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Key legislative conference committees set to wrangle on taxes and education funding

The Minnesota House and Senate conference committees have been appointed and, in some cases, already have begun to meet. The biggies, of course, are the tax and K-12 education committees, where House and Senate DFLers have to reconcile substantially different bills.

Start with the tax conference committee, where senators, led by Tom Bakk, DFL-Chisholm, will try to sell their bill, which raises $2.2 billion, mostly from an across-the-board hike in income taxes as well as a new, fourth tier on Minnesota’s wealthiest. Other DFL senators on the conference committee are Rod Skoe of Clearbrook, Scott Dibble of Minneapolis, and Rick Olseen of Harris. Sen. Ray Vandeveer of Forest Lake is the lone Republican.

House members will be led by Rep. Ann Lenczewski of Bloomington. The House tax bill does include a fourth tier income tax bracket for Minnesota’s wealthiest, but it does not have an across-the-board increase. Additionally, it proposes a wide array of tax increases on such things as cigarettes and alcohol.

Other DFLers on the House side of the conference table: Paul Marquart of Dillworth, Lyle Koenen of Clara City and Al Juhnke of Willmar. Rep. Randy Demmer of Hayfield will be the lone Republican voice.

The work of this committee, which begins Thursday evening, will not be easy because even DFLers are split on the size of taxes – and what people or things should be taxed – in trying to balance the state budget.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, of course, has promised to veto whatever tax increases this body ends up proposing.

Another major conference committee to watch is the K-12 committee, where House and Senate bills have substantial differences. The Senate proposes a 7.5 percent whack at K-12 funding, though much of that loss is made up for with federal stimulus dollars. The House bill virtually freezes K-12 spending at current levels.

The House DFL players on the committee: Mindy Greiling, chair, from Roseville, Carlos Mariani, St. Paul, Nora Slawik, Maplewood, and John Ward, Royalton. The Republicans are represented by Pat Garofalo of Farmington.

Senate DFLers on the K-12 conference committee: chair, LeRoy Stumpf of Plummer, Kathy Saltzman,  Woodbury, Chuck Wiger, North St. Paul, and Kevin Dahle, Northfield. The Republican member is Gen Olson, Minnetrista.

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