Minnesota Democrats: Details hinge on budget
ST. PAUL - Minnesota Democratic legislative leaders say they want to balance the state's budget for good, but are not providing details until the governor releases his plan.
Lawmakers have listed tax changes among top priorities for the 2013 legislative session, but said Wednesday specifics will come after budget talks fire up.
"Tax reform will be closely linked to the budget," Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said.
House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said the final budget will include cuts and new revenue, but spending specifics need to be hashed out first.
"That's kind of the means," he said of cuts and revenues. "It's more important what we're going to be investing in."
Democrats avoided many specifics about budget plans while talking about their legislative priorities, saying they are waiting to see Gov. Mark Dayton's proposal, slated to be released on Jan. 22.
Thissen said the state needs to make its tax code fair and transparent, and that could mean getting rid of certain loopholes.
Bakk said some of the discussion also will center around how businesses are taxed and how to best utilize any deductions or credits.
Republicans have pointed to a smaller projected state deficit from previous predictions as evidence that their policies worked when they had control over the Legislature, something Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said again Wednesday.
"We are on the course to structurally balanced budgets," he said.
But Bakk said the state needs to face the reality of a $1.1 billion deficit, which he said is even higher when inflation is considered, and told Republicans to "cool your jets" in making such statements. He said if the Legislature is honest with Minnesotans about the state's financial situation, they might be more willing to accept cuts or tax increases.
Democrats again emphasized there will be differences among members of their party, but pledged to finish the session on time and avoid a government shutdown. Bakk said he and Thissen shook on it, though he offered one caveat.
"At the end of the day, we need the governor's signature on the bills," he said, noting working with Dayton on the budget will be crucial.
Wednesday was the second day of the 2013 legislative session. Leaders said overall they believe lawmakers "set a good tone" during the session's first day.
Hann said he thinks Democrats and Republicans can work together on many bills in the coming session, calling out especially education reform and health care issues. He said Republicans are willing to work with Democrats and want to be involved in discussions, even on topics such as tax increases that Republicans generally do not favor.
"Leaders set the tone, and mine is going to be one of trying to include Republicans, where they want to be included," Bakk said.