Minnesota's state lawmakers are returning to officially open the 2014 legislative session at noon Tuesday, and Gov. Mark Dayton and the state's 201 legislators of both parties have staked out their goals.
There's a lot on their to-do lists, and not much time – lawmakers have until May 19, and that includes a 10-day break in April. Legislators already have introduced 300 new bills to consider in the new session, Forum Communications reports.
There's much at stake for the state, as well as for the lawmakers themselves in this election year.
The session will set the stage for a bruising campaign season in which the DFL aims to position itself as the party that stabilized Minnesota's budget, advanced education issues and improved quality of life in the state, the Star Tribune notes. The GOP meanwhile, aims to underscore a message that Democrats have hurt business in the state with unnecessary taxes and made of mess of health care with MNsure, the newspaper notes.
Among Dayton's top priorities: a minimum wage hike, tax cuts and a “healthy” bonding bill, MPR News reports. Dayton has also called for an "un-session" in which lawmakers look for new ways to streamline government.
Here's a quick look at some of the issues at hand:
Budget surplus/tax cuts
Dayton and lawmakers are eagerly awaiting a revised budget forecast to be released Friday, which will give them a more accurate estimate of a projected budget surplus. A December estimate suggested that the state could have a $1 billion surplus (although $246 million is already earmarked to repay a K-12 school fund). Dayton has said he wants middle-class tax relief and the repeal of several new business taxes – taxes that GOP lawmakers have generally opposed. Republicans have generally supported returning much of the surplus to taxpayers.
After the new estimate is unveiled, Dayton plans to submit a supplemental budget proposal with proposed tax cuts as well as other proposals, including more money for low-income families for school lunches and propane heating, MPR notes.
Dayton backs a state minimum wage increase to $9.50 from $6.15 (although most Minnesota employers are required to pay the federal minimum of $7.25). The state House last year supported a hike to $9.50, but the Senate went only as high as $7.75.
The bonding bill is a proposal to invest millions in capital projects, from civic center buildings to museums, hospitals and water infrastructure. Dayton has proposed spending $1 billion on the measure. Check out some of the projects on a website here, produced by Senate staffers.
There's been some bipartisan agreement that the state needs a tougher bill to combat bullying in schools. The current law, considered among the nation's weakest, is just 37 words and merely directs districts to have some sort of policy. Some lawmakers, however, have raised concerns that a new law would create unfunded mandates, and others have urged caution about a new law that would create specific protections for gay and lesbian students.
New Senate office building
The Minnesota Senate Rules committee has approved a preliminary design and budget for a new $90 million state office building/parking stucture for north of the Capitol, which would give lawmakers new space to work. Critics have said the project is too costly. Dayton has been cool to the proposal. More legislative action would be needed to green-light the project.
Forum notes that among the issues on which no action is expected this session:
– A proposal to require a 10-cent deposit on recyclable bottles and cans.
– Frac sand mining, which some southeast Minnesota environmental activists are trying to curb.
– A bill that would allow alcohol sales on Sunday.