As budget talks begin, Dayton opens the door to alcohol tax

Gov. Mark Dayton has opened the door to supporting an increase in the alcohol tax.

House Democrats passed a tax bill last week that includes an alcohol excise tax increase that amounts to seven cents a drink. Earlier in the legislative session Dayton said he was against increasing the tax. Today Dayton said that he’s not endorsing the plan, but he said he might be willing to sign a tax bill that included it.

“Compromise is something you agree to not agree with,” Dayton said. “It’s one of those things that I probably would accede to their position if there are other parts that I get in return.”

Senate Democrats have not embraced a higher tax on alcohol. Opponents of the bill worry the measure would harm the hospitality industry in Minnesota.

Dayton, House Democrats and Senate Democrats have all proposed income tax hikes on top earners, increasing cigarette taxes and raising taxes on corporations that operate overseas.

Dayton met privately this morning with DFL House Speaker Paul Thissen and DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk. Bakk and Dayton both said that they think Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson needs to sit down with Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, and Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, to resolve their differences on health and human services spending.

Bakk said they need to iron out those details because Dayton is proposing to spend roughly $300 million more than House and Senate Democrats on health and human services.

“That’s such a big number that it’s hard to get an overall revenue target until you resolve it,” Bakk said. “Smaller bills that are $5 or $10 million are one thing, but when you have a big gap like that, that has a big impact on the tax target so we’re trying to get our arms around that.”

Bakk also said he didn’t think Dayton and DFL leaders needed to reach agreement on an overall budget deal until May 17 – just three days before the constitutional deadline to adjourn. Speaker Thissen disagreed with that timeline.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to wait,” Thissen told reporters.

Thissen also said there isn’t a timeline as to when the House will vote on an amendment to legalize same-sex marriage. He also said he wasn’t sure if the House would hold a vote on a bill that requires a background check for some gun purchases.

The House is scheduled to vote Friday on a bill that would increase the minimum wage to $9.50 and hour for large employers by 2015.