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The Capitol Note: Budget surplus sets up tax cut debate

Mark Dayton

Gov. Mark Dayton credited Minnesotans for the improved state of the economy. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

1.) The state’s February budget forecast was in line with the optimistic speculation that preceded it, adding another $400 million to last November’s surplus figure to yield a projection of $1.23 billion for the 2014-15 budget cycle. About $366 million of the improvement stems from a predicted rise in income and sales tax collections; the remainder comes from lower than expected spending. The news for the next biennium was solid as well, featuring a predicted $2.6 billion surplus for 2016-17 (or about $1.5 billion if inflation is counted.)

But as MPR notes,  the DFL press conferences that followed the announcement revealed some discrepancies between the goals of House and Senate Democratic leadership and Gov. Mark Dayton. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk continued to strike a bearish note about the prospect of agreeing to the $514 million in tax reductions passed by the House Taxes Committee last Wednesday; meanwhile Dayton – who has called for $600 million worth of tax reductions – suggested the House figure might be too low. Bakk has said on multiple occasions that he would like to devote the surplus in part to enlarging the state’s budget reserve, an approach that House Speaker Paul Thissen likened to stuffing money under a mattress.

2.)As the Star Tribune notes, late Friday afternoon the Minnesota Department of Revenue announced that state property taxes are holding steady this year, with total receipts about $8 million lower than the previous year. Gov. Mark Dayton heralded the news as proof that the property tax relief measures passed by the Legislature in 2013 achieved their objective. “This drop in property taxes is good news for Minnesotans, who for years have been hammered by double-digit property tax increases,” Dayton said. Republican critics noted that property tax levies actually went up by more than $100 million before the application of the aids and credits that reduced the bottom line tab. “Gov. Dayton and the Democrats set the target and they missed,” said GOP Rep. Paul Torkelson, the minority lead on the House Property and Local Tax Division. The Strib notes that Revenue Department figures indicate an average property tax increase of $332 million a year since 2002.

2.) New findings from the KSTP/Survey USA poll have Gov. Mark Dayton comfortably ahead of each of his potential Republican opponents, with significant portions of the electorate still undecided. Dayton’s support levels varied from 51 percent to 53 percent, while none of his GOP counterparts polled higher than 34 percent; Jeff Johnson and Marty Seifert shared top honors with that figure. The survey’s true value at this moment could be called into question, considering former House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers polled at the same level as special education teacher and unknown Rob Farnsworth, with both getting 31 percent support. The poll has  a margin of error of 4.3 percent.

COMINGS & GOINGS

  • The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce announced the date of its “Business Day at the Capitol.” The all-day event will begin at 9:00 a.m. on March 19, and includes lunch, and the chance to meet with legislators during the afternoon. Cost is $75; contact Leah Tomasetti at [email protected] with questions.
  • The St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce is hiring a new policy director. Applicants must have lobbying and/or advocacy experience, and extensive knowledge of the East Metro area is preferred. More information here.
  • Hennepin County added three lobbyists to its current team of representation, retaining Nancy Haas and Erin Campbell of Messerli & Kramer along with Kareem Murphy, a county employee.
  • The Minnesota Association of Realtors is hiring for a grassroots coordinator position. Qualified applicants should have two-plus years of experience, preferably in campaigns, as well as some experience with project leadership. Resume and writing sample can be submitted to Christie at [email protected] by March 6th.
  • Lobbyist and former Senate majority leader Roger Moe has signed-on to work for the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, as did Moe’s former chief of staff, Vic Moore; they become that group’s third and fourth lobbyists presently on file.

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