Minnesota lawmakers are racing toward the finish line of this year’s legislative session, trying to pack unfinished work on big decisions — a tax bill, fixes to the state’s vehicle licensing system, school safety reforms and opioid legislation, among other topics — into a frantic, two-week homestretch.
The Legislature is behind its usual pace in getting bills turned into law. By the end of April, lawmakers had passed just 15 bills off the House and Senate floor; 40 bills is more typical in past legislative sessions. So far, Gov. Mark Dayton has signed just 12 bills.
Among the legislation passed and signed so far: measures making it a petty misdemeanor to misrepresent an animal as a service animal, authorizing cities to spend general-fund money on grants for food shelves, and regulating health savings accounts.
But the most high-profile topics of the session, including taxes, school funding and bonding for public works projects, are still very much in flux. Last week, as the Legislature was entangled in hourslong debates that stretched into the evening, Dayton held three separate news conferences in which he urged lawmakers to pass measures on guns and school funding — and blasted what he characterized as their inaction on both topics.
Taxes and bonding
Both the House and Senate have passed legislation that aims to line up Minnesota’s tax rules with changes to the federal tax code approved last year by Congress and President Donald Trump. Leaders of the Republican majorities in both chambers say their plans would lower the tax rate for many Minnesotans; the Senate plan would lower the bottom tax rate and keep some deductions that were eliminated by the federal government, like those for personal and dependent exemptions. The House bill would lower taxes for 2.1 million Minnesotans but raise taxes for about 148,000 others by eliminating some deductions.
Now, the two chambers must come up with a single proposal to send to the DFL governor, who dislikes portions of both plans and has a separate one of his own: raising taxes on businesses to provide a tax cut for about 2 million people.
Meanwhile, Dayton is also displeased with House Republicans’ public works bonding proposal, which would put $825 million toward roads, water projects and repairs to state buildings, along with $25 million for safety improvements to school buildings. It’s far smaller than the $1.5 billion plan the governor pitched earlier this year. The Senate has yet to unveil its own bonding plan.
Dayton and legislative leaders from both parties have made school safety plans a priority this session, and both chambers of the Legislature included dedicated funding in bills they’ve already passed off the floor. But Republicans and DFLers remain sharply divided over whether gun legislation, such as proposals expanding background checks and keeping guns away from people believed to be a risk, should be part of the effort to make schools safer.
Meanwhile, GOP lawmakers have sidestepped the governor’s requests for more money for prekindergarten programs and his last-minute push for $138 million in “emergency” funding for cash-strapped schools, saying the state’s surplus should be returned to Minnesotans in the form of tax cuts.
Dayton said last week that he’ll continue to push for the money for schools into the last stages of the session. But it’s unclear if he’ll be successful; since it’s not a budget year, the Legislature isn’t on the hook to pass any bills. If the two sides can’t agree, both could go home later this month without resolving their differences.