Republican leaders of the Minnesota Legislature gave a chilly reception to the budget proposal that Gov. Mark Dayton released Tuesday, arguing that it spends too big over the next two years and doesn't go far enough in setting priorities for state government.
"He is spending every penny of this," House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said of the state's current $1 billion budget surplus. "We are also a little disappointed in the lack of returning some of the money back to Minnesotans."
The budget blueprint that Dayton submitted to legislators Tuesday calls for a total of $42 billion in state spending for the two years that start on July 1. Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, pointed out that the size of the two-year budget was $34 billion when Dayton took office.
"That is a big increase in spending," Hann said.
By far the largest share of spending boosts in the Dayton proposal would go to schools, both an increase in per-pupil payments to schools, and specific increases in programs that target early learning. Republicans criticized that approach, saying education programs demand "reforms" aimed at increasing student performance.
"It spends more money doing the same things we've done the last 15 to 20 years, and we have not seen any results so far, and somehow we're expected to believe that's going to improve education and make it excellent?" Hann said.
Daudt did say he supported Dayton's proposal to boost spending for early reading programs. But he said he was disappointed Dayton did not propose additional state money for nursing homes, which has been a high priority for the new House Republican majority.
The only major piece of tax relief in Dayton's proposal is a $100 million child care tax credit. Republicans said they were open to that, although Daudt said Dayton's proposed income ceiling of $124,000 might be too high. "I'm not sure that's the kind of folks that need that kind of tax relief," Daudt said.
Republicans were not forthcoming with details of their own budget priorities. Daudt said Republicans would not start assembling budget bills until after the next state economic forecast, in late February. He also said Republicans were not yet ready to say how much under $42 billion the next budget should be.
Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday provided no additional funding for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system because of an ongoing dispute between the system's administration and faculty over long-term planning.
The dispute centers over for MnSCU's handling of a controversial strategic plan called “Charting the Future,” which is supposed to overhaul operations at the system’s 24 two-year colleges and seven four-year universities.
The faculty and administration issued a joint statement:
“We take the governor’s decision not to recommend new funding for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) at this time very seriously and we appreciate the governor's commitment to supporting MnSCU and its vital mission of ensuring access to an affordable, high value education for all Minnesotans and meeting the workforce needs of Minnesota.
We understand and share the governor’s concerns and are taking positive steps and having substantive dialogue to resolve our disagreements regarding Charting the Future. We are all committed to continuing our progress and are confident of a positive outcome. ”
Less than a week after tax filing season began for most Minneosatons, Gov. Mark Dayton signed legislation updating the state's tax code to bring in line with recent federal tax changes that will provide $20 million in tax breaks for school teachers, homeowners paying mortgage insurance and college students.
HF 6 over the weekend became the session's first law. It sailed through the House and Senate as lawmakers raced to get the bill approved for Dayton's signature.
Because tax filing season for most Minnesotans opened Jan. 20, the Legislature acted quickly to avoid forcing taxpayers who have already filed to submit amended state returns.
"We needed quick legislative action to ensure a smooth tax filing season for the thousands of taxpayers who began filing their taxes this week,” said Revenue Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly in a statement. "We applaud lawmakers and the Governor for their timely, bipartisan effort to pass this bill and make filing easier for Minnesota taxpayers.
Known as tax-conformity bills, this legislation comes up frequently at the Capitol. Every time Congress updates the tax code, states must decide whether to conform or leave taxpayers to navigate the difference between their state and federal filings.
Among the changes in the offing for Minnesota’s tax code:
• Teachers could deduct up to $250 in out-of-pocket classroom expenses. This change would affect as many as 60,000 filers.
• Extending the itemized deduction for mortgage insurance premiums that would affect 60,000 returns.
• A deduction for higher education, between $2,000 and $4,000 — depending on income — that would allow Minnesotans to write off college-related expenses. The income threshold for single filers would be $80,000 and $160,000 for joint filers. An estimated 9,000 filers are expected to qualify.
(This post has been updated)
When the newly renovated and remodeled Minnesota Capitol debuts in early 2017, it will feature what planners are describing as a major boost in the amount of space and facilities that are open and available to the public.
That includes a third-floor "Cass Gilbert Library," named after the building's original architect, that will be illuminated by a series of newly recovered, original skylights that have been boarded up for decades. Also new to the Capitol will be a public information center, an increase in the number of bathrooms and elevators, two reservable public dining rooms and a couple of public classrooms, and a room for mothers of young children.
"This is going to be some really fantastic public and available space that will restore a lot of the 1905 original architecture," Matt Massman, commissioner of the Department of Administration, said Thursday at a meeting of the Capitol Preservation Commission, a panel led by Gov. Mark Dayton that's overseeing the $273 million renovation project. The Capitol originally opened to the public in 1905.
Dayton and the panel of lawmakers signed off on a "space allocation agreement" at the Thursday meeting, after several weeks of negotiation between Gov. Mark Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and House Speaker Kurt Daudt. By striking a deal late Wednesday and making it official Thursday, the elected leaders just avoided what construction managers warned would have been costly delays if the space negotiations had continued to drag on.
The final deal left the Senate with considerably less space in the remade Capitol, both compared to before the renovation and to what Bakk had originally sought. Pre-renovation, a total of 39 state senators had offices in the Capitol; Bakk said he had sought 23 senator offices after the construction, but in the end he settled for four.
That leaves 63 senators who will have offices in a new Senate office building that's currently under construction north of the Capitol. That project has been politically controversial, but Bakk said it created the space that's needed to create more public space in the remade Capitol, and to give more room in the big building for the governor's office and the House.
"The Capitol would permanently be a Senate office building if it weren't for that project across the street," Bakk said.
The four Senate offices that remain in the Capitol will likely go to the majority and minority leaders, and likely two top committee chairs. Bakk stressed that no state senator would have more than one office. Rep. Paul Torkelson, a House Republican on the preservation panel, said no House members would have permanent office space in the new Capitol. House members all have offices in another adjacent building, the uncreatively named State Office Building.
The governor's office is gaining about 7,000 square feet of space in the renovated Capitol, while the House will gain about 2,700 square feet of additional space. The Senate is surrendering nearly 43,000 square feet of space.
In recent months, the premier building of Minnesota government has been rung by scaffolding and wrapped in sheets of white canvas as work crews execute the renovation. Major portions of the building are currently closed off to lawmakers and the public alike even as the 2015 session has gotten underway. The renovation project is scheduled to be finished up in time for the 2017 legislative session.
As many as 130,000 Minnesota families could receive state help to reduce the cost of child care and dependent care for the elderly under a proposal by Gov. Mark Dayton unveiled Tuesday.
Dayton, the two-term DFL governor, said the initiative would provide direct tax relief that could reduce the cost of child care and dependent care for working families.
"Rising childcare costs have put hard financial strains on many Minnesota families, making it increasingly difficult for working parents to hold their jobs while assuring quality care for their children," Dayton said in a statement. "My Child Care Tax Credit helps to provide Minnesota families with options -- so they don't have to choose between working and caring for their families."
The proposal would provide about $100 million direct tax relief. Under Dayton's plan, the average family would receive $481; the maximum benefit would be $2,100 for eligibile families.
Photo: Gov. Mark Dayton gives his inaugural address earlier this month at the Landmark Center in St. Paul. (Leila Navidi/Star Tribune)