Dayton vetoes GOP budget-cutting bill

Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a bill cutting the state budget more than $900 million Thursday night, his first major action since taking office.

Democrat Dayton, sworn in on Jan. 3, rejected the Republican-written bill that would have cut $824 million from the next two-year state budget and $100 million from the budget that ends June 30. Republicans said it was the first step in fixing a $6.2 billion deficit.

The governor’s action came hours after senators approved the measure 37-28. The House voted 68-61 a day earlier.

Dayton had criticized Republicans in charge of the Legislature for only working on part of the state’s $6.2 budget problem. He wanted lawmakers to offer a complete budget solution, like he promises to release Tuesday.

The governor was not involved in writing the bill, nor in House negotiations, despite legislative leaders’ promise to bring his administration into the process before sending him the bill.

“What we are doing today is poking the governor in the eye with a stick,” Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said shortly before Republican senators voted to pass the bill on to Dayton.

Senate Finance Chairwoman Claire Robling, R-Jordan, compared the bill to her hobby, gardening, in which she finds it easier to pull weeds over a period of time instead of all at once. It is a lot easier “if I do it in steps,” she said.

Cuts in the next budget would be reductions from what currently is planned to be spent.

The bill would hold local government payments from the state at current levels, but Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, said even at that level local officials will be forced to raise property taxes $322 million.

While most of the bill would cut spending, one provision would have removed a limit on how much landowners can receive from a state program designed to encourage sustainable forests. The bill eliminates the $100,000 cap on those payments.

Of five large forest owners that benefit from eliminating the cap, three (Blandin Paper Co., Potlatch Corp. and Meriwether Land and Timber) sued the state over the issue. They claim they lost $8 million to the payment limit.

Senate Tax Chairwoman Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said the lawsuit led to the decision to lift the payment limit.

Bakk said that raising the payments would cost the state $11 million. The decision came with no public testimony during a 32-minute conference committee meeting this week.

Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, said he is concerned that requiring $100 million in cuts over the next few months could eliminate or reduce spending on some veterans and military programs, such as help to pay tuitions, veterans’ home repairs and re-enlistment incentives.

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