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 major fault line between Republicans and the administration of Gov. Mark Dayton revealed itself today in a House committee, where Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, began hearing testimony on his major environment budget bill.
The heads of four state agencies with responsibility for protecting Minnesota's environment stated their opposition to the bill, saying it would fund their agencies in part by shifting money from special cleanup funds.
McNamara, the Republican chairman of the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee, alleged that the agency heads were not being transparent about administration pots of money.
"My frustration is I don't know what's in the bill!" he exclaimed in the hearing room, packed with lobbyists, activists and agency staff.
The bill also includes a number of contentious policy changes opposed by the Dayton administration, including provisions that would give the Legislature the power to approve or disapprove new environmental regulations.
The committee will continue to hear testimony this week and will likely pass the bill to the full House.
Gov. Mark Dayton visited Expo Elementary School in St. Paul today to highlight his ambitious prekindergarten agenda, even as the Legislature seems poised to scale it back.
Dayton has proposed using some of the state's nearly $2 billion surplus to spend $348 million on a universal pre-K plan that would also eliminate the Head Start waiting list of 2,500 and provide scholarships for at-risk children between infancy and three years old.
Dayton said pre-K and education more generally is his number one priority this session. He said he has adjusted his increase of the school funding formula from 1 to 1.5 percent.
The universal part of his prekindergarten plan seems likely to be cut back. Members of the Republican-controlled House have not included it in their budget targets, and a Senate education budget bill provides for scholarships rather than universal pre-K.
The Minnesota Department of Education estimates a universal approach would reach 50,000 children, whereas a scholarship approach to needy children would reach 20,000 kids.
Dayton kept the attention of the children in part by showing them photos of his dogs on his phone.
Gov. Mark Dayton delivers his fifth State of the State speech, and first of his second term, before a crowd of state lawmakers and other officials Thursday night in the House chamber.
Dayton said last week that his 7 p.m. speech would likely run about 30 minutes. He's expected to put a particular emphasis on what's become his signature proposal of the 2015 session, a multimillion dollar spending boost for early learning programs including universal preschool at Minnesota public schools.
Dayton will have a number of guests watching the speech at his invitation, including former Gov. Wendell Anderson, his son Eric Dayton; Ibrahim Mohamed, a Dayton appointee to the Metropolitan Airports Commission who drives a luggage cart at the Twin Cities airport; a father and daughter from Maxfield Elementary whom Dayton met on a visit to the school; a preschool teacher from Newport Elementary School; Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle, and the U of M and MnSCU chancellors.
Dayton's speech will be streamed live at Startribune.com. Political reporters Abby Simons and Patrick Condon will be tweeting about the speech at @ajillsimons and @patricktcondon. A full story about the speech will be posted online and published in Friday's newspaper.
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