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House Speaker Kurt Zellers

Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

Economic forecast: Feb. 29

Feb. 29 comes around once every four years, and this year it may bring another unusual event: a positive economic forecast. State economists have picked that day to release their updated state budget forecast. The November forecast predicted an unexpected $876 million surplus for the rest of the two-year budget cycle.

Tweet of the week

From @jkboyne (Jodi Boyne, public affairs director, Minnesota Republican House caucus) "Will sports facilities/domes be next 'golf course' dilemma for local govts. Build them. Low use. Don't make money. Burden cites/taxpayers."

The week ahead

Gov. Mark Dayton is slated to release his borrowing bill proposal on Tuesday.

GOP debates supermajority to raise taxes

  • January 14, 2012 - 5:41 PM

It's an article of faith at the State Capitol that the GOP legislative majorities do not like tax increases.

Now they are kicking around an idea that could prevent tax increases even if they are not in the majority.

A constitutional amendment up for discussion this year would require a 60 percent "supermajority" vote of legislators to raise taxes, an idea that has some fans in Republican leadership and already has some organized opposition.

"It is something that obviously is being considered," said House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove. "It's important. It's important to me."

The state Constitution already requires a three-fifths vote in each chamber to pass borrowing bills.

"For me it is real simple: If you need 81 votes to borrow money, why shouldn't you need 81 votes to raise money, to raise taxes?" Zellers said.

Zellers said the amendment is something he personally favors -- he's a co-author of the House version of the bill -- but he said he wouldn't bring it up unless he is sure the move to put it on the ballot will pass and his caucus wants it.

Some members of the Republican caucus are already cool to the idea.

Rep. Greg Davids, chairman of the House Taxes Committee, said that although he is against raising taxes, he has "some concerns that you would stifle Minnesota government for a long time" if the amendment passed.

But he said that, as a committee chairman, he would not keep discussion from moving forward. "I am not going to put it in my lower left-hand desk drawer and lock it up so it never sees the light of the day," said Davids, R-Preston.

New Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, is not sure whether the supermajority amendment should come forward. "It will certainly get discussion. We really haven't decided on these things," he said.

Despite that uncertainty, opponents are already gearing up against it.

"There is a growing coalition of organizations working to defeat this," said Republican Randy Wilson, mayor of Glencoe and vice president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. "This is horrible public policy. It is incredibly short-sighted, will skyrocket property taxes and will lead to partisan gridlock like we have never seen before in Minnesota."

The fear is that if it become enshrined in the Constitution, Minnesota would end up with tangles like those in California or Colorado, which have voter-approved budget strictures in place. Opponents say those strictures handcuff lawmakers from making the best budget decisions, while backers say raising taxes and increasing spending should be difficult.

To get on the ballot, the constitutional amendment would require the approval of a simple majority of lawmakers in each house. Republicans hold majorities in both the House and the Senate, and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has no role in approving or disapproving amendment proposals.

To become part of the state Constitution, the amendment would need the support a majority of Minnesotans voting in the 2012 election.

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