Dayton Drops Pre-kindergarten Plan To Settle Unfinished State Budget

Buttoning his suit coat, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton heads out to meet the media Friday, May 29, 2015, and tell them he is not happy with Republican education proposals. With him is Lt. Gov. Tina Smith. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)
Buttoning his suit coat, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton heads out to meet the media Friday, May 29, 2015, and tell them he is not happy with Republican education proposals. With him is Lt. Gov. Tina Smith. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Gov. Mark Dayton dropped his controversial proposal to send 4-year-old Minnesota children to school, but education differences Friday left a wider gap between the governor and House Republicans than when the day started.

“We had a disappointing day,” Democrat Dayton said shortly after he and House Republican leaders wrapped up negotiations for the day, with no more talks scheduled.

Dayton said that he gave up on funding pre-kindergarten classes, a plan Republicans oppose, in an effort to end a stalemate that left about 40 percent of the next state budget unfunded.

“That has been my No. 1 goal all session,” Dayton said about his pre-kindergarten effort, but promised to keep trying in his three remaining years in office.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, earlier had a different view: “I think we had another good day.”

Daudt, Dayton and key aides met at the governor’s St. Paul residence off and on throughout the day preparing for an as-of-yet-unscheduled special legislative session to wrap up budget work.

Dayton said he will not return to negotiations until Republicans increase education funding and drop a last-minute effort to allow local school districts to decide whether seniority is the primary deciding factor in deciding who to retain when some teachers are laid off. Dayton said neither he nor legislative Democrats could accept the proposal.

The governor complained that the GOP brought up the issue Friday for the first time since the regular session ended on May 18.

An offer Republicans gave Dayton at 2:30 p.m. Friday would increase spending $125 million from the level expected to be spent on education, $25 million short of what Dayton wants.

The Republican plan would add money to overall per-pupil spending and increase two programs that fund early-childhood education. Dayton said he could accept the division of money the GOP suggested.

However, he said, he wants more money before returning to talks: “I am not coming back into the room with less than $150 million” increase in education spending.

Daudt talked to reporters earlier, then went to speak at a commencement. He gave no indication of problems.

“We continued to make progress toward our end goal,” he said.

“Education is outstanding,” he added. “We are not totally together there yet.”

The two sides are close on issues other than education, the speaker and governor said.

Daudt said he “absolutely” is willing to take two or three more weeks to negotiate with Dayton if needed to get a good set of funding bills.

“We have let our members know to be a little bit on standby” for a special legislative session, Daudt said.

But since it will take several days to organize a special session, there is no way to avoid giving nearly 10,000 state employees notices Monday warning they could be laid off on July 1. They could be off the job if legislators and Dayton do not finish the budget by then.

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith talked to Agriculture Department employees Friday to let them know talks continue, but explained that government could go into a partial shutdown if there no deal reached in June. She has talked to most departments that could be affected by lack of appropriations.

“For them, it is not a political problem, it is a personal problem,” she said.

A special session is needed to finish enacting the state budget. Dayton vetoed three of five budget bills because they did not include items he wanted.

While Daudt, Dayton and top aides met in the governor’s residence, small groups of lawmakers and others met elsewhere to work out details on budgets other than education. The speaker said the groups will meet throughout the weekend.

Negotiations are aimed at finishing a $42 billion, two-year state budget.

Dayton has set an eight-item special session agenda:

— Pass a vetoed education funding bill with money to launch a pre-kindergarten program.

— Change and pass a vetoed spending bill for jobs, economic development and energy.

— Rewrite and pass a vetoed agriculture and environment funding bill, keeping money for avian flu recovery and requiring buffer strips around state waters.

— Overturn a just-passed provision that would allow private auditors to check county books instead of the state auditor.

— Pass a public works funding bill.

— Pass the “legacy bill” to fund outdoors and arts projects.

— Pass a $260 million one-time income tax cut.

— Pass a bill that would allow felons’ vote to be restored after they get out of prison.