Minnesota would spend an addition $209 million for education, prisons and raises for state-paid home health workers, under a proposal that passed through the state Senate on Tuesday.
“There are many things in here that are desirous,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul.
The 37-27 vote came after a prolonged floor debate in which Republicans repeatedly failed to amend the measure. Republicans have pushed for deeper tax cuts instead of more spending.
“Minnesotans have once again been denied additional tax relief," said Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake. She called the measure "a disappointing display of misplaced priorities.”
DFL legislators who control both the House and Senate are trying to finish up the spending measures that they are paying for out of the state’s $1.2 billion projected budget surplus for he remainder of the budget cycle. Already, legislators have earmarked about $550 million for business and consumer tax relief and another $150 million for the state’s rainy-day fund.
The Senate proposal includes several provisions with strong bipartisan support, including 5 percent raises for home health workers, which will cost about $80 million.
“We support this,” said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. “This is something that was neglected in the budget last year.”
The proposal also includes a $2 million-a-year boost to state nursing homes to offset a measure to raise the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour.
An unexpected increase in criminal convictions prompted Democratic legislators to set aside an additional $11 million to pay for the growth in the state prison population and the cost of renting beds from county jails.
The Minnesota Department of Corrections reported that incarcerations were up 8 percent over earlier estimates, which is an average of 513 extra offenders each year.
Law enforcement officials say the increased incarcerations come from a wide range of crimes, including a 23 percent jump in methamphetamine convictions, a 15 percent increase in DWI offenders, a 5 percent increase in criminal sexual conduct convictions. Corrections officials logged a decrease in prisoners for non-methamphetamine drug offenses.
The proposal adds millions in new spending on elementary education, including $8.8 million in early learning scholarships. The proposal sets aside money to bridge the disparity gap for minority students and for teacher evaluations.
Senators also included $3.5 million to ensure that all low-income students have a hot school lunch.
The measure also includes a one-time appropriation of $2.5 million to deal with financial challenges at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
The Senate measure differs from the House, so a special conference committee will try to resolve differences between the two. The measure increases spending by more than $741 million in the next budget cycle, ending in 2017.
Gov. Mark Dayton said Minnesota legislators are “hiding behind their desks” on a proposal to legalize medical marijuana.
Parents of children with seizure disorders have lambasted the governor’s opposition to legalizing medical marijuana, saying he is the only person standing between their children and the herb that could help them.
The governor offered to enroll the children in a Mayo Clinic study that could provide relief, but so far the parents have rejected the offer, saying similar studies never worked in other states.
It remains far from certain supporters even have the votes in the Legislature to legalize medical marijuana.
DFL Rep. Carly Melin, a strong backer of the proposal from Hibbing, said she believes the votes are there, but so far House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, has not called for a vote.
Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, has authored a new proposal to legalize medical marijuana, but House officials say that proposal will not get a floor vote.
When asked if he would veto a medical marijuana measure if it got to his desk, Dayton put the pressure squarely back on legislators. “Let’s see them vote,” he said Tuesday.
With just over a month remaining in the legislative session, the governor said he believes Democratic lawmakers are spending too much of the projected $1.2 billion surplus.
He did not quarrel with the items legislators wanted to spend money on, but warned against spending so much the state goes back into deficit in coming years.
He did not threaten to line-item veto any new spending, saying he hopes to work it out with legislative leaders later this month.
The governor also said he’d like to spend closer to $1 billion on statewide construction projects, saying the state can easily afford the extra debt payments.
Legislative leaders agreed to $850 million in new borrowing last year, but the state’s improving finances and billions of dollars in worthy projects has Dayton pressing for more.
Dayton was particularly critical of the amount designated for higher education buildings and projects, which he has said is inadequate.
Minnesota can't have a first-rate higher education system with third-rate facilities, Dayton said.
By the end of the week, the Minnesota Legislature will approve a measure to hike the state's minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, DFL leaders said on Monday.
The deal on minimum wage will allow DFL lawmakers to start with April recess next week with another major agenda item ticked off.
"This session is really starting to come together," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook.
The final agreement would phase in the wage hike by 2016, by which time most large businesses would have to pay their workers $9.50 an hour. Smaller businesses, those with gross sales under $500,000 a year, would be able to pay workers $7.75. Businesses employing workers aged 16 and 17, teenage workers during a 90-day training period and workers in the country on J1 visas would also be permitted to pay employees $7.75 an hour.
After 2018, the minimum wage would continue to rise as inflation increases. Those increases would be capped at 2.5 percent, meaning that the most that year's wage could be is $9.74 an hour.
“I congratulate the House and Senate leaders for reaching agreement on Minimum Wage legislation. I am very pleased that it will raise Minnesota's minimum wage to $9.50 per hour, and index it to inflation. I look forward to signing this legislation into law,” DFL Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement.
The deal would also allow the Department of Labor and Industry to suspend any automatic increases during a "substantial downturn in the economy."
The hard-fought deal won praise from the Raise the Wage Coalition, a group of advocates that have long pushed for a minimum wage increase.
"This is great news for all Minnesotans," the group said in a statement.
President of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota Jamie Gulley said that a minimum wage hike with an automatic inflator "will improve the lives of working families in Minnesota who have been left behind for far too long. ”
But the deal won brickbats from Republicans running for governor. Both Sen. Dave Thompson and Rep. Kurt Zellers, two of the half a dozen Republicans seeking to oust Dayton this year, said immediately after DFL leaders announced the wage deal that they would work to rescind the wage increase and the automatic inflator if they became governor.
Zellers said he would support raising the wage to $7.25 an hour, which is the current federal minimum.
If the deal announced Monday becomes law as expected, the first increase -- to $8 an hour -- would be in place by August of this year.
Patrick Condon contributed to this report.
Here's the language of the measure:
See our live blog of the 10:30 a.m. deal announcement below.
Minnesota homeowners, renters and businesses would get about $103 million in property tax relief under a proposal that sailed unanimously through the state House on Friday.
Homeowners would see a one-time increase in homestead credits, providing $12.1 million in property tax relief to 500,000 Minnesotans. Renters will get a one-time increase in a tax credit, totaling $12.5 million for 350,000 Minnesotans. Farmers will get $18 million in property tax relief.
“Our economy is growing and we have already cut taxes for more than 1 million middle-class Minnesotans,” said House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul. “Instead of catering to wealthy special interests, this bill provides a further boost to middle-class homeowners, renters, farmers and small businesses.”
House Taxes Committee Chairwoman Ann Lenczewski said the tax relief will aid the state’s economic recovery. “We believe this is a responsible way to continue expanding our economy from the middle-out while maintaining our stable budget into the future,” said Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington.
The measure includes several business tax breaks, including a statewide property tax exemption for commercial and industrial businesses worth less than $150,000. All businesses with property valued at less than $1.1 million will get a tax break, under the plan.
The DFL-controlled Legislature already passed more than $443 million in tax cuts for more than 1.1 million Minnesotans.
Republicans have criticized Democrats for not returning more of the state's $1.2 billion projected budget surplus.
The measure now goes to the Minnesota Senate for consideration. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has been supportive of tax relief measures this year.
Gov. Mark Dayton is closer to getting a significant political win as major pieces of his government streamlining effort race though the Legislature.
Dayton’s administration unveiled a plan to do away with more than 1,000 antiquated or outdated laws that gunk up legal books and make government more aggravating for consumers.
Some of the proposals have fallen away, but a few new ones were added – keeping the totally around 1,000 proposals. All have passed crucial committees and are close to final passage.
“They are all in good shape,” said Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board Commissioner Tony Sertich, who has been guiding the initiatives through the legislative process.
Sertich and some of Dayton’s top policy experts have met privately with stakeholders to work though problems with some of the more controversial measures, such as efforts to shorten the state's rule-making process.
Sertich said he doesn’t expect significant trouble for the remaining proposals awaiting final passage. None of the measures being considered have any cost for taxpayers.
The streamlining effort, which Dayton dubbed the “unsession,” has been a significant initiative for the governor, even if has slipped from the spotlight due to the state’s projected budget surplus.
On Monday, Dayton sent a letter to all 33,000 state employees thanking them for their hundreds of ideas to improve state government.
“I believe this initiative will help state employees deliver high-value, efficient services to Minnesotans – reducing confusion, saving time, and improving customer satisfaction,” Dayton wrote in the letter.
Dayton's office also produced a touting the improvements that will come from the government streamlining effort.