On Monday, September 9, the Minnesota Legislature convened for a one day special session. The previously agreed to agenda included disaster relief money to match federal disaster aid for the June 2013 severe storms and flooding and the April 2013 winter storms.
In the Senate
Upon convening the Special Session, the Senate recessed so the Finance Committee could hear the disaster relief bill, SF 1. The hearing lasted about an hour and consisted of testimony from the Homeland Security Division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS). There were questions regarding why some areas were included in the disaster relief and others were not. No questions or comments were made in committee regarding tax or any other issues. SF 1 passed to the Senate floor with no amendments on a unanimous voice vote.
For the floor debate, the Senate took up the bill first and passed it on a 59-0 vote. During debate on the bill, quite a few GOP members rose to support the disaster relief bill but also expressed varying levels of frustration regarding the lack of legislation repealing certain business taxes approved during the 2013 session. The business tax issues raised were the sales tax on telecommunications equipment, sales tax on warehousing services and the sales tax on repairing and maintaining farm and commercial and industrial machinery and equipment. The speakers suggested there were more than 34 votes in the chamber to repeal these taxes.
The Senate session lasted for less than an hour but the comments from GOP members were spirited especially those from Senator Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen) who stated her concern over the tax issues. (Note that she is running for US Senate against current Senator Al Franken (DFL-MN).) Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria), another potential candidate for higher office, commented on the highway billboard signs advertising that North Dakota, Wisconsin and South Dakota are “Open for Business.”
Before the motion to adjourn sine die, Senate GOP Leader David Hann (R-Eden Prairie) asked Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) to commit to a repeal of the warehouse tax. Bakk said that it would depend on, “how much money is laying around.” He noted the November forecast looks good but all that money is dedicated to repaying the school shift.
After Senate session the Senate Rules Committee met and approved payment of $91,000 in legal fees in the ongoing litigation involving Michael Brodkorb who is suing the Senate for firing him. During the discussion, Chair Bakk referred to the plaintiff not by name but as a disgruntled former employee. Members tried to find out the expected length of the case and total cost but were unable to get specific answers from staff.
In the House
Upon convening the Special Session, the House recessed so the Ways and Means Committee could hear the disaster relief bill, HF 1. Ways and Means convened after the Senate Finance Committee completed their work. DPS gave the same testimony that they provided in the Senate. Again, like the Senate, there were questions regarding why some areas were included in the disaster relief bill and others were not. HF 1 passed to the House floor with no amendments on a unanimous voice vote. No comments and questions where made regarding taxes or any other issues.
House session convened shortly after the Senate adjourned. The House had less debate than the Senate. However Representative Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul) argued that the disaster relief formula is skewed and does not work for high population density districts like Ramsey County. Hausman was the lone dissenting vote on the motion.
Rep. Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove), referring to the new business taxes passed in 2013, spoke of the, “missed opportunity to undo the mistakes of the DFL Majority during the 2013 session.” Zellers is running for Governor in the 2014 election.
House GOP Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) commented on the other man-made disaster in taxes to Minnesotans. He mentioned the warehouse tax, farm and business equipment taxes and a telecommunications tax.
House DFL Majority Leader Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) thanked members for coming together to work on disaster aid. She was confused by the rhetoric of doom and gloom from GOP members especially with the Shutterfly development in Shakopee and 4000 new jobs as well as the decrease in property taxes. She said the State budget is more stable now and Minnesota is not suffering; our economic outlook is improving.
The disaster relief vote passed 127-1 and the House adjourned sine die.
Regular session convenes February 25, 2014.