By Laura Sayles
MNA Government Affairs Specialist
With exactly two weeks left in the Legislative Session, there’s a lot left to accomplish in a short amount of time. None of the major spending bills have been ironed out and the parties that need to agree (House, Senate, and Governor) are far apart on their Session priorities. When looking through the overviews of the documents that will get us through the end of Session, the phrase “no comparable provision” is a common refrain.
Bonding bill – The Governor proposed funding $1.4 billion in projects; House Republicans, who haven’t yet released their bill, want around $600 million. Senate Democrats tried to pass a bonding bill with $1.6 billion in projects but failed by one vote. Bonding bills need a three-fifths majority rather than just a simple majority like most bills.
Transportation bill – A transportation bill did not pass last year—even with a Special Session. They are still working with last year’s bill as the vehicle for discussions (pun intended). The biggest hurdle in finding agreement is probably the proposed wholesale tax on fuel in the Senate bill. The Governor and Senate DFLers favor instituting this tax to generate money for roads, bridges, and mass transit. The House Republicans, strongly opposed to the gas tax, have proposed spending $7 billion over the next 10 years by re-directing current motor vehicle related taxes away from the general fund into a special transportation fund.
Taxes – Another bill that did not pass last year. House Republicans want to use portions of the $900 million surplus for some kind of tax relief. They have offered no new tax bill this year, and the GOP leadership is opting to work from the one that passed the House in 2015. Senate Democrats are unveiling a new tax bill that will be matched up against the House bill from 2015. While I don’t know specifically what’s in the Senate bill, I do know that they aren’t proposing to use the surplus for tax cuts. So expect this to be another area of disagreement between the House, Senate, and Governor.
Omnibus Finance bill – The conference committee for the omnibus finance bill (Education, HHS, Environment and Agriculture, Public Safety, Jobs and Energy, and State Government) started meeting yesterday. As has been noted in previous blog posts, in the area of healthcare alone, the House and Senate have dramatically different visions for healthcare in Minnesota. That’s not the only difference. The Governor’s overall proposed spending for all these areas is $494 million in 2016-17; the House proposed $3.1 million; and the Senate proposed $456 million.
How will this end is anyone’s guess. There’s bound to be lots of wailing and gnashing of teeth between now and May 23rd. Republicans will drive a hard bargain for tax cuts, and Democrats will point to the surplus and the opportunity to make key investments while still keeping Minnesota on a stable fiscal footing. There will probably even be some stomping out of meetings saying the other party isn’t willing to budge while negotiations continue behind closed doors.
Because of the surplus that currently exists, legislators and the Governor don’t actually need to pass any bills for the state to continue to function for the next biennium. But action at the Capitol, or lack thereof, can be important tools to use on the campaign trail. In November the House and Senate are up for re-election, while the Governor is not. And there’s a Presidential election in which both sides think the other side’s candidate(s) is too extreme for America. No comparable provision indeed.