Divided Paths: Minnesota's DFLers want free education, GOP business tax breaks
ST. PAUL - If there were any doubts that Minnesota's new divided government would quickly yield markedly different approaches to the state's future, they were dispelled on Thursday, when House Republicans and Senate Democrats introduced their fir...
ST. PAUL - If there were any doubts that Minnesota's new divided government would quickly yield markedly different approaches to the state's future, they were dispelled on Thursday, when House Republicans and Senate Democrats introduced their first bills of the 2015 session.
The competing plans both emphasize job creation and education. But they offer distinctly different paths for reaching the goals.
Minnesota Senate Democrats want free education at the state's two-year colleges, loan forgiveness for rural doctors and dentists and a program to link up career-minded students with employers in need of skilled workers. Their initial batch of bills would also fund early childhood education, child protection measures and disaster relief for counties hit by storms last summer.
Republicans contend that tax reductions for businesses are the best way to boost the economy and grow jobs. Toward that end, the first bill introduced by House Republicans calls for a series of business tax cuts.
Many of the bills from Democrats are aimed at helping rural parts of the state that are struggling, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said.
"There are clearly areas in this state where the economic recovery has not taken a foothold, and there is critical infrastructure that is necessary for those areas to participate in the recovery," said Bakk, DFL-Cook. "That critical infrastructure is availability of health care, it is workforce development and skill sets that match the needs of those employers, and I probably don't need to remind you that most of those vocational colleges are in rural Minnesota."
Bakk also criticized the quickness of Republicans to pursue tax cuts. He said that approach has been tried, and failed.
"I just do not believe that you can drive economic development by reducing a business's taxes," he said. "Because, one, you have no assurance that it's going to get passed on to build the business."
Bakk said he does not yet know the cost of the Senate proposals. But he stressed it would be less than the projected $1 billion budget surplus that lawmakers have to work with this session.
Senate Minority Leader David Hann called the DFL plan an expensive giveaway.
"I don't know how any of this achieves economic stimulus," said Hann, R-Eden Prairie. "You're talking about a huge amount of cost that state taxpayers are going to have to pay going forward."
In the GOP-controlled House, Speaker Kurt Daudt said Democrats raised state taxes in the last budget to boost revenue. He said Republicans have a different strategy.
"The recipe to grow revenue for the state of Minnesota that helps and benefits every Minnesotan is to grow those wages and jobs," said Daudt, R-Crown. "If we do that, they'll be making more money. They'll pay more income tax. They’ll have more money in their pocket. They'll buy more goods and services, which is also good for the economy, and they'll pay more sales tax. That's really the only sustainable way to grow revenue for the state of Minnesota."
House Republicans also unveiled an education bill that emphasizes classroom performance over seniority in teacher staffing decisions. They want to forgive the student loans of health care professionals who work in nursing homes and require more legislative oversight for the state health insurance exchange MNsure.
The GOP transportation plan relies on existing state money to repair roads and bridges. House Transportation Committee Chair Tim Kelly said $200 million would come from the surplus and the rest from the Department of Transportation's budget.
"What we can do without raising taxes is fund transportation to the tune of $750 million," said Kelly, R-Red Wing.
The House plan runs counter to what Gov. Mark Dayton has in mind. He's proposing a big boost in transportation funding through a new wholesale gas tax and increased license tab fees.
Senate Democrats will have their transportation proposal ready next week. Senate Transportation Chair Scott Dibble of Minneapolis said it will mirror the recommendations from a coalition of business groups that wants to generate $850 million a year through tax hikes.
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen said Republicans are already waving the white flag on a long-term transportation solution.
"What they're proposing isn't even have a Band-Aid," said Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis. "They're building a bridge to nowhere."
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