Minnesota's legislative Democrats have struck a deal to raise the wages of the state's lowest paid workers.
Monday morning, House Speaker Paul Thissen, House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, along with key negotiators of the minimum wage measure will announce they've come to agreement. The Star Tribune has been told by two sources with the knowledge of the deal that it would hike the wage to $9.50 an hour and would link future increases to increases in inflation.
"I feel really good," said Deputy Senate Majority Leader Jeff Hayden, a Minneapolis DFLer who had long worked on the minimum wage issue. "I think there are going to be a tremendous amount of smiles (tomorrow.)"
The agreement will likely end what has been a major source of tension at the Capitol and allow lawmakers be lay claim to giving hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans a wage boost. According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, more than 350,000 Minnesota workers held jobs that paid less than $9.50 an hour, many of them in greater Minnesota.
Business leaders have warned that raising the wage too fast by too much could mean fewer jobs or business loses.
After the DFL took over control of the Legislature last year, advocates expected lawmakers would raise the state's minimum wage from $6.15 an hour, one of the nation's lowest. Despite increasing pressure to hike the wage floor, a national campaign led by President Obama to raise the federal minimum and other states moving their minimum wages up, Minnesota DFLers were stymied.
After a months' long campaign Senate Democrats began the year backing a gradual increase to $9.50 an hour, one of the nation's highest. That's the rate both House Democrats, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and advocates insisted upon.
But the details of the measure still kept negotiations at a standstill between the House and Senate.
Senate leaders insisted they could not get 34 votes for a $9.50 an hour minimum wage that included so called indexing, which would mean future wage rates would be adjusted upward.
That left House and Senate leaders at an uncomfortable standstill over one of many Democrats top priorities of the session.
"The bottom line, to me, if the Senate wants to kill the bill, they should just tell Minnesotans directly and stop playing games with it," House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said last month.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said while he would support the House's plans, he could not get enough members to do so.
Despite that, in recent weeks, unions and other Democratic allies held rallies, delivered postcards and contacted senators to campaign for the wage increase.
Last month, a group of nine DFL senators pleaded with Bakk in a letter to end the delay.
"Recently, some in our caucus have been re-thinking the indexing issue. As a result, they have decided to lend their support. We are reaching out to you now to enlist your support, as well," said a letter sent to Bakk in mid-March. "Please help us pass this bill. It’s the right thing to do."
The letter was signed by Sens. Sandy Pappas, Patricia Torres Ray, Alice Johnson, Chris Eaton, Susan Kent, Barb Goodwin, Bev Scalze, Melissa Wiklund and Kari Dziedzic. Eaton is the chair of the conference committee charged with finding a compromise on minimum wage.
The breakthrough on minimum wage came just after a breakthrough on another contentious issue at the Capitol: a new senate office building. Bakk had long insisted the new building was needed.
On Friday, House leaders agreed to approve the building.
Many Republicans and some Democrats had said that draft plans for the building were too luxurious and at $90 million, including parking structures, were too expensive especially since the building would not have housed all 67 senators.
The plans House leaders approved last week actually increased the total cost of the building but stripped out some amenities and a parking ramp. Senate leaders are expected to give the building their final okay this week, clearing the way for construction of a $77 million office space.
Minnesota homeowners, renters and businesses would get about $103 million in property tax relief under a proposal that sailed unanimously through the state House on Friday.
Homeowners would see a one-time increase in homestead credits, providing $12.1 million in property tax relief to 500,000 Minnesotans. Renters will get a one-time increase in a tax credit, totaling $12.5 million for 350,000 Minnesotans. Farmers will get $18 million in property tax relief.
“Our economy is growing and we have already cut taxes for more than 1 million middle-class Minnesotans,” said House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul. “Instead of catering to wealthy special interests, this bill provides a further boost to middle-class homeowners, renters, farmers and small businesses.”
House Taxes Committee Chairwoman Ann Lenczewski said the tax relief will aid the state’s economic recovery. “We believe this is a responsible way to continue expanding our economy from the middle-out while maintaining our stable budget into the future,” said Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington.
The measure includes several business tax breaks, including a statewide property tax exemption for commercial and industrial businesses worth less than $150,000. All businesses with property valued at less than $1.1 million will get a tax break, under the plan.
The DFL-controlled Legislature already passed more than $443 million in tax cuts for more than 1.1 million Minnesotans.
Republicans have criticized Democrats for not returning more of the state's $1.2 billion projected budget surplus.
The measure now goes to the Minnesota Senate for consideration. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has been supportive of tax relief measures this year.
A panel of House lawmakers has approved a controversial plan to build a new, $77 million office building for state senators next to the Capitol.
The House Rules Committee narrowly moved the project forward Friday on a split vote of 14-13, with Republicans and one Democratic lawmaker opposed but the rest of the committee's DFL majority in favor. The House altered plans for the building that were previously approved by the Senate, chopping about $13 million off the price tag by scrapping a parking ramp and some amenities including a fitness center.
The House plan also added to the building's total square footage so that it contains office space for all 67 senators, instead of 44 of them as originally planned.
House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, called the revised plan "the least expensive option and the best long-term option."
The project has been touchy for Democrats, with Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk arguing that it's needed in order to provide space for senators during and after an ongoing renovation of the Capitol building. But Republicans have harshly criticized the project, calling it not necessary, and even DFL Gov. Mark Dayton criticized the original plans as overly lavish and said he thinks it could hurt his party in November.
The House had moved slowly to give its approval, but the House panel's vote on Friday moves the issue toward resolution and removal of a potential obstacle toward peaceful resolution of an issue that has been dividing Democrats.
The building plans still must clear several steps before contractors can break ground. The Senate Rules Committee, which Bakk chairs, must sign off on the House's changes. That panel is meeting Monday. After that, a committee overseeing the Capitol renovation project must also give its stamp.
In addition, construction can't proceed until final resolution of a lawsuit trying to block the building that's currently before the state Supreme Court.
The Minnesota Senate appears to be one step closer to getting a new office building.
The House Rules committee, which had blocked the controversial building from moving forward, plans to meet on Friday to give the building its approval.
A host of Republicans and some Democrats have raised questions about the $90 million plans to construct a new building to house senators and build some parking places.
Critics questioned the expense and the idea that the new office building would not house all 67 senators.
Gov. Mark Dayton last month accused the DFLers in the Senate of holding a tax cut bill hostage because senators wanted progress on the building. Republican candidates for governor put aside their differences to bash Dayton for approving legislation that allowed the building to move forward last year.
That legislation required both the Senate Rules committee and the House Rules committee to approve the building plans before they could be put into action. The House Rules committee had so far refused to give their approval.
That approval may come on Friday but the construction plans may change.
On Thursday, House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said the House still believes it is crucial that if the House is to approve the new building that all senators get offices there.
"We believe and we've always said that the new building should house 67 offices for the 67 senators," Murphy said.
One of the scenarios the Department of Administration has presented recently would house all senators in a new building for a slightly cheaper cost than the original plans considered. See that alternative and others here.
If the House committee does approve an alternative plan, it is likely the Senate Rules committee would have to approve it as well, said Amos Briggs, spokesman for the Senate. The Senate committee voted for the original plan early this year.
The House also asked Dayton's administration about alternatives to the building and whether the Senate could lease space elsewhere during the renovation of the Capitol, which will force DFL Senators out of their current offices.
The administration replied back on Thursday, essentially saying that alternatives could be just as expensive or unworkable.
Here's that letter:
Updated and corrected
The Minnesota Senate will meet Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, but not convene on a rare Saturday session as initially planned, Majority Leader Tom Bakk said Tuesday.
Bakk’s Tuesday floor announcement, likely met with a sigh of relief by staffers, follows initial plans for the body to meet on the weekend to pass its budget measure. They’ll likely do it Monday instead.
The announcement followed a notification from the Senate information office that a Saturday session would occur. That message was rescinded 20 minutes later.
Some of this week’s floor sessions could prove lengthy.
On Thursday, the Senate plans to take up DFL Sen. Scott Dibble’s controversial anti-bullying legislation. The bill has sparked lengthy debate between advocates and lawmakers in opposition who say it goes too far to protect certain classes of children.
On Wednesday afternoon, DFL Sen. Susan Kent, a supporter of the measure, will host a "Twitter townhall," whereby Minnesotans with questions about the bullying bill can join a discussion about it using the hashtag #SafeSchoolsMN. Kent, a supporter of the measure, will start the discussion at 2 p.m.
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