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Legislative update, week 3: Dayton unveils budget, tax proposals

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It's week 3 at the Minnesota Legislature, where hot debate will likely follow a long, cold weekend.

Lawmakers this week are expected to dive into the details of Gov. Mark Dayton's much-anticipated state budget proposal for the Legislature, to be unveiled at 11 a.m. Tuesday, along with a package of tax reform proposals. The governor's budget will serve as a framework for debate as legislators try to hammer out a $1.1 billion deficit-reduction plan for the state for the next two years. Dayton is expected to call on the state's wealthiest residents to pay higher income taxes, the Star Tribune notes.

Dayton administration officials are also expected to offer proposals for more broadly reforming a state tax code system that some consider full of confusing contradictions and carve-outs, the Associated Press reports. Dayton administration officials have been researching how best to reshape the state's sales tax, corporate tax, property tax and tobacco tax structures, the AP notes.

Last week

Lawmakers hit the ground running last week in the first full week of legislative work in the 2013 session. A few highlights:

Health exchange

Near the top of the Legislature's agenda is a bill to create a health exchange in Minnesota that is in place by October. Lawmakers say the health exchange, a key piece of the federal health reform law, will be a convenient online tool that individuals and small businesses can use to shop for health plans. The legislation was approved by a Senate committee last week and could be the focus of votes in another six panels in both the Senate and House, the Pioneer Press reported. So the legislation has a long road to travel in the Legislature, but it is on something of a fast track, the newspaper noted.

Taxes

DFL House lawmakers have signalled that they intend to follow through with a campaign promise to bring property tax relief to some middle-income homeowners and renters, by introducing a bill early that would expand the Renter's Credit and the Homeowner Property Tax Refund, which paid out about $272 million to 363,000 Minnesotans in 2011, MPR reported. In other tax talk at the Capitol, Sen. Ann Rest proposed taxing clothing, which prompted a back-and-forth with Tax Committee Chairman Rod Skoe, KARE 11 reported.

Economic forecast

State finance officials are telling Minnesota lawmakers that they can expect a new state economic forecast on Feb. 28, but also warning them that Congress could create more uncertainty as they bicker over whether to boost the nation's debt limit, the Associated Press reported. The forecast is important because it gives lawmakers a target to shoot for as they set a new two-year budget.

Asian carp

Lawmakers in the House environment committee considered three options for stopping the advance of the invasive Asian carp into Minnesota. The Department of Natural Resources' preferred method, a combination of light, sound and bubbles, met with some lawmaker criticism. One lawmaker dubbed it "disco" and another called it the Lawrence Welk method (a bubble reference), Forum Communications reported.

Vikings stadium

Lawmakers talked over some dismal revenue numbers from the state's new electronic pulltab machines, now trickling into bars and restaurants across the state. Taxes on the revenue generated by the machines is supposed to help pay the state's $348 million share of the $975 million Vikings stadium. But the games are not being embraced by establishments as quickly as expected and are bringing in way less money than anticipated.

Sex trafficking

Lawmakers last week considered a report from the state Department of Public Safety that seeks $10 million in state money, plus about $3 million from other sources, to fight the sex trafficking of youths. Most of the money would be used for higher security facilities for housing and services for girls.

Guns

Under the first of several gun bills, felons who have done their prison time would find it much harder buy a gun after they get out, the Star Tribune reported.

Debt collectors

Attorney General Lori Swanson is backing a bill that would require debt collection companies to file proof that they've sued the right person for the right amount before hauling them to court, the Pioneer Press reported.

Foreclosure

DFL lawmakers last week introduced a bill modeled on California legislation that takes aim at "dual tracking" by housing lenders. It would make it easier for homeowners to stay in their homes by banning lenders from launching the foreclosure process even as the lenders are working with homeowners to help them avoid foreclosure, the Star Tribune reported.

Agriculture

Republicans and DFLers are bickering over ag issues. House Democrats last week rejected a Republican-backed measure that would have preserved agriculture’s “autonomy” in state budgeting and policymaking, MinnPost reported. GOP lawmakers wanted to separate oversight of farm issues from a committee that also oversees environment and natural resources budgets and policy, MinnPost noted.

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