Minnesota bonding loses, tax bill faces veto
ST. PAUL—Legislation that would affect every Minnesota taxpayer appears headed toward a veto.
A separate measure to fund public works projects failed to pass the Senate, Wednesday, May 16.
If the governor follows through with his tax bill veto threat, that means two of the Republican-controlled Legislature's key bills may need to be rewritten, with the GOP facing a midnight Sunday constitutional deadline to pass legislation.
The Senate passed on a 34-33 party-line vote a tax bill Wednesday, a measure that above all else mostly matches new federal tax laws. Without the bill, Minnesotans could face tax increases and a much more complex income tax return ("the size of a phone book," House Speaker Kurt Daudt says).
But Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said that he will veto the measure Thursday morning. The veto is coming, he said, because the Republican-controlled House and Senate have not acted on what he calls an "emergency" school funding bill of $138 million.
Republicans have opposed Dayton's proposal to add funds for schools since he announced it early this month, saying it is late in the session, comes after a major school spending increase last year and the GOP plans to spend millions on school safety.
"We don't think it should be held hostage for an education bill," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said of the tax bill.
The state's $46 billion, two-year budget passed last year. This year's tax and spending bills are supplemental to them and are not mandatory to pass.
Gazelka and Daudt have said they do not favor Dayton's education funding plan, but do not appear to have totally closed the door.
The tax bill senators passed is a compromise with a House bill. Representatives already approved it.
While Gazelka said it would be best to pass the tax bill before adjourning, "January is not too late to pass tax conformity in time for next year's tax filing season."
"We took out a lot of controversial items," Senate Tax Chairman Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said.
House and Senate negotiators also agreed to slightly decrease the first two income tax tiers. In all, Republicans say 99.8 percent of Minnesotans would get a tax cut or at least not an increase.
One of the things Dayton most opposed—to automatically cut taxes in good revenue years—was dropped from the Senate's original bill.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, thanked Chamberlain for getting the tax bill on the floor soon enough for lawmakers to draw up a new plan that Dayton can accept.
Senate Democrats stayed together to stop a Republican-written public works funding bill that received all the GOP votes.
Republicans hold a 34-33 edge in the Senate, but the Constitution requires 41 votes to pass a bonding bill.
Sen. Sandy Pappas, D-St. Paul, called the $1 billion bill "woefully inadequate."
She told bill author Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, that "you are halfway there."
The GOP's bill, to be funded by the state selling bonds, would spend $825 million to be repaid by general tax revenues. The legislation is closer to $1 billion when all sources of funds are wrapped together.
The size of the bill is similar to one the House passed, but far below the $1.5 billion plan offered by Dayton (which would grow to $2.3 billion when local projects he favors are included). The House and Senate bills would spend the money is different ways.
Abortion bill vetoed
Dayton has vetoed a bill that requires doctors to give abortion patients the option to view the fetus' ultrasound.
In a Wednesday letter to legislators, Dayton said the Legislature should not tell doctors what to do.
"The bill interferes with the doctor-patient relationship, legislating the private conversations that occur about a legal medical procedure," Dayton wrote.
The Democratic governor said he agrees with medical organizations that opposed the bill written by the Republican-controlled House and Senate. He said medical providers already fully inform patients for any medical procedure.
Supporters of the bill, most Republicans and a few Democrats, said they were trying to give patients more information.
The bill did not require doctors to take an ultrasound, only requiring them to tell the patient that she can view it if one was taken.
Simon seeks security funds
Secretary of State Steve Simon worries that Monday's deadline for the Legislature to adjourn will come and go without approval to spend funds to improve the state voter registration database's security.
Simon said he needs legislative approval to spend $1.5 million to hire three people to rewrite computer code to make the software more difficult to hack. Fears that Russia hacked into election computers in some states two years ago prompted Congress to approve funds to improve security.
Russia tried to hack the Minnesota database in 2016, Simon said, but could not get in.
Still, he said, the state needs to make sure new hack attempts also fail.
Unlike the state's motor vehicle registration and license software switch over, which resulted in lengthy delays for car owners, Simon said the existing voter software will remain operational at all times as the new code is being rewritten.