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Senate OKs $2.2 billion income tax increase

Rep. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, listens to Minnesota House debate Friday on an economic development spending package.

ST. PAUL - Senators opted to raise nearly every Minnesotan's income tax as a way to help fill a massive budget state budget deficit.

The bill that passed 35-31 Friday night would increase the percentage paid in all three existing Minnesota income tax brackets and add a fourth tier for couples earning at least $250,000 a year and single Minnesotans making about half that. Income taxes would rise $2.2 billion.

Republicans were joined by a few Democrats, mostly those in conservative districts, in opposing the measure.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he will veto the measure if it reaches his desk.

"Now is the time to reduce government spending and prioritize programs, not increase taxes," Pawlenty wrote to Sen. Tom Bakk, chairman of the Senate Taxes Committee.

But Bakk, DFL-Cook, said that Pawlenty's no-new-tax stance "is failing Minnesota."

Bakk, a governor candidate, defended a provision that ends Pawlenty's Job Opportunity Building Zones program designed to cut taxes on new rural businesses.

"We just cannot continue under these budget circumstances what we have done in the past," Bakk said.

Other rural senators rattled off lists of businesses that have succeeded due to JOBZ, but they failed to restore any of the program's provisions.

The House today takes up its own tax bill, which raises $1.5 billion taxes in a variety of ways.

Public safety funded

Public safety and the courts should be funded better than the governor recommends but less than under the current budget, the House decided Friday.

Representatives voted 85-45, on party-line vote with Republicans opposed.

"We put together the best bill we possibly could under some extraordinary circumstances where we had to make these cuts," said Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, chairman of the public safety finance committee.

The Corrections Department, for instance, receives a 1 percent budget cut under the bill. That should not lead to layoffs, Paymar said, although Rep. Steve Smith, R-Mound, said he fears Corrections' jobs would be in danger.

"A vote for this bill sends the wrong message to Minnesota: It says Democrats have your wallet, but don't have your back," Smith said.

The Corrections Department would receive $38 million in federal economic stimulus funds, keeping its cuts smaller.

The bill requires Corrections to cuts its vehicle fleet by 20 percent and find ways to save costs of housing prisoners 1 percent less expensive.

A variety of court fees would rise if the bill is enacted.

Emily bill fails

A proposal inspired by the death of Emily Johnson of Fergus Falls failed in a Friday House debate.

Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, asked representatives to allow murder charges to be filed against 13 year olds. However, the amendment he proposed was ruled non germane.

Emily Johnson, 2, died three years ago, with a 13-year-old accused of throwing her against the fall. Current state law limits murder charges to people 14 years old and older.

Amendment hijacked

An effort make sure Minnesota charities do not spend money to help anyone accused of being a pirate or other types of "high-seas terrorism" failed to pass, but drew a few laughs.

Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, introduced the amendment to a public safety bill in response to report that a Twin Cities organization was aiding a person accused of piracy.

When Seifert began talking about the bill, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, sent Seifert a pirate hat and a pair of toy plastic swords.

Then, Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, put on a pirate's coat, hiding one arm as if it were missing. He said the issue is very serious along Lake Superior, offering a mock amendment that he said defines pirates as people using "argh" in conversations and wearing puffy shirts.

"Walking the plank is not deemed cruel and unusual punishment," the normally serious Huntley intoned.

Seifert was not amused. "This is a serious amendment. I am not offering it as a joke."

But it went nowhere because Kelliher ruled that it was not appropriate for the public safety bill.

Partner benefits OK'd

An early-Friday vote would extend state employee health-care benefits to same-sex partners.

The provision was tucked into a funding bill the House passed 69-62. It would allow the benefits beginning in 2012.

The measure also authorizes the state to sell naming rights for most state buildings, although not the Capitol.

Economic aid, cuts

The budget of the state agency dealing with economic development would be cut 8.3 percent under a bill Minnesota representatives passed 78-50 Friday night.

Bill supporters said it is better than Gov. Tim Pawlenty's budget plan.

The bill spends $51.5 million on workforce development, about $20 million more than the governor proposes.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said the economic development spending plan is an attempt to fund programs Pawlenty proposed cutting and "that will help put people back to work in the state of Minnesota."

Under the plan, businesses temporarily would pay a higher workforce development fee to fund job-creation programs.

The measure cuts the Minnesota Historical Society funding 7.4 percent and tourism 7.8 percent.

Lawmaker hurt

An early-Friday traffic accident injured Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis.

The 12-term representative was resting at home Friday, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said. She could be back in the Capitol today.

The accident occurred soon after the House adjourned for the day at about 1:30 a.m. after a marathon debate.

Kelliher said Wagenius, 68, was turning from Interstate 94 onto Interstate 35W, on a curve, when another car rammed the back of her vehicle.

"She's very bruised up," Kelliher said.

The State Patrol reported the other driver was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving.