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DFL legislature to focus on budgets, taxes for 2013

ST. PAUL - Democrats will regain the majority in the Minnesota House and Senate and retain the governor's office in the 2013 legislative session, but they said Monday they don't plan to overreach.

"This is not going to be, as some fear and some hope, a sky's-the-limit approach," Gov. Mark Dayton said at a pre-session briefing for Minnesota reporters.

He said the focus should be on addressing the state's projected $1.1 billion budget deficit.

DFL leaders agreed the budget will restrict some of their actions.

"There's going to be very little money to do anything new," Senate Majority Leader-elect Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said. "People are going to have to restrain themselves some."

House Minority Leader-elect Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said he hopes the parties can focus on areas where they agree and on the budget.

"I think right now is not a time to look beyond solving our current problems," he said. "We're also keenly aware (Democrats) don't need our votes to do what they want to do, with the exception of a bonding bill."

Dayton and others have raised the prospect of a state public works borrowing bill in the 2013 sessions, funded by the state selling bonds, even though that typically happens on years opposite those focused on the budget. Lawmakers and Dayton must write a two-year budget next year.

Dayton and Senate Minority Leader-elect David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, did not agree on much Monday. But they did find common ground on a few issues, including holding off significant bonding discussions until after a February budget forecast.

By February, it should be clearer how the state is affected by federal budget decisions; right now the unresolved so-called "fiscal cliff" facing the country should President Barack Obama and Congress fail to come to a budget agreement clouds Minnesota's financial outlook.

Dayton said he plans to come forward with a bonding bill in 2013, but he will "set that one on the back burner for now." If nothing else, he said, a bonding bill is needed to continue state Capitol restoration work, but he also said he would include civic center projects in Mankato, Rochester and St. Cloud.

Other priorities for the session Democrats highlighted Monday include tax reform, job creation and improving education.

Hann said that the Republicans want to reform the tax system as well. Their aim is to make the state more appealing to businesses and help create jobs, he said.

If those goals are shared by Democrats, "I think they're going to find willing partners," Hann said.

"We certainly want to be at the table," Daudt said of tax reform discussions.

But Hann said Republicans are less open to the idea of raising taxes on Minnesota's wealthiest 2 percent. Dayton has said he likely will include that as a revenue source in his budget proposal, due in January.

"It's really a decision whether the DFL wants to have bipartisan legislation," Hann said.

House Speaker-designate Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said tax reform discussion needs to focus broadly on all areas, from property to income to sales taxes.

"It's a choice among taxes about how we fund our government," he said.

Democratic leaders acknowledged other DFLers likely will bring forward proposals on issues such as legalizing same-sex marriage, seeing an opportunity with Democrat control. Thissen said the fact that voters defeated an amendment to the state Constitution that would have outlawed same-sex marriage simply meant Minnesotans did not want to "stop the discussion cold."

He, Bakk and Dayton would not commit to pushing through the proposal.

With exactly four weeks left until the start of the 2013 state legislative session, Rep. Tim Kelly sat down with the Red Wing School Board for their annual legislative luncheon. Newly elected Sen. Matt Schmit was unable to attend Tuesday's special meeting.

Though it's been about a year since Kelly last sat down with the Red Wing board, many of the issues affecting the district remain the same.

Like last year, the board asked Kelly to increase funding for kindergarteners (who are only funded at about 60 percent of other pupils) and to clean up transportation laws to allow vetted volunteers to transport students.

However, the board also brought up some new issues. They asked Kelly to look into legislation that would allow the district's new employer-sponsored health clinic to be exempt from property taxes. Finance Director Brad Johnson said that currently, only hospitals -- not clinics -- are tax exempt.

Currently, the district is in the process of finding space for an employer-sponsored clinic for district employees and their dependents. The clinic is slated to open at the beginning of January.

The board also asked Kelly to look into legislation that would allow the district access to alternative facilities bonds and levies in order to address deferred maintenance.

Special Education Director Cherie Johnson asked Kelly about issues pertaining to the transportation of special education students and the large amount of paperwork required for each special education student. She also asked about adjusting special education teaching licenses to help address a teacher shortage.

"We've never once been able to fill all of our positions," Cherie Johnson said.

Just before the meeting ended, the board discussed proposed legislation that would reform education finance.

Kelly asked board members to make sure he knows if they have any problems with the piece as it moves through the Legislature.

"Let me know where we're at because that legislation will change dramatically (before) it passes," Kelly said. "This is going to pass in some form. It's more important than ever to watch how the language evolves."

He also asked the board to stay in contact with him.

"Contact us right away," Kelly said. "It's not an irritant. It's necessary."