Sunday liquor sale supporters in the Minnesota Legislature are taking no chances this year.
The bipartisan, bicameral team of Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, and Rep. Jennifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, introduced seven different bills Thursday aimed at lifting or relaxing the state's longstanding ban on Sunday liquor sales.
"We are offering the Legislature a full spectrum of choices," Reinert, who pledged to have at least one of the bills out of Senate Commerce before the committee deadline, two weeks from now. "It is unreasonable to not make some progress on this in 2014, the 'unsession.' What better unsession issue than the repeal of a Prohibition-era ban that just does not fit in 21st Century Minnesota?"
The bills range from full repeal to proposals that would allow individual communities to decide for themselves whether they want to permit Sunday sales. There's also a proposal to place Sunday sales on the ballot as a constitutional amendment, and bills -- Reinert called them "baby steps" -- that would allow growler sales and allow tap rooms to open on Sunday.
Minnesota is one of only 12 states that does not allow liquor sales to open on Sunday. Every year, the issue comes up in the Legislature, and every year it either stalls in committee or gets resoundingly rejected by a floor vote.
The state's liquor lobby, and many small mom and pop liquor stores, have successfully argued that the ban could be bad for business. Instead of bringing in more sales, opponents say, it will simply spread six days of sales across seven.
Reinert countered that argument with a tongue-in-cheek bill that would ban Saturday liquor sales, as well as Sunday. Then, he said, liquor stores could concentrate six days' worth of business in just five.
"Now you have the same amount of expenses with just five days of expenses. Given the argument, I'm expecting a loud hurrah to come out of the (Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association), but somehow I don't think that's going to happen," said Reinert, noting that he has a list of 60 liquor stores around the state that support repeal.
"We know there's more momentum on this than we've ever seen at the Capitol," Reinert said.
"I have had members who have indicated to me that they are rethinking their position on the Sunday ban," Loon said. "And I think it's because of the range of options we've provided for members to consider."
The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association issued a statement blasting the repeal effort, warning that the only way stores will do more business is if Minnesotans do more drinking.
“When government changes the ‘rules’ that a private business is operating under it will have an effect on many businesses,” the statement said. “Some may do better, but we believe many businesses will see no benefit from the change and will experience increased costs in doing business. Unless alcohol consumption increases, our mom and pop stores will see increased costs without increased revenues.”
The statement continued: “The Legislature has overwhelmingly listened to the concerns of small business in the past and defeated attempts to change the rules. We hope they will continue to support the local business in their districts.
The Distilled Spirits Council, by contrast, praised the repeal plans. Seventeen other states have legalized Sunday sales since 2002.
“Nationally, states are repealing outdated Prohibition-era alcohol laws to increase consumer convenience and generate new revenue without raising taxes,” DISCUS Vice President Dale Szyndrowski said in a statement. “We urge Minnesota lawmakers to consider passing Sunday sales for consumers, small business owners and the treasury.”
For Loon, the issue boils down to a question of economic freedom.
"Some liquor store owners may not want to be open on Sunday, and I'm not here to tell you they have to be, or that I want them to be," she said. "What I'm saying is that there are liquor store owners who would like to be open on Sunday and there are consumers who would very much like to patronize liquor stores on Sunday, if that's when it works out for them to do their shopping. This is a change that is needed."
Gov. Mark Dayton wants to earmark a giant share of the state’s $1.2 billion projected budget surplus for tax relief and to build up the state’s budget reserves.
The DFL governor wants $616 million in tax breaks for businesses and middle-class Minnesotans, including the repeal of three new sales taxes on warehousing services and telecommunications equipment and repair. The proposal also includes tax relief for married couples, Minnesotans with student loan debt and working families.
“Our improving economy has greatly improved the state’s budget forecast – giving us the opportunity to put more money in the pockets of Minnesota families and businesses,” Dayton said. “I urge members from both parties to work together to pass these tax cuts quickly.”
The proposal now goes to the DFL controlled House and Senate, where legislators have their own ideas on how to spend the money. The Minnesota House is expected to give final passage to a $500 million package of tax relief Thursday afternoon.
Republicans have been generally supportive of the tax relief, but blasted Democrats for imposing more than $2 billion in new taxes last year and then wanting credit for giving some of it back now.
"It's Minnesotans' money," Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said recently. "Give it back."
About half of the proposed tax relief would undo tax increases Dayton and Democrats imposed last year to beat down a more than $600 million deficit, repay debt to public schools and increase money for education.
Dayton said those choices were prudent then, but the state's robust economic growth gives them the chance to make revisions that make the tax system more fair.
“For those people who say we are not using wisdom in our mid-course correction based on changing circumstances, they are not in touch with reality,” Dayton said.
The significant windfall is adding a dose of election-year drama to the legislative session as both Dayton the House face voters in November.
The state has emerged from the deepest recession since the Great Depression and has been able to refill depleted budget reserves and pay back nearly $3 billion owned to public schools. For the first time in more than a decade, legislators have their first true surplus to divvy up. The extra money offers many advantages, but brings a lot of headaches as legislative leaders feel growing pressure from cash-strapped activist organizations that rely on state funding.
"There are a lot of needs out there that I am not addressing and there are people who are going to be unhappy with that, and I regret that," Dayton said.
Dayton is proposing eliminating the so-called marriage penalty, which means 650,000 married will no longer pay higher taxes than singles making the same amount of money.
He also wants to expand the working family credit, which would save the average Minnesota family $334 a year.
The governor is also pushing a plan to expand tax credits for child care, saving the average taxpayer who qualifies $430 per a year.
College graduates with student debt would save an average of $140 a year, under the plan.
The governor is also proposing streamlining business taxes to make them square with federal laws, vastly simplifying recording keeping for small businesses.
Dayton’s plan includes additional tax breaks for seniors, teachers, homeowners and veterans.
The governor wants to do away with a much-criticized new sales tax on repair and maintenance of farm equipment. He is seeking greater tax breaks for start-up businesses and entrepreneurs.
The governor’s proposal also seeks to modify the estate tax and eliminate the gift tax, which has been widely criticized.
The proposal doubles the exemption on the estate tax, to $2 million. Minnesota would no longer be one of just a couple states to impose a gift tax, under the plan.
Dayton is urging legislators to act in the next couple weeks, giving the state time to implement the changes before Tax Day. Many of the proposed tax breaks would be retroactive to 2013, such as the adoption credit and an income tax break for people who lost their home to foreclosure or a short sale.
"Minnesotans should know if the Legislature doesn’t act, it will cost them some of the tax savings I am proposing," Dayton said.
Dayton is not proposing making the marriage penalty retroactive, saying it would be too cumbersome to implement in the final few days as Minnesotans file their taxes.
The governor is seeking some new spending, about $162 million. Much of that money would go for raises for state-paid health care workers and extra money for low-income heating assistance.
Dayton would devote an additional $30 million to retain critical corrections staffers and pay for the state’s growing prison population.
He wants to set aside an additional $3.5 million to ensure that low-income students get a hot school lunch.
An additional $3 million would be set aside to pay for additional borrowing to fund statewide construction projects.
Dayton wants to use the remainder, about $455 million, to increase the state’s existing budget reserves of about $661 million.
Elected leaders have generally been comfortable with the existing reserve levels, but the last downturn showed that the amount was not nearly enough.
Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter has said the larger reserve would give the state more cushion when the economy slides again.
The measure could also please the state’s credit agencies, which lowered the state’s credit-rating in recent years as the state relied on one-time accounting shifts and borrowing to nurse the state through the rough patch.
House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, praised the proposed revisions to the state budget.
“Minnesota is headed in the right direction and the way to continue building on our progress is to expand middle class economic opportunity,” he said. “Governor Dayton’s supplemental budget has the right priorities to continue growing our economy from the middle out.”
Republican congresswoman Rep. Michele Bachmann will speak at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in suburban Washington, D.C., this weekend.
She’ll share the stage Saturday morning with Tea Party Patriots President Jenny Beth Martin.
Bachmann’s speech at the 2013 conference drew national headlines and scrutiny from fact checkers.
In the days after her remarks, The Washington Post’s Fact Checker column awarded her eight “Pinocchios” – four for her claims about the federal food stamp programs and four more for claims about President Obama’s White House budget, which she said was filled with “perks and excess.”
Hosted by the American Conservative Union, the three-day conference showcases tea party activists, conservative opinion leaders and prospective GOP presidential candidates.
Bachmann has addressed CPAC events every year since 2010, often using the platform to criticize the Obama administration. Last year, she claimed that Obama went “AWOL” after a deadly attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya on September11, 2012.
Bachmann was one of just 15 House lawmakers to earn a 100 percent on the American Conservative Union’s recently released 2013 scorecard, a tool used to inform conservative voters about members of Congress.
Bachmann won’t be the only Minnesota lawmaker addressing the conference.
State Rep. Tara Mack, R-Apple Valley, has a midday Friday speaking slot, according to the event schedule.
The Republican-led House of Representatives voted Wednesday to delay the tax penalty Americans will pay under President Obama’s healthcare law if they decline to sign up for coverage this year.
The bill passed with support from 27 Democrats, including Minnesota congressmen Rick Nolan and Collin Peterson, backing the legislation.
The individual mandate requires most Americans to be enrolled in health coverage by March 31 or pay a tax penalty. The House legislation would delay the fine for one year.
The bill is expected to stall in the Democratic-controlled Senate and would face a White House veto even if it succeeded.
Peterson, a conservative Democrat, has voted for similar measures before.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee chaired by former Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, pounced on Nolan’s vote, calling it an “election year conversion.”
“He thinks he can pull a fast one on Minnesotans, right? With this vote, he’ll show them that he’s now protecting individuals from Obamacare, right?” an email from the political action committee read. “Except Minnesotans already know that Rick Nolan is an entrenched supporter of the health care law.”
Supporters of the GOP bill argue that individual consumers should be granted a delay because the Obama administration has postponed the implementation of several Affordable Care Act provisions that apply to businesses.
“No American should have to pay a penalty simply because the roll out of the Affordable Care Act has been so confusing. Moreover, if you’re going to give an exemption to businesses, you should also give an exemption to individuals. It’s only fair,” Nolan said in a statement. “We need to take the time to fix the enrollment glitches and get this right – and in the meantime allow the American people the common sense flexibility this one year delay provides.”
Over the weekend, local Minneapolis Republicans endorsed Abdimalik Mohamed Askar in his run for state House in Minneapolis.
His name might be familiar: he ran for president of Somalia a few years ago. Republican Party chair Keith Downey said he is the first Somali-American the party has backed.
"We are so pleased that Abdimalik Askar has stepped forward to run. It breaks new ground for Republicans to have endorsed someone from the Somali community, but more importantly he would represent his district so well," Downey said.
Askar is running in a heavily Democratic district. In 2012, longtime DFL Rep. Phyllis Kahn won re-election with 77 percent of the vote and Democratic President Obama won 75 percent of district's votes. This year, Kahn faces an endorsement challenge from Minneapolis School Board member Mahamud Noor.
"The reason why I'm running is very simple: I would like to improve...our district," Askar said in a video on his campaign web site. He said he would focus on education, including charter schools and school choice, crime reduction, creating opportunity for young people and advocating for small businesses.
He also said he shares anti-abortion values with Republicans and that he believes marriage should be only between a man and a woman. In 2012, a vast majority of the district rejected a ban on same-sex marriage. Last year, Minnesota legalized same sex marriage.