Metropolitan Council Chair Adam Duininck answered questions from senators during his confirmation hearing. Tim Pugmire | MPR News

A Minnesota Senate panel is recommending the confirmation of Adam Duininck as chair of the Metropolitan Council.

Duininck appeared this morning before the Senate State and Local Government Committee, which approved the recommendation on a divided voice vote. The confirmation now goes to the full Senate.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Duininck to the post in January. The governor also changed the job from part time to fulltime. Duininck previously served on the Metropolitan Council board and chaired its transportation committee.

During the confirmation hearing, Duininck told Senators that he is a “transportation junkie.”

“I’ve evolved from someone who is passionate about transportation to someone who understands the importance of taking a regional approach to public policy issues,” Duininck said.

Duininck also responded to questions about the cost of the Southwest Corridor light rail project, which is now up to $2 billion due to the discovery of poor ground conditions and soil contamination along the line. Duininck said he was shocked by the $341 million increase.

“After today’s announcement, we have to kind of take a pause and think about the future of Southwest,” he said.

The Metropolitan Council is a regional policy-making body for the Twin Cities area, dealing with transportation, housing, parks and wastewater treatment.

Duininck previously worked for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 and the political organization Win Minnesota.

Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, suggested that partisan politics have defined Duininck’s career.

“I think we should be very concerned about the governor’s appointment,” Hall said.

Another Republican on the panel, Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said his concerns are with the Metropolitan Council’s mission. Thompson said too many local officials feel like they’re being strong-armed through fines and other threats.

“The very mission of the Met Council, dare I say it, is to a degree extortion,” Thompson said. “The very nature of the Met Council is antithetical to what we as Americans believe is just and fair government, and that is not a reflection on Mr. Duininck today.”

A tax bill released by Democrats in the Minnesota Senate Monday proposes much smaller cuts than the $2 billion plan House Republicans have offered.

It’s the latest example of big differences between the Senate and House as the legislative session enters its final three weeks.

The Senate bill provides about $200 million in direct tax relief. It extends an education credit for parents and provides property tax relief for homeowners who see their taxes go up more than 10 percent. It also increases Local Government Aid as a way to try to hold down property taxes.

Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, who chairs the Senate Taxes Committee,  said he also wants to help veterans struggling to find work after serving in the Middle East. The bill gives a tax credit of up to $2,500 to  businesses that hire veterans.

“There are housing issues, there are mental health issues, and we really think the best way to get at those is to help those young men and women get a job when they come back,” Skoe said.

The bill also makes a slight cut in the statewide business property tax.

Sen. Julianne Ortman, R- Chanhassen, said the bill should cut more taxes instead of increasing aid to cities and counties.

“There’s a whole lot of tax relief that folks could do with a $1.8 billion surplus,” she said. “A lot of it is spending in this bill.”

Ortman also criticized Senate Democrats for proposing a transportation bill that raises gas and sales taxes to pay for transportation projects. A vote on that measure is expected later Monday.

DFL leaders in the Senate said they wanted to be cautious with their tax bill, especially given that some of the biggest tax cuts in the House bill are phased in, so that their impact is greater in future budgets.

“It’s not the kind of spending that will ratchet up in the next biennium. We’re trying to be very, very careful about over committing the next biennium,”  said Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, about the Senate plan.

Good morning!

In Minnesota

Is Minnesota headed towards another government shutdown? (Pioneer Press)

The GOP’s tax cut plans are hurting the party’s other goal of trying to build support in outstate Minnesota. (Star Tribune)

The Republican-controlled Minnesota House passed an education bill Saturday with a $157 million increase in the hopes that the additional funding is the key to a budget agreement with Democrats. (Pioneer Press)

With only a few weeks left in the legislative session and with no end in sight to a debate over transportation funding, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is raising new questions about how much money the state needs for road and bridge construction. (MPR News)

Democrats have beaten back Republican efforts to dismantle MNsure. (Pioneer Press)

The PoliGraph comes down hard on some claims about climate change made by a Republican lawmaker. (MPR News)

Michael Brodkorb is done with partisan politics. (MinnPost)

National Politics

The Clinton Foundation acknowledged making “mistakes” but says it’s committed to transparency. (Washington Post)

Republicans are really struggling with how to handle gay marriage as a political issue. (New York Times)

Jeb Bush isn’t an official presidential candidate yet, but he reportedly told donors to his super PAC that they’re on track to raise $100 million for him by the end of May. (Washington Post)

Sen. Al Franken took a victory lap on MPR News to celebrate the end of the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner. (MPR News)

Franken played a key role in undermining the deal, says one outlet. (Roll Call)

And…Michele Bachmann was the butt of a joke made by President Obama during the White House Correspondents Association dinner over the weekend.  (NPR)