A big agenda awaits lawmakers' returnby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota lawmakers are hoping to finish the 2012 legislative session with a flourish when they return to the State Capitol on Monday.
There are still some big unfinished items on the agenda — among them tax initiatives, a state bonding bill and funding for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium. But there is no guarantee that legislators will reach agreement with Gov. Mark Dayton.
Some lawmakers used the weeklong break to tout the accomplishments of the legislative session, which include reducing business taxes. Others have been using the time to remind the public there is still much to do. Some plan to make a final push to put their issue on the radar screen of the governor and legislative leaders.
For example, a bipartisan group of lawmakers and business owners held a news conference this week outside the Creative Kidstuff store in St. Paul. The group called on the Legislature to change the tax code to require that all online retailers collect sales taxes on goods purchased in Minnesota.
State Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, was one of those urging the governor and legislative leaders to including the measure in a final tax bill.
"As we head into the last days and hours of the legislative session, you worry about things becoming a casualty so even good ideas sometimes get lost in the train wreck in the end of session," Michel said.
Last year's session really was a train wreck. State government shut down after the governor and Legislature couldn't agree on a budget. The state has a projected surplus this year, but the focus is still on taxes and spending. Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said he believes passing a tax bill is the only thing that has to get done this session.
"We're at the point of session where what really matters is a good tax bill and working with the governor to get one," Senjem said.
But Republican legislative leaders disagree with Dayton on taxes. The Republicans want to cut the statewide property tax paid by businesses. Dayton wants to give businesses a tax break only if they agree to hire returning veterans and recent college graduates. Still, Dayton said he's willing to cut taxes as long as lawmakers find a way to pay for it.
"If there's a little flexibility on their part in terms of what they're willing to do in terms of raising some revenues and closing some loopholes then I think we'll have something to work with," the governor said.
Dayton is also pushing for a vote on a Minnesota Vikings stadium bill which is scheduled for a hearing in a House committee on Monday. He also wants to borrow $775 million for public works projects across the state. House and Senate Republicans are putting forward much smaller bonding bills.
While Senjem said he considers a bonding bill a priority for the session, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said a bonding bill will pass only if it's focused on improving and maintaining existing projects. Zellers said he won't support building new local civic centers or spending on a new light rail transit line.
"If we focus on the real needs of our state which is maintaining our infrastructure, I think you'll some cooperation but also some collaboration with the governor's office on that," Zellers said. "That will lead not only to a successful end of session but a success for the state of Minnesota."
Zellers said he believes the session has been a success because the Legislature has streamlined regulations for businesses. Democrats in the House disagree. State Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, is one of many Democrats who have traveled the state this week to criticize Republicans for running a "do-nothing Legislature."
"We haven't accomplished much this session," Murphy said. "We've gone through a lot of motions. We've heard a lot of bills. A lot of bills have been vetoed and there's not yet a lot accomplished that Minnesotans can point to and say that was worth our time and money."
Republican leaders hope to finish the session on or before April 30. It will then be up to the public to decide on results of the session. Every seat in the Legislature will be on the ballot this year.