Key issues stall in Minnesota Legislature

  • Article by: BAIRD HELGESON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 30, 2014 - 11:59 AM

Majority leaders try for agreement after new building and minimum wage talks stagnate.

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Advocates rallied for a higher minimum wage, as inflation remained a sticking point.

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A $90 million new Senate office building and parking ramp. A minimum-wage increase. Nearly $1 billion in new state-backed construction projects.

These controversial initiatives are turning what was touted as the “unsession” into the typical fractious legislative session — except this time it’s DFLer vs. DFLer.

While they are in firm control of the House, the Senate and the governor’s office, DFLers have not agreed on the two major issues hanging over the Capitol — the minimum-wage hike and the proposed office building.

With House and Senate DFLers divided, Republicans see a rare opening as they prepare for an election season in which control of state government hangs in the balance.

House Speaker Paul Thissen and House DFLers are determined to pass the $9.50 minimum-wage increase this year; it has the strong support of labor and low-income advocacy groups.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and other Senate DFLers remain firmly opposed to a provision that would automatically raise the base wage along with inflation, creating uncertainty for business owners and the potential for new infighting when the inflation debate resurfaces each session.

Senate DFLers remain just as committed to the new building for members, freeing up space in the Capitol and a neighboring building where GOP senators are stuffed into tiny offices, some in a grim basement.

House DFLers are concerned about the cost of the glass-faced building that some have described as opulent and that DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has called “unMinnesotan.”

Both initiatives have been frozen for weeks, stalled by bickering or outright silence.

A powerful House committee is the last thing blocking a final go-ahead for the building. House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, has been talking to the administration about other space options for the Senate and about whether a new building could be constructed for less expense.

Ready to deal?

Bakk, meanwhile, dove into the minimum-wage debate with an idea of his own — a proposed constitutional amendment to raise the minimum wage and let voters decide on tying it to inflation, a move that would snuff out a political win for Thissen in an election year.

Thissen, of Minneapolis, rejected the idea outright: “I am not sure that the minimum wage is something that fits in the Constitution.”

Rank-and-file legislators say privately that the best and most likely solution is some kind of deal that covers both issues. Under such a scenario, Senate DFLers would give some ground on the wage hike and House leaders would approve the new building.

Bakk dismissed the idea of connecting the two measures.

“I don’t see any pathway where anything can be linked to the minimum wage,” he said.

After a week of stagnation and Republicans bashing the building project, Thissen and Bakk talked privately Friday morning, emerging with a new willingness to resolve the issues that have divided them for weeks.

“I’d like to make a deal,” said Bakk, of Cook.

  • related content

  • Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, who has leading negotiations on the minimum wage, paused after a news conference to talk with Minnesota Citizens for the Arts on the front steps of the Capitol. House and Senate DFLers are divided on tying the wage to inflation.

  • Top issues left

    Senate office building: $90 million office building and parking ramp

    Minimum wage: Boost from $6.15 to $9.50; House wants automatic inflation adjustment

    State-backed construction: About $850 million in borrowing, another $125 million cash

    Tax relief: House proposes $100 million in additional breaks for property owners, renters, military veterans

    Easter-Passover break: April 10-22

    Adjournment: May 19

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