ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota’s Legislature is set to return for a short session that will flip the cliché: It’s not a marathon, but a sprint.
Thanks to a major renovation at the state Capitol that has shuttered most of the building, lawmakers will have just 10 weeks to finalize major deals on transportation funding, tax cuts and other spending proposals. Election-year politics may crank up the pressure to get the work done, and a smaller budget surplus will force them to get creative.
Here’s a look at some of the issues they’ll take up from Tuesday until May 23.
A slowing economy will shape the outcome of the session.Legislators learned last month that that a projected $1.2 billion surplus has shrunk to $900 million, a potential blow to a laundry list of spending proposals. Some legislative leaders are urging caution against big budget items that could saddle the state with ongoing payments.
Little has changed: Republicans want big tax cuts but Democrats aren’t sold. Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt hasn’t laid out his top tax targets, but has mentioned removing state taxes on Social Security income, which could cost the state $500 million annually. Noting the shrinking surplus, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk has downplayed the likelihood of major cuts or tax credits. One possible agreement is expanding a tax credit for childcare costs to more families.
The two parties will pick up where they left off last session on competing transportation plans: A world apart. All agree a funding package for road and bridge repairs is a top priority, but how they’ll pay for it is up for question. Democrats insist a gas tax increase is necessary for reliable funding, while Republicans are pushing a plan that uses a slice of the surplus and shifts taxes on car-part sales and vehicle leases into a dedicated fund.
Gov. Mark Dayton is undaunted on a top priority, early education. It could include a retooled push for statewide preschool, but that’s unclear. Expect some answers when the governor reveals a full budget proposal in mid-March.
The prospect of a quick extension to unemployment benefits for laid-off steelworkers on the Iron Range has faded. Legislators still say they want to quickly pass a 26-week extension, but Democrats have balked at the GOP’s insistence that it be paired with a tax cut on employers who furnish the overstuffed unemployment fund that pays those benefits.
Lawmakers were trying to queue up a quick fix to the dispute with the federal government over driver’s licenses that sparked months of concern about possible flight disruptions. The state has until at least 2018 to satisfy the Real ID Act. The first step is removing a ban on taking action to comply that Minnesota legislators passed in 2009.
The stage is already set for negotiations on how much the state should plow into expanding broadband Internet access. Dayton set a high bar at $100 million, House Republicans countered with $35 million. The debate on this rural issue foreshadows a sharp campaign focus on the House and Senate districts in greater Minnesota that will help determine the fight for control of the Legislature this fall.
Minnesota’s prisons are at capacity. Lawmakers have met for months to discuss possible remedies, ranging from a forthcoming set of sentencing reductions for drug offenders to expanding some state prisons to re-opening a privately operated facility in Appleton. But the November election may push off big decisions until 2017.
The debate over how to regulate police use of body cameras is wrapped up in questions of data storage costs, privacy concerns and a belief from law enforcement that the footage should be held mostly private. Minneapolis’ decision to equip all its officers with the body-worn cameras could force the Legislature to finalize a bill - or give them reason to wait and see how it goes.
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