Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk announced the Senate's first bills (Photo: Aaron Klemz)
by Aaron Klemz
Jan 10, 2013, 11:29 AM

Bakk announces session priorities

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) announced the Senate DFL’s opening bills of the 2013 session at a Capitol press conference Thursday morning. The first four bills tackle a diverse array of subjects, including a health care exchange, indexing the minimum wage to inflation, all day kindergarten in Minnesota schools, and limiting the power of the legislature to place constitutional amendments on the ballot. Of course, as Bakk noted, this session will be dominated by the budget, so the fact that the health care exchange is the first bill doesn’t change that priority.

SF1, the health exchange bill, was previewed by Sen. Tony Lourey (DFL-Kerrick) yesterday, and we learned little new today. It does have a early date for completion, since the federal government placed a March 31st deadline for passage of the legislation when it approved Minnesota’s application for the exchange in November. Yesterday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers joined in announcing the bill.

SF2, the all day kindergarten bill, is being carried by freshman Senator Greg Clausen (DFL-Apple Valley), who recently retired as the principal of Rosemount High School. This high profile bill authorship indicates a desire to raise Clausen’s profile. He defeated Pat Hall for his SD57 seat in November by 8 points, while the GOP won both of the House races in the district. When asked about cost, Bakk estimated that it could cost up to $170 million if all school districts chose to offer full day kindergarten. The bill would not require that school districts do so, but would pay for it if they did.

SF3 would raise Minnesota’s minimum wage to $7.50, $.25 more than the federal minimum wage, and index the minimum wage to inflation in the future. Currently, Minnesota’s minimum wage is $6.15, less than the federal minimum. It’s being carried by Sen. Chris Eaton (DFL-Brooklyn Park,) entering her second term in the Senate. Minnesota’s minimum wage has not kept pace with the federal minimum, let alone inflation.

SF4 is being carried personally by Bakk, and would constrain the ability of future legislatures to put constitutional amendments on the ballot. Last election cycle bare legislative majorities were able to bypass the Governor and put amendments on the ballot. Bakk’s bill would make a statutory change that requires a 3/5ths majority in both chambers (similar to bonding bills) in order to do so. In an interesting twist, Bakk concedes that a future legislature could exempt an amendment from the statute, but would have to get the Governor’s signature to do so. This means that the new constitutional amendment calculus would be either 3/5ths in both chambers, or simple majorities and the Governor’s support. Also, Bakk would require that an amendment be passed by the legislative bodies in different years, which would slow down any rush to amend the Minnesota constitution.

In questions after the presentation, Bakk addressed the question of taxes and was blunt. In regard to tax reform, Bakk stated “It is not going to be revenue neutral, it is going to raise revenue.” The Senate DFL priorities are to solve the structural deficit facing the state and to provide property tax relief. And while a number of details remain to be filled in, one part of the puzzle is clear. As Bakk said, “I have told the business community that the final bill that the Governor signs will have a higher income tax rate for wealthy Minnesotans.”

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