Minnesota legislators resume the 2015 session Tuesday with much left to accomplish and six weeks to do it if they want to avoid a special session.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s ambitious education and transportation spending proposals face serious challenges from the radically different priorities of the GOP-controlled House.
With his popularity as high as ever in the polls, Dayton crafted a 2015 legislative agenda that would funnel most of a $2 billion projected budget surplus into government programs, the majority of it for schools. That plan collides with House Republicans’ goal of hefty tax cuts.
Also at stake is Dayton’s call for a wholesale gas-tax increase needed to fund his $11 billion transportation proposal. While both parties proclaim the importance of rebuilding the state’s roads and bridges, they would take wildly divergent paths to pay for those improvements.
Here’s a look at the major debates to come:
State budget: Three major players, three contrasting visions. Dayton’s $42 billion spending plan for 2016-17 raises state spending by small amounts in most areas but reserves bigger spending hikes for public schools and colleges, and includes about $200 million in tax benefits for working families, for purchasing child care and paying education expenses. Senate DFLers want smaller education spending increases, more tax cuts and $250 million in budget reserves. House Republicans want by far the most tax cuts, more than $2 billion worth, even smaller education spending increases, more than $1 billion in reduced spending on low-income health and service programs, and cuts to other state programs.
Transportation: Broad roads and bridges spending plans from Dayton and Senate DFLers rely on revenue from a new, wholesale gas tax as well as license tab fee increases, while also implementing a Twin Cities sales tax hike for transit. While the DFL plans hover around $11 billion over a decade, House Republicans are touting a $7 billion plan that avoids tax increases by diverting general fund dollars and leveraging the state’s debt capacity.
Minimum wage: Dayton has said he’s not inclined to back a bill, passed by House Republicans, to lower the state minimum wage for tipped workers. But the legislation has a few DFL backers, making it the kind of policy change that could be part of last-minute dealing to close the session.
Teacher seniority: Another House-passed GOP priority that’s mostly opposed by Democrats, but again with a few exceptions. This bill would remove seniority as the principle criteria in teacher layoffs at public schools.
State lottery: Influential legislators from both parties are intent on terminating the Minnesota Lottery’s already-underway expansion into sales at gas pumps, on the Internet and at cash machines. Last year, Dayton vetoed a previous attempt to end these sales after legislators adjourned; this year, he faces the possibility of the first veto override in his time as governor.