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Cautious DFL lawmakers praise Dayton’s budget vision but demur on details

They didn’t fully endorse a broadened sales tax but did get behind the concepts of property tax relief and a better-funded education system.

Top DFLers were unwilling to throw their full support behind Dayton's spending and revenue proposals.
MinnPost photo by James Nord

DFL lawmakers greeted Gov. Mark Dayton’s far-reaching budget proposal with a mix of lukewarm policy support and broadly worded admiration for his bold “vision” of a better Minnesota.

Top Democrats were briefed Monday night on the $37.9 billion budget, which includes $2.1 billion in overall tax increases. Speaking with reporters Tuesday afternoon, they were reluctant to fully endorse the governor’s proposal to broaden the sales tax to include clothing and a wide array of services.

But they did get behind the concepts of property tax relief and a better-funded education system, while declining to offer specifics so soon after the governor’s proposal was released.

“After a decade of standing still, the governor’s budget takes an important step forward for Minnesota,” House Speaker Paul Thissen said. “Minnesota needs a new approach, and this governor’s budget takes us in the right direction.”

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Dayton’s budget, which he outlined Tuesday morning, makes significant investments in education, from early childhood grants and all-day kindergarten funding to increased state support for higher education.

Higher education funding would increase by $240 million, while support for K-12 would increase by $300 million under the proposal.

But it remains unclear if the broader sales tax, which would raise $2.1 billion even with a rate reduction from 6.875 percent to 5.5 percent, would find support in the Legislature. The governor would tax clothes costing more than $100, which is likely unpopular among consumers and businesses across the state.

Senate Taxes Committee Chairman Rod Skoe said last week that he doesn’t support such a proposal, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk deferred to him during the press conference. Bakk said the Senate has supported a tax hike on tobacco, which Dayton would use to raise $370 million, under the previous administration.

Dayton’s proposed property tax relief would come in the form of up to a $500 rebate per family and would cost about $1.4 billion. DFLers in the House have proposed an alternative measure to bring property taxes down this session, and DFL leaders declined to address which specific proposal would be better.

Democrats attempted to be supportive while also asserting their authority to propose policy.

“No one should be under any illusions, of course, that this budget that was introduced today is going to be the budget that finally gets passed into law,” Thissen said. “It will go through the legislative process and is going to be part of many discussions both inside and outside of the Capitol.”