GOP senators refuse to be rushed on sweeping tax-relief measure

  • Article by: BAIRD HELGESON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 20, 2014 - 9:52 PM

Gov. Mark Dayton, DFLers criticized the Republican holdouts for delaying the time-sensitive bill.

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Senate Minority Leader David Hann

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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Partisan bickering delayed more than $430 million in Minnesota state tax relief Thursday when Republicans rejected DFL efforts to rush passage of the measure.

“Just because Gov. [Mark] Dayton and the Democrats had a meltdown this week doesn’t mean the Senate should set aside our rules and rush this important tax bill,” said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. “There’s an old saying: Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”

Dayton and DFL leaders have rushed to pass the measure to ensure the largest number of Minnesotans can take advantage of more than $50 million in retroactive tax relief by April 15. Senate DFLers used a rare procedure to try to speed passage by a day, but Republicans in the minority used their limited muscle to delay the vote until Friday.

Earlier in the week, Dayton chastised Senate DFLers for not passing the measure swiftly enough. On Thursday, Dayton and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, joined together to direct their wrath at Republicans.

“There is no good reason for Senate Republicans to block the bill’s passage,” Dayton said. If Republican legislators force any further delays, “they will be solely responsible for denying income tax cuts to thousands of Minnesotans.”

The measure is nearly certain to pass Friday because Republicans are out of options to block it.

Minnesota Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans said that every day is crucial as the tax filing deadline nears. Revenue officials are scrambling to make all the changes so they can kick in by April 1, giving an estimated 1.1 million Minnesotans who have not filed time to adjust their taxes. Minnesotans who have student loan debt, adopted children or lost their home to foreclosure would see some of the biggest relief on their 2013 taxes.

“Today, March 20, is an absolute deadline,” Frans said.

House Speaker Paul Thissen said the House is committed to passing the measure swiftly once the Senate sends it over. “I’m hopeful we can get it done as quickly as possible,” said Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.

Passing a tax relief measure would be a significant political coup for Dayton and House DFLers, who are up for re-election in November. The measure also contains the first significant tax breaks in years, paid for out of the state’s $1.2 billion projected budget surplus.

Senate DFLers are insisting on setting aside $150 million to build up the state’s budget reserves, boosting the rainy-day fund to about $800 million. The measure now includes Dayton’s provisions to do away with the gift tax and expand the estate tax exemption to $2 million, up from $1 million.

Republicans said they have not had enough time to review the measure, which passed out of the Senate Taxes Committee early Wednesday.

“The public had no access to this bill,” said Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge. “We are not slowing down the process, we are just not expediting the process.”

Bakk called the Senate’s refusal to speed the process “shenanigans.”

“I think it’s a bit disingenuous for people to say they can’t do it today because they haven’t read it. It’s 62 pages and they had it yesterday,” Bakk said. “I don’t believe that that’s the reason.”

The measure includes the repeal of several new business sales taxes, including one on warehousing services that takes effect in less than two weeks.

Republicans have ripped Dayton for suggesting he was not fully aware of the new sales taxes when he signed them into law last year, and is now trying to do away with them after enduring blistering criticism.

“Minnesotans want us to get this done right,” said Assistant Senate Minority Leader Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria.

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