Lawmakers stay at State Capitol to work out taxes, bonding

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

The self-imposed Republican deadline for adjourning the legislative session on Monday, April 30, has been discarded.

Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, (left) and House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, meet with the media in the State Capitol Press Room. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

The Republican House and Senate will be back in session today (Tuesday, May 1) as Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican leaders continue to seek to reach agreement on the tax and bonding bills.

Caught up in mix is the Vikings stadium bill, Republican leaders suggesting taxes and bonding take precedent over the most media-saturated issue of the session.

Republicans argue what they’re offering is bigger than building a new stadium for the Vikings.

“It’s smokin’ hot,” said House Tax Committee Chairman Greg Davids, R-Preston, of the Republican tax bill.

“There’s no reason that the governor shouldn’t sign it,” said Davids of the bill that promises a phase-out of the statewide business property tax.

Indeed, Davids insists the tax bill alone would create more jobs in Minnesota than the Vikings stadium bill and bonding bill combined.

Dayton is less enthusiastic.

The governor, who styled the differences between Republicans and himself on the tax bill as “significant,” indicated yesterday his reluctance to approve a property tax decrease for just one slice of property taxpayers.

Sure, businesses may have a beef with the property tax, he explained.

“So does everybody else in Minnesota,” said Dayton, adding that Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans is working on more encompassing property tax reforms.

Beyond this, the Republican tax bill costs about $145 million in the next spending cycle and current projections point a looming state budget deficit, Dayton explained.

Dayton called the Republican approach “unsound and unwise.”

But Republicans argue that the state budget is rebounding — something they freely take credit for — and that the state budget reserves are robust.

Republican leaders and Dayton met for about two hours yesterday afternoon.

Both sides suggested progress was minimal.

“Maybe the progress is, we’re still talking,” said Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester.

Dayton described the meeting as candid but friendly.

“There were no threats by anybody,” he said.

As for the bonding bill, Dayton indicated reaching agreement could be fairly easy.

The governor has proposed a $775 million bonding bill, though Republican leaders indicated they’re holding to about a $500 million bonding bill ceiling.

“We can cut and paste and patch,” said Senjem of piecing together a bill.

Although Dayton argues that regardless whether agreement is reached on taxes and bonding an up-or-down Vikings stadium votes should take place, Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, House Vikings stadium bill author, believes nailing down those two bills could keep votes in place that he might otherwise lose.

If a thorough stadium debate takes place on the House floor, Lanning believes there will be the votes to pass a Vikings stadium bill.

Admittedly, getting a vote count is difficult, he indicated.

“A lot of members are keeping this close to their vests,” Lanning said.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton takes questions from the media outside of his office at the State Capitol. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

But Minnesotans deserve a vote on the stadium, he said.

Personally, Lanning wants the Vikings stadium issue out of the headlines and lawmakers moving on to other things.

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said on Friday (April 27) that she believes she can pass her Vikings stadium bill in the Senate.

In House action today, lawmakers passed a bill that could cause the racino issue to fade — at least to a degree, Senjem suggested.

Under the bill, Canterbury Park, according to various media reports, could gain more than $2 million for bigger purses at the track through an agreement with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota Community that could provide simulcasting and wagering on thoroughbred racing at Mystic Lake Casino.

Additionally, the legislation expands the number of poker tables at Canterbury Park and raises the maximum bet limit to $100, among other changes.

“It’s all about the horse industry,” said Senjem of the bill.

“Without it, I think we lose the (Canterbury Park) track,” he said.

Zellers, too, indicated his support.

During House floor debate, Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, said the number of Minnesota thoroughbreds has fallen from about 1,700 horses to around 100 animals.

“This is not a Skakopee issue,” Buesgens argued.

It’s a Minnesota agricultural issue, he said.

“This will help both the non-horse track casinos and the horse track casinos,” said Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, of his legislation.

Some of the House floor criticized the bill for lacking public testimony.