Legislature aims to tackle tax/spending issues in final 4 weeks

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It's spring in Minnesota: Trees are budding, robins are digging for grubs – and state lawmakers are trying to wrap up the session.

Legislators are now in a final push to finish this year's work by an adjournment date of May 19, although some say the end may come sooner, the Associated Press reports.

What's left to do

– Taxes/spending. Among the top items on their to-do list, leaders of the DFL majorities in the House and Senate are hoping to finalize plans for part of what's left of a projected $1.2 billion budget surplus. They are pushing for a blend of new spending and additional tax relief.

The Legislature already approved more than $443 million in tax cuts, notably a repeal of three business-to-business taxes as well as some tax relief for more than 1 million low- and middle-income families. Lawmakers also approved a plan to set aside $150 million in the state’s rainy-day budget reserve.

Now the House and Senate have to negotiate compromises on even more tax relief. The House has approved another $103 million bill that would offer property tax relief to Minnesota homeowners, renters and businesses; the Senate's $101 million version is different in that it makes more local units of government exempt from paying state sales taxes, which could lead to property tax relief at the local level, lawmakers hope.

The House and Senate also need to forge a compromise on spending. The House earlier this month approved a $322 million supplemental spending bill that funnels money to wide variety of items, from higher wages for caregivers for the elderly and disabled, to hot lunches for low-income students, pothole fixes and expanded broadband access in rural areas.

The Senate bill had a smaller price tag, $209 million, for items including education, prisons and raises for state-paid home health workers.

– Bonding bill. Lawmakers also are trying to put together a bonding bill for proposed capital improvement projects around the state, from a water pipeline in Worthington to university buildings. Lawmakers have generally agreed to spend about $850 million building and renovating infrastructure around the state. Gov. Mark Dayton has sought more, closer to $1 billion.

– Medical marijuana. Dayton has said his support for a controversial, high-profile medical marijuana bill hinges on law enforcement support, but bill backers are still hopeful for a compromise, MinnPost reports.

What's been done

– Minimum wage. Dayton earlier this month signed a minimum wage bill into law, which will give more than 325,000 workers in Minnesota a pay raise beginning Aug. 1.

– Bullying bill. Dayton this month also signed into law a bill that requires school districts to track and investigate cases of bullying, and also requires schools to offer training to staff in how to prevent bullying.

– Senate office building. Lawmakers have also come to an agreement on construction of a new, scaled-down $77 million Senate office building, a contentious issue that became a political football.

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