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Legislature: Cities upset over GOP tax agreement

Minnesota state Sen. Keith Langseth of Glyndon on Friday tells reporters that he is surprised House and Senate negotiators opted to drop a tax-break program that helps cities along the North Dakota border. With him is Sen. Linda Berglin of Minneapolis. Pioneer Photo/Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- A Republican tax bill that cuts state payments to cities upset city leaders. The House-Senate tax conference committee agreed late Thursday to trim Local Government Aid as it wrapped up a tax bill, and phasing out aid to Duluth, St. Paul and Minneapolis. Comments rolled in all day Friday.

"Last night, the tax conference committee decided to cut an additional 29 percent of Local Government Aid funding and cripple the state's largest cities by phasing out their funding," said Park Rapids Mayor Nancy Carroll, president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. "The House and Senate majority's plan to balance the state budget by relying entirely on spending cuts and property tax increases is unacceptable."

A Republican-dominated conference committee made the decision, which likely will face strong opposition in the governor's office.

Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, said that phasing out aid to the three specific cities skipped over the third largest city, Rochester, which is represented by Republicans.

"This is a purely partisan attack," the senator said. "The only reason these three cities are being targeted, and Rochester exempted, is party politics."

Republicans say the cities are large enough to fund their own operations without so much state help.

Next year, the three larger cities would receive 75 percent of current aid, and the funds would shrink until the cities get no aid in 2014.

Duluth now receives more than $26 million a year from the state and the bill would cut $17.2 million next year.

"Our economy can't sustain the amount of cuts to Local Government Aid proposed by the Legislature," Duluth Mayor Don Ness said.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has pledged to keep local aid, and he will enter budget talks early next week.

Another change in the bill is elimination of a border cities tax plan that provides Breckenridge, Dilworth, East Grand Forks, Moorhead and Ortonville businesses with tax breaks so the cities may compete with lower-taxed North Dakota.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said that with North Dakota's improving economy and growing state budget, he thinks Minnesota's western neighbor will offer increased business competition and border cities tax breaks would help keep firms in Minnesota.

Outdoors derailed

A bill that would fight aquatic species that are invading Minnesota was on the fast track until Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk convinced fellow senators it needed more study.

The Cook Democrat said that Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen's bill skipped part of the legislative process. The Senate passed a similar bill and sent it to the House, which made several changes. But Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, wanted the full Senate to pass the House bill without sending it to a committee for consideration, Bakk said.

Bakk convinced senators to unanimously agree to send the bill to a House-Senate conference committee, where the new provisions can be debated.

The bill places more penalties on people who do not adequately prevent carrying invasive species from one body of water to another.

Republican leaders had wanted to send the bill to Dayton before he left for the Governor's Fishing Opener at noon Friday, but now it will early next week before he can sign the bill into law.

New map OK'd

The House approved 71-61 a bill to redraw U.S. House district lines.

A highlight of the plan, drawn and supported by Republicans, was making the mostly rural congressional districts stretch from east to west across the state, dramatically different than the current two northern districts.

Democrats' main argument against the bill was that the map was not released far enough in advance of a committee vote for the public to study it.

However, Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said there has been plenty of publicity in his northwestern Minnesota district and he only received one comment, and that was from someone outside of his district.

"It has not generated much conversation among my constituents," Fabian said.

Budget work

House-Senate conference committees are posting their preliminary work on line this weekend, giving Dayton a chance to get involved in budget negotiations.

Committees are wrapping up most legislative negotiations, as Dayton demanded before he would begin negotiations with lawmakers. In an interview, Dayton said that on Sunday he will "digest" reports that he has available on Sunday and serious budget talks may begin on Monday.

Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, met with Dayton twice on Friday and said that with Dayton now engaged in the budget, stadium construction and other issues the legislative session has a better chance of wrapping up by its May 23 constitutional adjournment deadline.

Senate GOP leaders on Friday said they expect a budget of near $34 billion once all conference committee work is done. That comment came after a Thursday evening meeting with reporters in which they refused to talk about a specific target. Dayton's budget plan would spend $37 billion.

Work to conclude a two-year budget will be complex.

"There will be many levels of negotiations," Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.