GOP budget bill push hits snag in Senate

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Republicans’ narrow 34-33 majority in the Minnesota Senate was preventing scheduled floor votes Wednesday on the five remaining budget bills that GOP leaders are sending to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said the father of Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, is “gravely ill” and her presence at the Capitol in the coming days is uncertain.

“She immediately went down there to be with him,” Gazelka said. “We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen here.”

Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said Senate Republicans would have to “play it by ear” with Nelson gone. He said for now, the Senate will take up some noncontroversial bills.

“Obviously when any one Republican senator is gone and we have 33, we cannot pass any bill without Democratic support.”

Republicans began passing their major budget bills Tuesday when negotiations with the governor broke down. Dayton has said he would veto all the bills in their current form.

Gazelka said he wants to keep talking and negotiating with the governor.

Lawmakers don’t have much time to spare. They need to finish their work by May 22nd to avoid a special session and a possible government shutdown. And if Dayton follows through on his veto pledge, they’ll have to start negotiating all over again at some point.

While the day was largely a washout for the Senate, Republicans in the House were able to take action on two of the remaining bills: transportation and taxes.

During the House debate, Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, criticized Republicans for making tax cuts their top priority. He said their $1.15 billion tax bill was shortchanging education and other spending areas.

“When you put 70 percent of your budget, of your surplus into taxes, the rest of your budget isn’t going to be hunky dory.”

But Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa argued that state government has been over-collecting taxes. He said the bill would begin to reverse that trend.

“We have been spending and spending and spending their money here in St. Paul. It’s time for the people who are paying the bill to finally get some relief.”

The tax bill passed 76-57.

On the transportation bill, Republicans defended their plan for using existing sales tax revenue to pay for road and bridge projects, rather than raising the gas tax which is dedicated to transportation.

Rep. John Petersburg, R-Waseca, said using money from the general fund is appropriate. He said it lets everybody have an impact on transportation.

“Our road infrastructure, our transportation infrastructure is fundamentally important to all of us,” he said. “We can’t continue to sustain it on the backs of just those who drive cars anymore.”

Rep. Mike Sundin, DFL-Esko called the Republican bill a political gimmick, not a solution.

“It’s no long-term substitute for dedicated funds. We need an increase in the gas tax. Let’s pony up and do the right thing for the state of Minnesota.”

The bill passed 75-56.

Despite the day’s setback, Republican leaders insisted that they’re getting their work done on time. They blame Dayton for the slow pace of negotiations on an end-of-session agreement.

But House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Zimmerman, said he’s willing to keep talking with Dayton.

“Budget negotiations don’t need to stop because we’re doing this. They can continue. The governor has said that he will veto these bills. I guess we don’t know for sure until he gets them all and actually vetoes the bills. But we feel that budget negotiations can and should continue, even right now.”

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    Ok, crazy thought: What if they write a budget that can attract some DFL votes?