The 2018 legislative session wrapped up late Sunday night as lawmakers sent a raft of major legislation to Gov. Mark Dayton, who is threatening to veto much of it. He has 14 days to decide for sure, and GOP legislative leaders say they hope the DFL governor will reconsider. Here’s what we know about what issues are on the line with Dayton’s decision, and what’s coming next.
Taxes: Dayton has pledged to veto the tax bill, which includes cuts in income tax rates for the two lowest income tiers in the state tax code, and brings Minnesota in line with recent federal tax changes. Republicans who drafted the bill say it would result in either a tax cut or no change for most Minnesotans. Without a tax bill, the next tax filing season is likely to be chaotic for both families and businesses. That’s because state taxes are based on federal taxable income. Dayton said the GOP plan is too favorable to business at the expense of families. If Dayton vetoes the tax bill, families and individuals will have to use federal tax rules from before Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed the major tax overhaul in December. Tax accountants and lawyers say it will be a confusing mess without a tax bill.
Public school budgets: The tax bill also includes a GOP-crafted provision that frees up about $225 million for Minnesota public schools facing budget shortfalls. That came after Dayton said in recent days he wouldn’t approve any tax changes without new money for schools mulling teacher layoffs and other budget-cutting steps. However, much of the money would be redirected from existing state accounts that help pay for teacher training and community education, which Dayton called unacceptable.
Opioids: Lawmakers also sent Dayton a nearly 1,000-page omnibus bill packed with $131 million in new spending and dozens of policy changes. Dayton is also saying he’ll veto that legislation, as he objects to wrapping disparate issues — some of which he supports and some he doesn’t — into one large bill.. Among the provisions in the omnibus bill is $16 million from the state treasury for opioid prevention and treatment programs. That’s less than what a bipartisan group of lawmakers had originally sought to raise with a “penny-a-pill” tax or an “opioid stewardship fee” on pharmaceutical companies, neither of which made it into the final bill.
Elder care: Also tucked into the big omnibus bill are a series of modest reforms to the state’s regulation of elder care facilities, after revelations in recent months of widespread elder abuse in Minnesota nursing homes. Critics say the reforms lack bite and are insufficient to end the abuse.
Infrastructure: Late Sunday night, lawmakers approved $1.5 billion in public works projects, with about half of that backed by state general obligation bonds, and the rest coming from other pots of state money. It includes $500 million for Department of Transportation work, $129 million for the Minnesota State university system and $79 million for the University of Minnesota, $32 million to build veterans’ homes in Bemidji, Montevideo and Preston, $15 million for a new visitor center at Fort Snelling and $1 million for repairs to the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis. Unlike the tax bill and the budget-and-policy bill, Dayton has not threatened to veto the bonding bill.
School safety: This became a top stated concern of the Legislature in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, but one that ended up largely lost in the political shuffle of other issues. The bonding bill includes $25 million for safety improvements to school buildings, but money for other expenses, like mental health counseling and safety staff at schools, was tucked into the omnibus bill that Dayton says he’ll veto. Leaders of both parties had expressed interested in a standalone school safety bill, but one never materialized.
MNLARS: Lawmakers passed a bill that would have provided $9 million in emergency help to driver and vehicle licensing centers hurt by nearly a year of glitches and delays caused by the state’s rollout of a new licensing software system (the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System, or MNLARS.) Dayton vetoed that bill, saying he wanted lawmakers to approve more than $30 million in spending to help fix the problems with MNLARS, in addition to the money for the licensing centers. House lawmakers tried and failed to override that veto on Sunday.
Distracted driving: Advocates who have lost loved ones in crashes involving distracted drivers pushed hard this year for a law that would ban the use of handheld phones while driving. Efforts to pass that bill stalled, but a provision that would increase fines for texting while driving was included in the broad spending and policy bill that Dayton says he’ll veto.