2015 SESSION – Ending Sunday, March 22

March 23, 2015

The first committee deadline passed on Friday, March 20. Most of the 1,924 bills introduced in the Senate and the 2,056 bills introduced in the House are dead for the year. A few of them will turn into amendments to other bills later in the session. The second committee deadline is this coming Friday, March 27. After Friday, the legislature will adjourn for the Easter break and return at noon on Tuesday, April 7.

February Forecast Released. The updated February budget forecast was released on Friday, February 27, and the economy in Minnesota is continuing to improve with lower gas prices and a better labor market. For the bi-ennium ending June 30, 2017 the forecast shows a projected surplus of $1.87 billion – up $832 million from the November forecast of $1.033 billion. House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) said that clearly Democrats increased taxes too much over the past two years and he advocated that up to half of the surplus be returned to taxpayers. The surplus will likely reduce the pressure to raise the gas tax this year to pay for additional transportation funding.

Supplemental Budget. Governor Dayton released a supplemental budget on Tuesday, March 17, using updated figures from the February budget forecast. Pursuant to that forecast, Governor Dayton assembled a supplemental spending bill that would spend nearly the entire projected surplus. Specifically, the Governor is calling for: 

  • $343 million for all day pre-kindergarten,
  • $252 million for higher education tuition freezes,
  • $94 million in tax relief for middle and lower income families,
  • $68 million to increase monthly welfare payments,
  • $50 million for the child protection task force,
  • $41 million for special education programs,
  • $25 million for pay increases to nursing home workers, and
  • $10 million for American Indian education funding.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (D-Cook) did not endorse everything proposed by the Governor, but did say the Senate DFL “endorses the same priorities” as the Governor. House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) said his caucus supports giving at least half of the projected budget surplus back in various forms of tax relief.

House Environment Finance/Policy Committee. The House Environment Finance/Policy Committee heard HF-1349 (Hansen), a bill requiring that drainage ditch benefits be reassessed by 2020, on Tuesday, March 17. The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus environment finance bill. On Thursday, March 19, the Committee heard HF-1707 (Drazkowski), a bill establishing trust accounts for long-term costs associated with land acquisition by the State. Specifically, the bill would set aside money from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council (LSOHC) and the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) for the costs associated with land acquisition, as well as future property taxes payments to counties. Current property tax payments on land purchased with these two funds is approximately $31 million per year and rising each year as more land is purchased. Hunting and conservation groups claim the bill is unconstitutional. Nevertheless, the bill passed and was referred to the House Tax Committee.

Drain Tile Tax. HF-167 (Nornes), a bill exempting agricultural drain tiles from sales tax, was heard on Wednesday, March 18, in the House Tax Committee. The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus tax bill. The Senate companion, SF-491 (Ingebrigtsen), has not been heard.

50-Foot Buffer Bill. There was no official activity on HF-1534 (Torkelson) and SF-1537 (Marty), Governor Dayton’s 50-foot buffer bill, last week. Representatives from the Governor’s office have indicated that they might offer some kind of compromise amendment this coming week, but none of the ag representatives have seen any of the language. Senate Ag Committee Chair Dan Sparks (D-Austin) has indicated that he will not give the bill a hearing because at this time the bill does not have enough votes to make it out of the Senate Ag Committee. As introduced, the bill requires a 50-foot buffer of perennial vegetation adjacent to public waters and waters: 1) that have a “defined bed and bank”; 2) have evidence “of flow” during the “majority” of the growing season in “most” years; and 3) are mapped by the DNR. After the DNR assembles the maps, they must be submitted to each affected county and soil and water conversation district, followed by a 60 day comment period. Under the bill, the required buffers need to be in place by September 1, 2016, and the DNR would be allowed to issue administrative penalties of up to $20,000 for violations.

Transportation Funding. The Senate Transportation Committee heard SF-87 (Dibble), the $11 billion Senate DFL transportation funding plan, on Wednesday, March 18, and again on Friday, March 20. Testimony was taken on Wednesday and amendments were offered to the bill on Friday. At the end of Friday’s hearing, the bill passed on a partisan vote of 10-6 and was referred to the Senate Tax Committee.