Gov. Mark Dayton on Saturday addressed Education Minnesota delegates at their annual convention and urged them to call on legislators and tell them to support his $343-million plan to offer universal access preschool for the state's 4-year-olds.
Dayton's speech ended the annual convention, attended by about 600 delegates who gathered to discuss state and federal education issues and vote on changes to the union's constitution, among other union activities.
The second-term governor has pledged to spend much of the state's $1.9 billion projected surplus on education. Dayton said that his signature legislative proposal -- universal access to preschool -- is one that would help close the state's glaring achievement gap.
But with four weeks left until the end of the legislative session, the plan has not gained traction with the Legislature. The GOP-led House and the DFL-led Senate did not include funding for it in the education bills they unveiled last week.
"Now is the time to make the push," Dayton told delegates. "Now is the time, these next four weeks where [the Legislature is] going to decide… and believe me, they need to hear from every one of you and every one of your members, every one of your friends and families, especially legislators in your districts. Hold them to the test."
Education Minnesota, which represents 70,000 educators throughout the state, last week launched a television ad campaign in support of Dayton's education agenda.
House Republicans' major tax legislation was released today, and, as promised, it offers up at least $2 billion in tax cuts to a range of Minnesotans, from income tax filers to Social Security recipients, military veterans to people with college debt, businesses and a plethora of other groups.
A summary of the bill can be found here.
"The overall direction is tax relief to middle-class Minnesotans. It's about helping seniors, military veterans, farmers and students," said Rep. Greg Davids, chairman of the House Taxes Committee and a Republican from Preston. Republicans will hold a news conference to discuss their plan Monday, and the House Taxes Committee will hold hearings on the Davids bill all week.
The GOP tax plan will face stiff resistance from DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who has proposed spending much of the projected $1.9 billion surplus on education and especially pre-kindergarten. The DFL-controlled Senate's budget targets are similar to Dayton's.
Davids said the biggest items in the bill include a $1,000 exemption for all income tax filers. A more modest form of Dayton's proposal for a child care tax credit is also included. Families with significant estates will get a break, as will Social Security recipients, retired military veterans, teachers seeking graduate degrees, doctors who perform charity care, buyers of propane tanks, cigarettes and bullion coins and many others.
Davids said last year he was unpersuaded about the problem of student debt, but became convinced a refundable tax credit on college loans, though a major hit to the state treasury, would draw new professionals from out of state and keep young Minnesotans here.
The bill also includes all the provisions of a major bill authored by Property Taxes and Local Government Finance Chairman Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, which cuts taxes, especially for farmers and businesses that own property and Minnesotans with seasonall cabins. That legislation has come under fire from many metro legislators because it cuts $85 million from local government aid, but only to Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth, which are DFL strongholds.
The Drazkowski bill will cost $363 million over the biennium, but because it phases out the commercial and industrial statewide levy over seven years, state coffers would take a ballooning hit over the longer term.
The Davids' tax legislation would also require significant offsetting cuts in government or increases in different revenue in the longer term because the cost of many of the provisions would increase over time.
Davids said his experience as House Taxes chairman in 2011, when the state faced a $6 billion deficit, made him keenly aware of the dangers of long term structural deficits. "I don't want the state to be in that situation again," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, has said he will not repeat his own experience of voting for tax cuts in the 1990s, only to see the state's budget in frequent crisis during the following decade.
Update: House DFL Minority Leader Paul Thissen released a statement that read, in part, "Republicans have made a choice that tax cuts for corporations and special interests are more important than educating our kids or investing in Minnesota's future."
A massive property tax bill that was making its way toward passage of a House committee this week offers big savings to farmers, businesses, industrialists and cabin owners, while also pushing bold policies like giving local voters a chance to undue a levy tax increase with a "reverse referendum."
Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, who is chairman of the Property Tax and Local Government Finance Division, is also known as a leader of the conservative wing of the Republican caucus.
The biggest item in the proposal is a major exemption and eventual phase-out of the commercial and industrial statewide property levy, which is a tax on businesses but also seasonal cabins. The measure would exempt the first $500,000 for commercial and industrial properties and the first $200,000 of seasonal cabins. It would cost state coffers $433 million during the biennium. The eventual phase-out would drive costs of the tax cut higher in the future, with a price tag of $917 million in the second biennium that would continue to grow.
The bill also tries to address the high cost of school bond levies for agriculture interests by providing a refundable income tax credit for farmers equal to 50 percent of the property tax they pay attributable to school debt levies.
The bill would save some money by reducing local government aid to just three cities, Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth, by a total of $85 million.
The total cost of the bill is $363 million over the biennium.
The House Taxes Committee is expected to incorporate these tax changes into its major bill, which Republicans say will offer $2 billion in tax cuts, in the coming days.
WASHINGTON -- For the fifth time, Democratic Sen. Al Franken wants to taste his colleagues' cooking.
On April 22, Franken will host the annual Hotdish competition -- a bipartisan cook-off for the ten members of the Minnesota Congressional delegation.
They borrow a big conference room in a Senate office building and each member has to furnish a dish for the event -- sometimes we wonder whether they cooked it themselves or had some, um, help. This year's judges are Star Tribune editorial writer Jill Burcum and MinnPost alum Devin Henry, who departed for The Hill recently.
"Sen. Franken started the friendly competition as a way to bring the delegation together to put partisanship aside and celebrate a Minnesota culinary tradition," Franken's staffers said in a statement.
Democratic Rep. Tim Walz's cooking seems to be a favorite. He took the top prize last year for his "Turkey Trot Tater-Tot Hotdish" and in 2013 for his "Hermann the German Hotdish."
(This was before my time, does that have sausage?)
In 2012, Franken's "Mom's Mahnomnin Madness Hotdish" and former Rep. Chip Cravaack's "Minnesota Wild Strata Hotdish" tied for first place.
Don't worry. We'll post photos of the event that day.
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate on Thursday was close to wrapping up its markup of the sprawling bipartisan overhaul to No Child Left Behind that, from most accounts, has inclusions that make both Democrats and Republicans uncomfortable.
Democratic Sen. Al Franken has been in the room all week trying to find accord with Republicans and said on Thursday the measure worried him in some key areas because he wants to keep robust accountability in place.
"I want a bipartisan solution ... and I'm hopeful that we can find common ground to improve the bill when it comes before the full Senate," he said in a statement.
Among amendments included that were authored by Franken:
-Mental Health In Schools: Allows schools to partner with community organizations to expand access to mental health services for students.
-Principal Training and Recruitment: Improves the preparation, placement and retention of effective principals.
-Accelerated Learning: Seeks to raise student academic achievement and save students and families cash through acclerated learning programs.
-STEM Education: Includes targeted funding for Science Technology Engineering and Math instruction and teacher development.
On the House side, Republican Rep. John Kline's bill to remake No Child Left Behind is stalled out because it didn't have enough support among Republicans. He said this week he is working on educating members and hopes for a vote soon.
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