senate, thus avoiding after-the-fact negotiations.

“It’s good to see cooperation and coordination, even beforehand,” Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, said.

House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said leaders did not give orders to the four bonding negotiators about specifics that must be included in the bill. However, House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said there is an understanding that all four legislative leaders expect funding for the hot-button bonding issue: southwestern Minnesota’s Lewis and Clark water project.

The project, to bring water in from South Dakota, has produced by far the most bonding discussion.

Daudt said he hopes Lewis and Clark can get the $20 million needed to bring water to Luverne and a like about to fund the next phase. However, money may not be approved for the third phase, to extend the pipeline to Worthington, the minority leader said.

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said he is pushing for the entire $69 million Lewis and Clark funding.

While debate continues on how to spend money, a tax bill has been negotiated. It features an average $200 property tax break for farmers, as well as cuts for renters and homeowners.

Judge wants change, Minnesota sex offender program remains same

By Don Davis

A federal judge’s pressure on Minnesota officials to change how the state deals with sex offenders does not appear to be producing results.

Gov. Mark Dayton said Thursday that he does not expect this year’s Legislature to act on the situation, and legislative leaders Friday showed no indication the governor is wrong.

That comes after Judge Donovan Frank wrote in a court order: “The time for legislative action is now.”

If state leaders do not take action, Frank could take control of the Minnesota sex offender treatment program, where serious sex offenders are kept in prison-like settings after serving their prison sentences. Former Minnesota Chief Justice Eric Magnuson and others who are urging lawmakers to act say Frank could order changes in the program — changes that could result in much higher costs to the state — or he could order release of at least some sex offenders.

Just one sex offender has graduated from the program, leading to a lawsuit by others who say the program is more prison than treatment.

House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, downplayed the possibility that Frank will take over the program. He said that Frank’s order for the state to fund four experts’ study of the program should take some time, and lawmakers may not need to act right away.

However, he and House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, D-St. Paul, said they hope for a bipartisan agreement on the issue.

That does not appear close. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said he thinks the current treatment program is constitutional, although he could support some changes.

Since Democrats control the House, Senate and governor’s office, Daudt said, they are the ones who should lead on the issue.

Murphy said that state leaders not agreeing on the solution hurts their efforts.

“When people chose to politicize this issue, it tends to confuse Minnesotans,” she said.

Dayton blamed House Republicans for failure to come together, adding, “I don’t think anything else is going to happen this session.”

“It is not going to proceed without broad bipartisan support,” Dayton told reporters Thursday. “It is just not going to happen now. … We will come back next session, if I am still around.”

However, he added, Frank could take away Minnesota’s options before next year.

Daudt said Democrats may not have come up with a plan, but he thinks he knows their desire: “They seem set on letting these people out.”

Frank issued his latest order five days before the Legislature convened last month.

“If the evidence requires it, the court will act,” Frank wrote. “But it is the Minnesota Legislature that is best equipped to develop policies and pass laws — within the limits of the Constitution — that both protect public safety and preserve the rights of the class.”

How to deal with sex offenders has been a major state Capitol issue since University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin was kidnapped from a Grand Forks, N.D., mall on Nov. 22, 2003. The next April, her body was found near Crookston, Minn. A sex offender who had served his prison time was convicted of her kidnapping and murder.

The crime set Minnesota politicians on a quest to find ways to keep sex offenders behind bars longer. One of the ways was to make more use of an existing program that allows county prosecutors to ask judges to put offenders into the treatment program.

The program is housed at state hospitals in Moose Lake and St. Peter.

House passes $500 million tax cut; Dayton wants more cuts, Senate less

Lenczewski, Murphy

By Don Davis

The Minnesota House passed a $500 million tax cut Thursday and the governor announced he wants to trim taxes $616 million, but the Senate is headed for smaller cuts.

Democrats said the bill representatives passed 126-2 would provide tax relief to nearly 1 million Minnesotans, in a large part by matching most Minnesota tax law to federal law. That “federal conformity” means $301 million less Minnesotans would pay.

Federal conformity would lower taxes on married couples $115 on average because federal law taxes married couples less than Minnesota law. That would go to 650,000 couples, mostly those who earn less than $75,000 annually.

The bill also would provide an average tax cut of $300 to low-income Minnesotans who file for the working family credit.

The House voted to cancel taxes placed on businesses last year: warehouse storage, farm equipment repair, some business equipment repair and telecommunications equipment.

The bill also simplifies and cuts the estate tax and provides some tax credits to people who invest in new companies and high-technology businesses. Gov. Mark Dayton would like to add a few more tax cuts.

House Democrats and Democrat Dayton said their tax-cut plans especially help middle-class Minnesotans.

Money to fund the tax cuts comes from a $1.2 billion budget surplus state financial officials announced a week ago. Dayton on Thursday said he wants half of that surplus to be used as tax cuts, $162 million for what he calls additional “essential” spending and the rest going to enlarge the state budget reserve.

House Tax Chairwoman Ann Lenczewski, D-Bloomington, said her tax bill mostly deals with taxes being collected now, or soon will be. She and Dayton said that is why quick action is needed.

“This is the time-sensitive stuff we need to do right now,” she said.

Dayton said he will keep the pressure on senators for quick action.

House leaders said a second tax bill may include further tax cuts, including some property tax relief.

Not so fast, Sen. Rod Skoe, D-Clearbrook, said.

While it is important that the state match federal law, the Senate Taxes Committee chairman said, there is no need to rush.

“I would rather move a little slower to make sure we get things right,” Skoe said.

Skoe said the Senate could pass a tax-cut bill by the end of the month.

However, he does not agree with House leaders and the governor who want a second tax-cut bill. In fact, he added, the House $500 million bill cuts too much.

Skoe said he was especially happy with Dayton’s proposal to increase the state budget reserve $445 million, to more than $1 billion.

“We have had 10, 12 years going from one deficit to another,” Skoe said, and a bigger reserve is needed in case that happens again.

Skoe would not say what tax cuts he wants to see in the Senate bill.

House Republicans criticized Democrats for raising taxes $2.3 billion last year, and coming back this year with a $500 million tax cut. They said that still is a $1.8 billion net tax increase.

Rep. Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove, a GOP governor candidate, said a gift tax enacted last year hurt farmers who wanted to hand farms down to their children. He said that lack of consistency is hard on Minnesotans.

Even though they complained about Democratic taxes, Republicans liked the cut.

“The best thing we can do with this surplus is to put it back in the pockets of those who need it most,” House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said.

House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, D-St. Paul, said last year’s tax increases, mostly on rich Minnesotans, allowed the state to increase education funding and provide more aid to local governments. The changes improved the state economy, Democrats said.

“Today, we have the opportunity to take another step forward,” Murphy said.

The only two who voted against the bill were Democratic Reps. Jason Metsa of Virginia and Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley.

Metsa said he voted against the bill because he would rather see money spent for property tax relief, nursing homes and state aid to local governments. For Winkler, the vote was because “the tax cuts were too large and not the right priorities for Minnesota this year.”