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Political Notebook: Legislators catch plenty of fish, no budget deal

While some regional chambers are voicing support for raising new revenue to pay for transportation upgrades, the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce is standing firm in its opposition to such a move.

The governor and legislative leaders caught plenty of fish during the weekend, but they have yet to reel in a budget deal.

Gov. Mark Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and House Speaker Kurt Daudt shared a boat Saturday morning during the Governor's Fishing Opener on Lake Vermilion. The good news is that the fish were biting. The governor and legislative leaders caught 35 fish in the span of three hours. The bad news is that fishing proved to be bad for budget negotiations.

"The fishing was too good. We didn't get (the budget) solved. We've got a little work to do yet," Daudt said.

More like a lot of work. So far, agreements have been reached on two budget bills — agriculture and environment. That leaves plenty of work left to do in the final week of the session. And it's still unclear how some of the thorniest legislative disagreements are going to be resolved. Take, for instance, the Health and Human Services budget. There is a $1.4 billion difference between House Republicans' plans and Senate Democrats' plans. The Republicans' proposal would reduce anticipated spending on health and human services by $1 billion. It also would get rid of MinnesotaCare and move the roughly 100,000 people on the program to the state's health insurance exchange — MNsure. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats' budget boosts spending in health and human services by $341 million.

There's also a huge gap when it comes to transportation funding. Both the governor and Senate Democrats are pushing $11 billion transportation plans that include a new tax on gas at the wholesale level. That would amount to at least a 16-cent per gallon increase at the pump. House Republicans have said they won't back a gas tax increase. They have put forward their own $7 billion plan that relies on existing revenue and borrowing.


Also left to sort out is whether the governor and legislative leaders can reach a deal on a tax bill. Republicans are pushing a bill with $2 billion in tax cuts. The Senate Democrats' plan has $268 million in tax cuts.

There's always the potential that lawmakers won't get a deal on transportation and taxes this year and will just push it off until next year. Bakk has pointed out that those bills don't have to pass this year, whereas the budget bill must pass in order to avoid a government shutdown. It remains to be seen whether the three leaders who fish so well together can haul in a budget agreement by the May 18 deadline.

Rochester chamber: No need for transportation tax increase

While some regional chambers are voicing support for raising new revenue to pay for transportation upgrades, the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce is standing firm in its opposition to such a move.

Six regional chambers of commerce sent a letter last week to legislative leaders urging lawmakers to boost revenue to fund highway and transit upgrades in the state.

"Investment in transportation is critical to Minnesota's competitiveness, so we also support an increase in revenue that allows us to properly plan and build a transportation system that will ensure regional competitiveness, vitality and economic growth in our state," the letter states.

Chambers signing on include three in Greater Minnesota — Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, Greater Mankato Growth and the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce. But Rochester's chamber — the second largest one in the state — takes the position the state should be able to find money for transportation given the state's $1.9 billion surplus.

Julie Fiesel, the chamber's government affairs director, said the chamber supports increased funding for transportation and expects lawmakers to allocate more money for roads using current resources. But Fiesel said there's no reason lawmakers can't do that with existing revenue.


"We do not believe that more taxes are the answers. Minnesota already ranks in the top 10 states for taxes and our members have largely indicated that is not the way they want to go," Fiesel said.

The Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce's position aligns with that of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which opposes any transportation-related tax hikes

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