Another Day, Another Missed Legislative Deadline

Minnesota legislators missed their second deadline in two days Wednesday morning, May 24, leaving much of the state’s $46 billion, two-year budget undone.

And House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, mentioned the possibility that the special legislative session that was to end at 7 a.m. Wednesday could extend for days.

Frustrated and tired legislators began shouting and had trouble communicating through the night.

Republicans blamed Democrats for trying to gum up the budget works, while Democrats said the GOP failed to live up to a promise to pass bills on time.

Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said lawmakers will continue to work, but they were not sure how much could be finished on Wednesday. In a large part, that depends on whether Democrats cooperate in suspending rules that otherwise would force bills to take days to come up for votes. It also depends on remaining bills being finished.

An agreement signed by Gov. Mark Dayton, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and four legislative leaders called for budget bills to pass by 7 a.m. and for leaders to not support any amendments. However, each of the 201 legislators has his or her own election certificate and the deal cannot force them to give up their rights to offer amendments, which frequently happened early Wednesday.

Gazelka and Daudt said they felt Democrats broke the spirit of the agreement with Dayton that they said should have resulted in quick passage of the measures.

“I am deeply disappointed,” Gazelka said.

On the other hand, the length of overnight debate did not matter in the end because a massive health and human services bill was not expected to be fully compiled until Wednesday afternoon.

“Republicans have now failed to pass a final budget in both the regular legislative session and in the self-imposed 12:01 a.m. (Tuesday) special session Kurt Daudt asked for,” House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, said. “Minnesotans would be better served by leaders who could get the job done for everyone.”

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said that the agreement, which he and Hortman signed, bans them from supporting any amendment but does not specifically ban amendments or debate on bills.

In an interview before 7 a.m., Daudt said he was concerned that if Democrats did not agree to speed up legislative work, lawmakers could remain in session for more than a week in what was planned to be a one-day special session.

“We got a little bit of a slow start,” he said, admitting that as a former minority leader himself he understands Hortman’s slow-down tactic.

“I think they saw the error of their ways at about 4 o’clock in the morning,” Daudt said of when bills began to move in the House.

With several late nights in the past few days, Daudt said he thought it would be a good idea for lawmakers to take a long enough break to get some sleep before returning to work. Gazelka, on the other hand, said many senators have places to fly and funerals to attend, so he suggested getting work done quickly.

It wasn’t until nearly 8 p.m. Tuesday that the first of seven bills supposed to be passed in the special session was revealed to the public. Lawmakers didn’t begin debate on that first bill until after midnight. When they did, the debate quickly devolved into acrimony and accusations.
Eventually, the House passed tax and education funding bills. Senators were in session little more than half an hour before adjourning at 7 a.m. Wednesday

Senators returned to session less than an hour later, but Gazelka soon called a recess to try to work out disagreements with Bakk.

Late Tuesday, lawmakers unveiled the budget bills for education, which makes up 40 percent of the state’s spending, and tax cuts, which will amount to $650 million in additional givebacks to Minnesotans.

Also released was a bill to preempt local governments from passing labor ordinances, a Republican measure responding to paid-leave and minimum wage proposals considered by Minneapolis and St. Paul. Dayton has promised to veto the bill, but Republicans tried to sweeten the deal by adding several of Dayton’s priorities to the preemption language.

The education budget would give public schools $483 million in new funding over the next two years, with much of it going toward a 2 percent a year increase in the per-pupil funding formula school districts use for day-to-day operations.

There’s also $50 million in new spending for Dayton’s key priority of expanding public preschool. The money goes into a new “School Readiness Plus” program that focuses on low-income students and allows schools to partner with local community providers.

The bill requires school officials and teachers union leaders to negotiate a local plan for staff cuts when budgets are tight. It removes default language in state law that focuses on seniority, commonly called “Last In, First Out,” or LIFO.

Many Democrats and teachers have been opposed to this change, and Dayton vetoed a broader plan to eliminate seniority rules in 2012.

The $650 million package of tax cuts is headlined by a break for seniors receiving Social Security income.

Low-income seniors already don’t pay taxes on their Social Security checks, but the new bill lets wealthier seniors subtract part of their Social Security from their taxable income. The provision will cost an estimated $117 million over the next two years.

There are several tax breaks for businesses, including a $95 million exemption for commercial property and a $19 million research and development credit. The measure will also freeze cigarette taxes at their current rates.

People with student debt can get tax credits up to $500, at a total cost to the state of $54 million. A bump to the tax credit for working families will cost the state $36 million, while an increase in the estate tax exemption from $1.8 million this year to $3 million for people who die in 2020 will cost $34 million. Farmers will get a tax credit to offset the cost of school tax levies.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press, a Forum News Service media partner, contributed to this story.