Transportation bill progressesST. PAUL — Tempers occasionally flared, but most legislative negotiators kept their nose to the grindstone Tuesday in an effort to wrap up the 2008 Minnesota Legislature’s work.
By: SCOTT WENTE AND DON DAVIS, STATE CAPITOL BUREAU, Worthington Daily Globe
ST. PAUL — Tempers occasionally flared, but most legislative negotiators kept their nose to the grindstone Tuesday in an effort to wrap up the 2008 Minnesota Legislature’s work.
Budget talks continued between legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Pawlenty while House-Senate conference committees on a variety of issues worked to resolve differences. High-level talks were expected to continue today.
A compromise was reached on a bill increasing the minimum wage, and negotiators began to work out property tax differences.
Tuesday’s excitement came when the Senate transportation chairman threatened to take his conference committee to Pawlenty’s office to demand an explanation of a late-Monday request.
“We don’t know what the governor’s going to do, and he won’t communicate with us,” Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Steve Murphy, DFLRed Wing, said.
Legislative transportation negotiators said a Pawlenty staffer told them late Monday lawmakers had to remove one of three safety provisions from a transportation policy bill, but did not specify which. Murphy later said the back-and-forth between the governor’s office and lawmakers might have yielded “a misunderstanding.”
Legislators decided to keep the provisions that:
- Allow law enforcement officers to stop vehicles when someone is not wearing a seat belt.
- Limit some young drivers’ activities.
- Require anyone up to 8 years old to be in a safety restraint while riding in a motor vehicle.
Public safety officials said the state could gain more than $25 million in federal aid by passing the new restrictions.
Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said the governor has taken public positions on the seat belt and teen driving provisions.
“To imply that we are not supportive of additional safety measures is a disservice to the public and to the debate,” McClung said.
Supporters of the safety measures said they believe there are enough votes to pass the transportation bill as early as today.
A Republican lawmaker warned those safety items could be too much at once.
“It’s kind of like dealing with environmental activists — you can never satisfy them,” said Rep. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton.
Tax negotiators began trying to find a way to reconcile a House bill that would provide direct property tax relief to a third of Minnesota’s homeowners with a Senate bill that increases state aid to local governments. Pawlenty does not like either proposal.
House members voted 80-52 late Monday, after 8 hours and 35 minutes of debate, for its tax bill that lowers property taxes for some, but also eliminates an income tax deduction that now is used by many homeowners who itemize their returns.
“We can make a difference in people’s lives,” said Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, a prime author of the legislation.
The bill increases property tax refunds to those whose property taxes are high compared to their income.
Marquart said property taxes increased $500,000 while they debated the measure Monday.
Republicans said the bill will cost Minnesotans.
“A majority of the population are losers under this bill,” House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said.
The bill stops new enrollments into the Job Opportunity Building Zones program that provides significant tax breaks to many new and expanding rural businesses.