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Legislature wrapping up big budget bills, but controversial measures linger

drazkowski
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Rep. Steve Drazkowski has been a vocal opponent of the child-care unionization measure.

The end is in sight for DFLers at the Capitol.

The DFL-controlled Legislature is in the process of wrapping up the last handful of major budget bills as Monday’s adjournment deadline rapidly approaches, with the “linchpin” tax bill the largest piece of legislation waiting for action. While lawmakers appeared tired on Sunday after Saturday’s overnight debate, most of the omnibus bills forming Minnesota’s $38 billion budget are falling into place.

After Sunday’s marathon sessions, Democrats will have sent the early-childhood-to-12th-grade education and Health and Human Services omnibus bills to Gov. Mark Dayton, along with a handful of other spending bills, which account for the majority of general fund spending in Minnesota.

“I feel real confident about how things are going and actually really, really pleased and happy that at the end of tomorrow, we’re going to have a budget in place for Minnesota that’s going to build a better future for everybody,” House Majority Leader Erin Murphy told MinnPost, taking a break from debate on the chamber’s floor.

With most of the budget set to be wrapped and sent to the governor by late Sunday, that leaves the rest of Monday for controversial measures like legislation to increase the minimum wage, any lingering debate on a unionization measure for child-care workers and personal-care attendants and a pared-down bonding bill.

Education bill debated

On Sunday, the Senate debated the E-12 education omnibus bill that the House had passed in the early morning hours.

hornstein photo
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Rep. Frank Hornstein is the chief House sponsor of the transportation bill.

The Senate was also set to discuss campaign finance legislation, as well as a number of smaller measures as it waited for more important bills to be sent over from the House. It passed the omnibus agriculture and environment bill Saturday night.

The House on Sunday passed the transportation budget bill and then turned to the unionization debate while it waited for the taxes conference committee report to be finalized. Murphy said the House would continue to debate the unionization bill when it didn’t have any omnibus bills to take up, which effectively thwarts Republican plans to filibuster the bill.

Rep. Ann Lenczewski, the House Taxes Committee chairwoman, stood at the back of the chamber distributing copies of the tax agreement spreadsheet. She chose one for herself to initial. That bill could inspire the longest debate out of any budget bill because it includes roughly $2 billion in tax hikes that Republicans deeply oppose.

lenczewki photo
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Rep. Ann Lenczewski, left, looks over the spreadsheets of the tax compromise on Sunday.

Lenczewski explained that she and Sen. Rod Skoe, the Senate Taxes lead, had agreed to initial the compromise, a departure from the typical procedure when a conference committee wraps up, because “the tax bill carries all the money for all the bills.”

The powerful Democrat from Bloomington said she was relieved to see session nearly complete.

“It’ll be much better when [the tax bill is] completely off the floor, but this means we’re getting to the beginning of the end,” Lenczewski said. “The tax bill … is the linchpin because it funds all the other bills.”

The last major conference committee that lawmakers waited for funds state departments and veterans, and it got finalized late Sunday afternoon. Lawmakers are also still negotiating the Legacy bill, which dedicates sales-tax money to arts and natural resources spending.

A potential bonding bill is the issue that most Capitol watchers are eyeing with interest. Rep. Alice Hausman, who leads the bonding committee in the House, said the idea for a pared-down bonding bill that focuses on the Capitol is “floating there.”

hausman photo
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Rep. Alice Hausman, the chief sponsor of the bonding bill, runs through her talking points related to Friday's failed borrowing legislation.

Hausman’s $800 million bonding bill, which included a crucial $109 million allocation for the crumbling Capitol building, failed on Friday. She said she’d spoken with House Speaker Paul Thissen and Dayton’s office about a potential second-chance bill, but said the discussions were informal.

Capitol renovations

Senate leaders told MinnPost on Saturday that they were serious about moving forward with the Capitol renovations and other small projects. Murphy, the House majority leader, said she hadn’t heard anything about the Capitol plan on Sunday.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk would like to pass a roughly $300 million bill that includes the Capitol renovations, according to a Sunday Star Tribune report. As rumors circulated about the potential legislation, which would require Republican support to reach the 60 percent threshold required for it to move forward, a sizeable leak hit the Capitol basement. Water poured from the ceiling and filled multiple large dumpsters before it was fixed.

One woman, who took a photo of the gushing ceiling, went upstairs to show it to Hausman. Rep. Dean Urdahl, a Republican from Grove City, mentioned the leak on the House floor.

Hausman was unsure about the details of a potential do-over bill – including whether she would carry the last-ditch bonding attempt – but noted there’s a provision in the tax bill that allocates $3 million for an office building that staff would occupy as part of the Capitol renovation.

“This is when a legislator gets a little nervous because you don’t know whether it’s going to be a negotiation at a high level, so I don’t know what role I’ll play,” Hausman said. “I have very strong feelings, obviously.”

It’s also unclear how long the unionization debate will stretch on in the House. Whenever a lawmaker entered the chamber, the screams and cheers of demonstrators blared into the room  – “Vote no! Vote yes!” – and a vote wasn’t in sight by Sunday evening.

Resolution of a disagreement before the House and Senate over a potential minimum-wage hike remained unclear Sunday evening as well.The Senate had on the agenda a controversial measure on school bullying that the House had already passed, but that legislation could be pushed to Monday depending on how the budget debate develops.

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