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The Minnesota Legislature returns to work this week with DFLers in control and a long list of issues the new majority would like to tackle.
Gov. Mark Dayton is pushing for sweeping changes in the tax code, including higher taxes for the wealthiest 2 percent of Minnesotans. With one party in control of both the Legislature and the governor's residence, DFL leaders see a rare opportunity to push for other broad changes. There is talk of lowering property taxes, closing tax loopholes and broadening the sales tax to more categories while lowering the overall rate.
BUDGET AND BONDING
Overshadowing this year's legislative agenda is the projected $1.1 billion deficit the state is expected to face in two years. Both the governor and legislative leaders say they are planning austere budgets -- although they also are planning another bonding year to deal with statewide projects left off last year's pared-down budget. Projects from regional civic centers and light rail to the crumbling State Capitol could reap millions from the off-year bonding cycle.
One of the first issues the new Legislature must tackle is the rollout of the federal health care overhaul. Minnesota is hammering out its own plan for the new health insurance exchange, which will allow residents and small businesses to shop for the most affordable plans. The plans must be up and running by next year.
Dayton and the Legislature want an expansion of early childhood education and a closer partnership between higher education institutions and local businesses to ensure that young adults are getting training that matches available jobs. The state still owes Minnesota schools $1 billion in delayed payments from the recent budget deal. Republicans are pushing to repay that debt as quickly as possible. DFLers say it's time for a hard look at school funding in general, particularly the funding gap between districts where voters approve school levies and those that do not.
The school shooting in Connecticut is likely to fuel a legislative debate about school safety, gun regulations and mental health services.
After Minnesota voters rejected an effort to rewrite the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, some DFL legislators are ready to begin the debate about legalization. Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, believe they may still have the majorities they need to push legislation against abortion.
Is it time to move the primaries to June? Some legislators say yes. Expect additional debates on early voting and a continuation of last year's debate on voter identification and eligibility.