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Tax bill riles up Minnesota legislators

ST. PAUL - Minnesota legislators came to St. Paul nearly three weeks ago promising to get along. In the past few days, a tax bill created the first real dispute of the session.

ST. PAUL - Minnesota legislators came to St. Paul nearly three weeks ago promising to get along. In the past few days, a tax bill created the first real dispute of the session.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty and most legislative leaders agreed to quickly pass a bill matching state income tax laws to federal law, in the process providing thousands of Minnesotans with tax breaks. Pawlenty wanted to sign the bill by Friday, the day taxpayers first could file tax returns electronically. Now, anyone who files before the law changes would have to file an amended return to get the breaks.

The House earlier passed the $24 million measure intact, despite a three-hour debate. But when Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, tried attaching a $460 million tax-relief measure Wednesday, Senate Tax Chairman Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, quickly yanked the bill from consideration.

"We're very disappointed we can't get that passed," Bakk said.

Bakk told reporters he was concerned some of the new Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party senators would support Ortman's proposal and throw the bill into a House-Senate conference committee.


"These are the types of things that should be ferreted out in a committee," Bakk said, noting that no one attempted to amend the bill when it was examined in his Tax Committee.

Bakk accused Ortman of trying to get Democratic senators to take a vote that could appear they opposed cutting taxes.

Ortman said she just wanted time for Republicans to talk about tax reform, and she had no doubt the original bill would easily pass.

"We are prepared to vote for it," she said.

The bill could return to the Senate floor Monday, Assistant Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, said.

Week ahead

Pawlenty releases his budget proposal late Monday morning, setting the stage for the real work for the 2007 legislative session.

Legislative leaders usually don't release their own budget plans until the governor issues his. They also usually wait until after a late-February economic and budget report. However, many committees will examine the governor's budget in coming days.


Assistant Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, said other issues expected to be taken up in the next week include confirmation hearings on Pawlenty's new Cabinet members and renewable energy measures. A Senate committee is expected to adopt a renewable energy standards bill Thursday.

Tax measures

Though their political muscle may lack the strength to push heavy weight this legislative session, House Republicans unveiled a set of tax initiatives they said will ease Minnesotans' tax burden.

The proposals represent "a smorgasbord" of options for legislators to pick from, said Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall.

The GOP initiatives will come in the form of a series of bills, including permanent property tax relief, income tax deductions for low-earning residents and Local Government Aid restoration.

The total savings of the Republicans' tax package amounts to $1 billion, Seifert said.

House Democrats have also named property tax relief among their top priorities.

Down ... set ... snooze?


Just because the Vikings stadium issue returned to the headlines Friday doesn't mean it caused a big stir at the Capitol, at least among Democrats.

"It doesn't sound like a lot of new news," said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud.

Media reports indicate the Vikings would push the Legislature this session for a new stadium where the Metrodome now stands.

Clark pointed out that Senate Democrats have identified health care, property tax relief and education as top priorities.

"You didn't notice a Vikings stadium in there," she said.

But if a solid deal becomes a reality, legislators will listen, Clark said.

College tuition

Businesses that provide tuition reimbursement for workers attending college in Minnesota could receive tax credits under a House bill.


The legislation would grant employers $2,000 in tax credits for each worker it pays to attend college every year.

On Thursday, a House higher education committee approved the bill, which will next be taken up by another education committee.

The bill would be aimed at older, nontraditional students, said its author, Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis. Eligible students would have to work at least 30 hours a week and make less than $20 an hour, according to the latest draft of the bill. Vocational, technical and undergraduate college students would be eligible for employers to take the credit.

Vikings to seek plan for Metrodome site

The Minnesota Vikings say they plan to ask the Legislature to approve a plan to build a new football stadium with a retractable roof on the site of the Metrodome.

But team officials also said Thursday that they weren't ready to say whether they have a financing plan or partner ready to go.

In a story for Friday's editions, the Star Tribune reported that the Vikings' financial strategy is expected to become evident after the tentative design plans are unveiled Feb. 1, which would give the team enough time to make its case to the 2007 Legislature.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he was waiting to see which local government would take the lead in pushing the stadium. "The thing I'll be looking for, amongst other things in a deal like this, is who is the local host," he said on WCCO-AM on Friday.


The Metrodome can't be torn down until the Twins are close to completing their new stadium, which is due to be ready for the 2010 season. The Vikings have begun talking with the University of Minnesota about temporarily playing in the new Gophers stadium after the Metrodome is demolished, the Star Tribune reported.

Forum Communications reporter Don Davis and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Longaecker works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or mlongaecker@forumcomm.com

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