State budget to take center stage in April

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Budget bills will be the Legislature’s top priority in April, with issues such as same-sex marriage likely to take the back seat for at least a few weeks, House majority leaders said Friday as lawmakers headed home for a weeklong break.

It remains to be seen whether the House will vote this year on a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. “Once we get the budget worked on, those decisions will be made,” said House Speaker Paul Thissen (DFL-Mpls), who said he’s telling supporters of the bill that “they need to continue to build the conversation.”

Asked whether same-sex marriage advocates have the votes to pass the bill in the House, he said, “I haven’t totally counted them up.”

Thissen believes that lawmakers will pass some kind of gun safety legislation this year, “but I wouldn’t dare to guess what the contents of that bill is going to be.”

Two days after a bill requiring universal background checks was pulled by its sponsor, the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee on Thursday approved a gun bill that would require checks for person-to-person sales at gun shows. Rep. Michael Paymar (DFL-St. Paul), committee chairman, said Thursday that he wants the full House to vote on universal background checks. Thissen said he expects that will happen.

Budget talks ahead

While emphasizing that their priorities largely align, House and Senate majority leaders will have to resolve the budget differences that each outlined this week. Senate DFLers have proposed to close a projected $627 million deficit and increase spending by $1.4 billion over the next two fiscal years. The House majority plan would increase spending by $1.1 billion.

Unlike their Senate colleagues, House majority leaders are also pushing to accelerate repayment of “shifted” aid that lawmakers previously borrowed from schools to balance the state budget. To cover that $854 million tab, they want to impose a temporary income-tax surcharge on Minnesotans earning more than $500,000 a year.

House Republican leaders also want to pay back the delayed school aid, but say it can be done without raising taxes.

The alternatives that the House minority leader has suggested so far would solve just a small percentage of the budget problem, Thissen said. DFLers and Minnesotans would appreciate it, he said, if minority members “actually joined us in coming up with a solution.”

For their part, Republicans are frustrated that the DFL has not yet given the minority key information about its budget, said Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie). That includes fee increases that could be folded into department budgets, and that wouldn’t show up in net spending figures, she said. “The total amount of taxes that are planned to be raised is somewhat of a question as well.”