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Tax cut, budget bills pass to close out 2014 session

Mike Mullen//May 16, 2014

Tax cut, budget bills pass to close out 2014 session

Mike Mullen//May 16, 2014

The Minnesota House and Senate voted to approve a major tax cut bill and supplemental budget spending on Friday night, sending those bills to Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk and signaling an end to the major action of the legislative session. The bills were brought up and passed in a matter of hours, clearing one chamber and then the next in relatively quick succession.

Though passage of the pair of financial bills were seen as inevitable, and crucial moments before the end of the session, their path off the chamber floors could hardly have been more different. The tax cut bill, arrived at through the work of a bipartisan conference committee, nearly passed both chambers unanimously. Following a 131-0 vote in the House, the bill sailed through the Senate 59-1, with Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, casting the lone vote against the bill.

As pointed out by House Taxes Committee chair and bill author Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, the bill included provisions authored by nearly 40 percent of the House membership. As passed, the bill will lead to a $103 million subtraction off the state’s bottom line, much of which comes in the form of increased property tax rebates and credits. Those provisions, strongly supported by the House, survived the conference committee process to the tune of $45 million during fiscal year 2015, which begins in July.

More than $24 million worth of new aids and credits will be available for homeowners and renters, while another $17 million will go toward property tax reductions for farmers, in what Democrats have pitched as a restoration of the market value homestead credit for farmland.

The tax bill also includes several provisions that had been supported by the Senate, such as a county aid program that dedicates $4.5 million toward battling aquatic invasive species during fiscal year 2015 and $10 million in each subsequent year.

If the tax bill was almost universally popular, passage of the supplemental budget package was markedly more partisan in nature. That bill, which allots an additional $283 million in spending for the current budget biennium, passed the House on a nearly party-line vote of 75-55, and, soon after, was passed off the Senate floor by a count of 37-22.

The budget bill contains the measure to increase funding for disability care providers by 5 percent beginning in the 2015 fiscal year, at a cost of $103 million, and also has education funding increases that total $54 million. A number of Republicans spoke out against passing the new expenditures, with Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, counting among the most vocal critics.

“I know you’ve got good intentions,” Gruenhagen said, “but you’re doing more harm than good when you increase government spending at this rate.”

Shortly after the House vote, the Senate, then in recess, reconvened to take up the bill as part of its own final floor session. Movement of the budget bill brought the end to major legislative action in the Legislature, and both chambers adjourned not long after passing the bill. In a statement released Friday night, House Speaker Paul Thissen congratulated the Democratic majorities for “investing in these basic bread-and-butter priorities that will provide greater economic security for the middle class.”

Though the tax and spending bills seemed to be essentially completed days earlier, both were changed due to late-session activity related  to the bonding bill. Large capital investment projects were eventually stripped from the bonding package and rewritten as elements of the other proposals: The tax bill was amended to allow local governments to raise revenues for the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System Project in the Southwestern corner of the state, and the budget bill includes additional state funding to pay the debt service for University of Minnesota’s $51.5 Bell Museum project.

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