‘Show Them The Way Where There Does Not Seem To Be A Way’

Storms are in the forecast.

While that is the St. Paul weather outlook, it also could be expected under the Capitol dome starting Monday, May 15, when state budget negotiations could resume.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republicans who control the Legislature have deep divisions as they begin their final full week of the 2017 Legislature; at least it will be their final full week of the regular session, with special session thoughts in the back of many minds if leaders cannot craft a deal by May 22.

Those in both parties pretty much agree on a $46 billion, two-year budget, but are far apart about what to do with that money.

“Show them the way where there does not seem to be a way,” the Rev. Phil Shaw prayed to begin the House session Friday, May 12.

Soon after Shaw said “amen,” Dayton vetoed the first five of 10 budget bills: those that would fund agriculture, environment, education, state government, and health and human services.

Dayton had said he would reject the measures, which Republicans sent to him without much input from the governor. He said he will veto the remaining five budget bills, expected on his desk Monday.

Letters Dayton sent lawmakers letters specifically explaining his objections often centered on what he considered a lack of funding.

In his agriculture bill veto, Dayton said he is confident “we can work out these differences and end the legislative session on time.”

“I urge legislative leaders to immediately rejoin the end-of-session negotiations and develop an agriculture finance bill that appropriately invests in agriculture and can gain my support,” he wrote.

On Thursday, Dayton said he would resume negotiations, suspended earlier in the week, on the bills once he vetoed them. If was not clear if talks would resume before he receives and vetoes the next five bills.

Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities members showed some of the problems facing negotiators in coming days.

The coalition talked to lawmakers and reporters Thursday, saying the GOP Legislature is coming up short in funding Local Government Aid, transportation and public works projects.

“Rural Minnesota voters sent a strong message in November (elections) … that their needs had been ignored for too long,” said Alexandria Mayor Sarah Carlson, the coalition president.

While city officials did not specifically blame Republicans, GOP lawmakers represent most of their communities.

Local Government Aid increases long have been the cities’ top priority as they seek to recover from LGA cuts in the early 2000s. They want a boost of more than $45 million in the two-year budget to bring the program back to its 2002 level.

Many rural Republicans agree they would like to see an LGA boost, but Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, said the issue is more complex than city officials let on.

A Swedzinski bill that is included in budget legislation would save $42 million in sales tax cities otherwise would pay on construction projects.

Still, he said, “their argument is valid and I am working on a higher number for LGA, but when you look at the full spectrum, it is not the only thing.”

Had his bill been law two years ago, Swedzinski said, Redwood Falls would have saved $250,000 in sales tax when it built a water treatment plant.

Rep. Jeanne Poppe, D-Austin, said she thinks LGA is “critical. We need public safety and lights and the core functions of the cities.”

Poppe did not count out an LGA increase. “That is what happens in negotiations, you don’t know what is going to happen.”

City leaders said they fear the impact of the GOP transportation bill, which takes millions of dollars out of other programs to spend on road and bridge work. They also want more transportation money just for cities.

“Taking too much general fund money for transportation could have a harmful effect on other important priorities like LGA, education and public safety,” Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski said.

Even if the proposal is not perfect, he added, “something is better than nothing.”