Dayton takes advantage of single-day window to raise commissioners’ pay

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton says on Wednesday, July 1, 2015, he is solely responsible for giving raises to commissioners he appointed. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton says on Wednesday, July 1, 2015, he is solely responsible for giving raises to commissioners he appointed. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton handed state commissioners annual average raises of $29,000 Wednesday, admitting that many Minnesotans cannot relate to that big an increase.

“My goal is to make government as good as possible,” Dayton said, adding that he came in thousands under the limit legislators set for commissioner pay.

“I did what I was authorized to do…” he said. “I am solely responsible for this.”

Dayton said he understands that the size of the raises may be tough for the public to understand, and the average raise alone is more than some families bring home. He asked Minnesotans to give him the benefit of the doubt that the raises are needed.

Top-level workers’ salaries have not risen as much as needed in recent years, he said. “We are playing catchup.”

The Democratic governor took action on the only day he was allowed to under a deal he and legislative leaders cut early this year. The Democratic-controlled Legislature of 2013-2014 gave Dayton the freedom to decide commissioner pay, but lawmakers of both parties objected in January this year when he upped salaries nearly a month before he told legislators.

The salaries announced Wednesday are similar to those he gave in January, before he and legislators agreed that the raises would be revoked and the governor would be able to hike commissioners’ pay only on Wednesday, the first day of the state’s $42 billion, two-year budget. After midnight Wednesday, power to set salaries returned to the Legislature.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Dayton should have talked to Minnesotans after the January dispute so he would know they do not support paying $900,000 more to his appointees.

“The governor apparently is more out of touch than I thought with Minnesotans,” Daudt said.

Top commissioner salaries of $154,992 annually go to those running transportation, revenue, public safety, natural resources, human services and budget departments. Not far behind, at $150,002, are commissioners of corrections, education, employment and economic development, health and pollution control.

Most Dayton Cabinet members received $25,000 to $35,000 raises.

Five Public Utilities Commission members each get a $43,000 raise to $140,000 annually. They do not sit on the Dayton Cabinet.

In all, 31 officials will get paid more under Dayton’s action.

The governor said one commissioner was offered $50,000 a year more for a private job, but she turned it down. He said no commissioner has complained about pay.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said the Legislature overwhelmingly gave Dayton authority to raise salaries.

“I share the concern of hiring and retaining our highly qualified, dedicated commissioners and other public servants who perform the outstanding work of our state departments,” Bakk said.

GOP leaders were critical of Dayton, even though Democrats pointed out that most Republicans voted in favor of the bill that gave Dayton authority to deliver pay raises Wednesday.

Daudt predicted lawmakers will attempt to overturn the pay raises in the 2016 legislative session.

The Republican also said that it will be tough to approve any agency budget increases next year in light of the pay hikes.

The speaker said that Dayton already had given 5 percent commissioner raises each of the past two years and he could have accepted raises in the 3 percent to 5 percent range.

The raises will be used in next year’s legislative campaigns.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said the raises are part of a larger issue he sees with Democrats who want to help themselves and their friends.

Hann said that compared to other states, Minnesota commissioners are overpaid. Dayton has had no problem getting commissioners, even with the old pay, the senator added.

 

Dayton uses second chance to hike commissioner pay

Standing near the state Capitol building being renovated, Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt Wednesday, July 1, 2015, says that the governor was not listening to citizens when he boosted state commissioners' pay. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Standing near the state Capitol building being renovated, Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt Wednesday, July 1, 2015, says that the governor was not listening to citizens when he boosted state commissioners’ pay. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota legislators gave Gov. Mark Dayton one day to raise his commissioners’ pay and, to no one’s surprise, he did that today.

Dayton is giving an average $20,000 raise to his commissioners and overall raises are similar to the $800,000 he awarded them in January, before he and legislative leaders agreed that the raise would be revoked and the governor would be able to up commissioners’ pay today only.

His action early this year created an uproar among lawmakers who were upset that he gave the raises and did not tell them until nearly a month later.

“It’s a lot of money; it’s more money than most Minnesotans make,” Dayton said on Minnesota Public Radio. “But these are very talented people who have the ability to command these salaries — in fact, higher salaries — in the public sector elsewhere, even in Minnesota.”

Top commissioner salaries of $154,992 went to those running transportation, revenue, public safety, natural resources, human services and budget departments. Not far behind, at $150,002, were commissioners of corrections, education, employment and economic development, health and pollution control.

He could have raised those 11 and eight other commissioners’ salaries to $164,803.

Another eight commissioners will be paid up to $144,991, short of a $148,694 cap.

“All Minnesotans depend upon their skills to organize and deliver needed public services, while also creating efficiencies and saving taxpayers money,” Dayton wrote to legislative leaders about his commissioners.

He also wrote: “The salaries of high-level public officials are continent targets for anti-government partisans, who don’t understand the sophisticated administration skills required to provide quality government services, and care even less.”

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said the Legislature overwhelmingly gave Dayton authority to raise salaries on July 1.

“I share the concern of hiring and retaining our highly qualified, dedicated commissioners and other public servants who perform the outstanding work of our state departments,” Bakk said.

But Republicans said Dayton is out of touch with Minnesotans, who do not want commissioners to get the size of raises given Wednesday.

“I will not say I am surprised, but I will say I’m very disappointed,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said about Dayton’s decision.

He called the governor out of touch with average Minnesotans and predicted lawmakers will attempt to turn back the pay raises in the 2016 legislative session. He said the average pay increase in the state was 1.7 percent, but some commissioners received more than a 30 percent boost.

Daudt also said that it will be tough to approve any agency budget increases next year in light of the pay hikes.

The speaker said Dayton already has given 5 percent commissioner raises each of the past two years and he could have accepted raises in the 3 percent to 5 percent range.

The $42 billion, two-year state budget started today, but it does not include funds for commissioner raises.

 

Political chatter: Negotiations take a different path

This year’s negotiations to end the Minnesota legislative session could be called different, unusual, strange or, even, weird.

Of course, one difference — although far from unique — is they did not produce a budget before the May 18 constitutional end of the session. That aside, the process was, er, uncommon.

One example is that fewer leaders than normal were taking a direct part in talks.

As the regular session neared an end, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, excused themselves from a meeting with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and went into one of the governor’s residence rooms to negotiate their own deal.

The pair handed it to the governor, then went out to brief waiting media on the “deal,” not really saying that Dayton had not approved it.

As the Legislature tried to wrap up its work late May 18, negotiations continued into the last few minutes. But they failed, and Dayton vetoed three of eight state funding bills.

The big dispute was about education, in particular whether to fund Dayton’s top priority of sending all 4 year olds to school.

After the regular session, Dayton and Daudt became the chief negotiators. Bakk said his caucus could accept whatever the governor negotiated, although the senator and governor remained in close contact.

Dayton eventually gave up on his pre-kindergarten plan, in the name of wrapping up the budget. He promised to continue the debate in the remaining three years of his term.

Once the education debate ended, attention turned to a provision Dayton said was a must-do in special session: overturn part of a law he just signed into law that allows counties to hire private accountants to check their finances instead of using the state auditor.

Dayton, a former auditor, said that he would not call a special session without promises that lawmakers would overturn the clause.

But he eventually gave in on that, too, saying that it was more important to finish work on time than to press the auditor issue.

With that seemingly last disputed item out of the way, more disputes arose. They had to do with jobs, environment and energy legislation and in the end they appeared to be settled with little to-do.

The one thing Dayton would not give up on was his insistance that each of the Legislature’s four political caucuses promise that in a special session they would pass the remaining bills as negotiated, without changes. That is a common demand of governors who call special sessions, but then lose control over what lawmakers can do once they convene.

With Dayton insisting each of the four legislative leaders sign a promise that bills would not change, he ran into yet another snag. This time it was Senate Democrats, many of whom appeared to be distancing themselves from the environmental provisions they did not think were strong enough, threatening one of the budget bills.

Dayton finally decided the bills would pass, and he signed a document calling a special session hours before it started.

Move looks bad

Dayton said there is nothing illegal about an official in his administration leaving for a job with a medical marijuana company, but it does not look good.

Assistant Health Commissioner Manny Munson-Regala announced he is resigning from a position that included helping design the Minnesota medical marijuana program. In early July, he goes to work for Cottage Grove-based LeafLine Labs.

New IP leader

Minnesota Independence Party members have elected Mark Meyer of Lake Crystal state chairman.

He succeeds Mark Jenkins, who says he will remain active in the party.

Meyer has been involved in the party for years,

“We are the party serving the political needs of centrists, moderates and independents,” Meyer said. “We are the party of reform, small business and the working middle class. Working together we will move back to major party status and beyond.”

Phil Fuehrer of St. Paul was elected state party director.

Wolf delisting attempted

A U.S. House appropriations subcommittee is considering a provision to remove gray wolves from the endangered list, and forbidding courts from reviewing the decision.

A court ordered the wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes area to be protected. U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., wants wolves to continue to be protected.

“This rider is a tremendous overreach that would interfere in the federal listing of endangered species,” McCollum said. “Our committee’s role is to appropriate the necessary funds to allow the expert staff of scientists and professionals to do their jobs working to protect endangered species. This bill should not be mandating which species do or do not require protection.”

She also said that the courts should be allowed to do their work.

Franken: Save mail

U.S. Sen. Al Franken tells the head of the U.S. Postal Service that northeastern Minnesota mail service has deteriorated since a Duluth mail processing facility closed.

In a letter to Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan, the Minnesota Democrat asked her to fix service problems. He said the problems hurt residents, businesses and communities across the region.

“People and businesses from Grand Rapids to Grand Portage rely on the postal service to get their mail — including notes from loved ones, checks, medicine, and newspapers — in a timely fashion,” Franken said. “Mail that used to take a day or two to arrive now takes at least three to five days, and that is simply unacceptable.”

Legislative notebook: Jobs-energy bill funds aircraft to jobless payments

Legislators approved a jobs and energy bill that funds workforce housing, job training and broadband expansion.

The bill passed in a Friday special legislative session provides a $4 million loan to Duluth-based Cirrus Aircraft and allows Iron Range taconite workers and poultry workers with flocks affected by the avian flu to get extended unemployment benefits.

The legislation also provides more government assistance for Minnesotans who use propane for heat.

The House approved the bill 78-47, with the Senate voting 50-14.

The bill lowered spending from the current two-year budget, Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said, while making “important energy reforms that will continue pushing us toward our goal of cleaner and cheaper energy for Minnesotans.”

“We dispelled this ridiculous notion that higher energy prices create jobs,” he added.

But Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-St. Paul, said the bill will mean fewer jobs across the state.

He said that money Garofalo saved comes from greater Minnesota and Twin Cities economic development programs.

Expanding broadband in rural Minnesota will get $11 million, down from $20 million approved a year ago, $100 million that broadband supporters wanted and $30 million Gov. Mark Dayton suggested. House Republicans began the year with no broadband money in their plan.

“There is no question we have missed an incredible opportunity here,” Rep. Erik Simonson, D-Duluth, said about broadband.

 

Education advances

An education funding bill that provides more money to early-childhood programs, but without the governor’s wish for universal school for 4 year olds, passed easily.

The House voted for the legislation 115-10, with senators favoring it 53-12.

The legislation spends $17 billion of state tax money, out of a $42 billion, two-year budget.

The bill adds $550 million to what schools had expected to receive, boosting the per-pupil funding $236 per student; that is a 2 percent a year increase, costing $63 million.

It also adds money for pre-school scholarships that allows parents to spend the funds at variety of schools, not requiring youngsters to attend public facilities. That is a $17.5 million addition.

And the bill puts $12.7 million more into American Indian education and increases Head Start spending $10 million.

The bill is $125 million richer, but otherwise little changed from the one that lawmakers passed before their regular session ended on May 18.

“This bill is the third largest state investment in state history, and it prioritized both funding schools at a level that met their budget requirements and visionary investments in early childhood education,” Senate Education Chairman Charles Wiger, D-Maplewood, said.

 

Legacy vote easy

Lawmakers showed strong support for legislation, known as the legacy bill, to fund outdoors and arts programs.

The bill, which gets money from a 2008 sales tax increase approved by voters, would give $228.3 million to clean water programs, $97.8 million to outdoors, $89.4 million for parks and trails and $124.8 million for the arts.

Senators passed the legacy bill 54-10, with the House voting 116-6.

Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said one notable appropriation in the arts and cultural heritage portion of the bill is $3.3 million for Capitol art preservation as the building undergoes a restoration.

 

Homeless senators

With the state Capitol building closed for renovation, the Senate had no place to meet, forcing senators to set up shop in a House committee room.

“The majority caucus find themselves homeless,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, declared at one point Friday.

Friday’s meeting was historic because it was the first time the House and Senate have met outside of the Capitol building in more than a century.

After weeks of preparations, two House committee rooms in the State Office Building became makeshift legislative chambers as the Capitol building is closed to everyone but construction workers as part of a multi-year $300 million renovation.

“We are making a bit of history today,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, told his colleagues. “I understand that this is the first time in 110 years a session of the House has been held outside of our Capitol building.”

 

Bonding considered

Lawmakers early Saturday approved spending far less than the governor wants on public works projects around the state in a year that House Republicans say they did not need such legislation.

The House voted in favor of the bill 96-25 for the bill, with senators voting 48-18.

“In bonding, of course, size matters,” Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said of the bill he authored.

Too little public works money would garner too few votes, while too much would scare away those who want to contain spending.

“This bill for this year is about the right size,” Torkelson said.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton called for a bill topping $800 million.

The public works bill would spend $373 million, $180 million of which would be financed by bonds to be repaid from general tax revenues. Other bonds would be paid by other funds, such as from gasoline tax.

One of major projects provides $171 million to reroute U.S. 53 in northeastern Minnesota as a taconite mine takes over the old highway. Those funds, as well as money for local roads and bridges, come from bonds to be financed by transportation revenues.

Also in the legislation is $38.5 million for flood-related expenditures for 2014 flood recovery, Otter Tail County lake flooding, Red River Valley flood-prevention efforts and similar projects. About $33 million would be provided to finish renovation of the state Capitol building.

Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, said the $26.5 million for Willmar and St. Paul poultry testing facilities, both University of Minnesota projects, is important in light of avian flu outbreaks that hit his area especially hard.

Also in the bill is $29 million for the next phase of southwest Minnesota’s Lewis and Clark rural water system, $1.2 million for Northeast Regional Corrections Center renovations, $10 million for sewage treatment facilities and $31.9 million for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities projects

Railroad crossings also were funded, although not at the amount Democrats wanted: $3.8 million for a Willmar railroad crossing, $4.7 million for one in Plymouth and $460,000 for a third at Rainy River.

 

GOP dumps on Dayton

Republican House members had special session information packets featuring a cover photo of water being dumped on Dayton’s head at last year’s State Fair, part of a charity fundraiser.

Democrats were not happy.

“It is appalling that the Republicans think it is OK to disrespect a sitting governor in the manner they did using taxpayer dollars,” Chairman Ken Martin of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party said.

 

Update: Controversial ag-environment bill fails Minnesota Senate vote

Minnesota senators defeated by a single vote the spotlight bill of today’s special legislative session, raising the possibility of a second special session.

On a 33-32 vote, the agriculture-environment funding legislation lost as other budget bills were being passed in an effort to finish the state’s $42 billion, two-year budget. The bill needed 34 to pass.

There was an effort to bring the bill back up for another Senate vote. However, if the tally remains as is, the Legislature would be forced into a second special session.

Some of the most liberal Senate members said the agriculture-environment legislation would weaken environmental protections.

Sen. John Marty, D-Roseville, urged senators to vote to return the legislation to negotiations. “Once we have the votes to reject it, then we sit down with the governor and the House.”

But bill sponsor Sen. David Tomassoni, D-Chisholm, disagreed with Marty and others who complained about his legislation’s environmental impact. “I don’t think there is anything in this bill that reduces water quality or environmental standards in this state.”

It is time to pass the legislation, Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, said.

“Everybody has things they want to fight for,” Eken said. “There is a time for compromise and that time has come.”

As an example of his willingness to compromise, Eken said that he would vote for the measure even though it did not contain a provision he wanted that would allow Red River Valley communities’ sewage treatment plants to meet lower pollution standards as long as North Dakota maintains lower standards.

The bill “is the best that we can do,” Eken added.

The ag-environment bill was the focus of Friday’s special session because Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said that there might not be enough votes to pass it, which could force a second special budget session.

Friday’s special session was called after Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed three of five budget bills, including the $17 billion education measure. The state budget is to be $42 billion for the next two years.

Friday’s meeting was historic because it was the first time the House and Senate have met outside of the Capitol building in more than a century.

After weeks of preparations, two House committee rooms in the State Office Building became makeshift legislative chambers as the Capitol building is closed to everyone but construction workers as part of a multi-year $300 million renovation.

“We are making a bit of history today,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, told his colleagues. “I understand that this is the first time in 110 years a session of the House has been held outside of our Capitol building.”

At stake in the ag-environment bill were the jobs of hundreds of state jobs and programs the legislation would fund.

The bill and others include more than $20 million to help farmers whose poultry folks have been infected by avian flu, including state response, mental health aid to farmers and low-interest loans to those affected.

Perhaps the most politically important part of the bill is the impact failure to pass it could have on state parks.

Dayton said his administration would quit taking state park camping reservations Monday if the bill did not pass. State parks and other Department of Natural Resources, Agriculture Department and other facilities would close July 1 if there were no budget.

The failure of the bill “is not something that is going to be easy to negotiate,” Tomassoni said. “I feel that if we don’t pass this today we are in an imminent position of laying off state employees.”

Marty disagreed: “It takes one day.”

One of the major complaints of Marty and other liberals was elimination of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens’ Board, which makes some pollution-related decisions. A controversial western Minnesota dairy farm permit request set off opposition to the board, which Dayton opposed but eventually accepted in pre-special session negotiations.

The bill also includes a Dayton provision to require crops be at least 16.5 feet away from public water. The governor pushed the buffer legislation, and compromised down from requiring 50 feet of vegetation buffers around all water.

Besides complaining about environmental provisions, Marty also was unhappy that a multitude of policy issues were included in the finance bill. “The only way you will get a budget is to take all of these unacceptable provisions.”

Protesters stood outside the temporary Senate chambers and outside the office building urging senators to vote against the environmental provisions.

Ag-environment bill may be in trouble

Four Minnesota political leaders wait to talk to reporters Thursday, June 11, 2015, about a special legislative session. From left are House Speaker Kurt Daudt, House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and Gov. Mark Dayton. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Four Minnesota political leaders wait to talk to reporters Thursday, June 11, 2015, about a special legislative session. From left are House Speaker Kurt Daudt, House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and Gov. Mark Dayton. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Legislation funding agriculture and environmental programs may be in danger during a Friday special legislative session being called to finish writing the Minnesota state budget.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, late Thursday said he did not know if there will be enough votes to pass the measure funding a wide variety of programs ranging from state parks to helping farmers whose flocks were infected with avian flu.

“I don’t know if it is going to pass,” he told reporters waiting to hear what happened during a four-hour Senate Democratic meeting.

Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, said he was not permitted to discuss what went on in the closed-door meeting, but also expressed reservations about the bill’s future. “We’ll find out tomorrow.”

The agriculture part of the troubled bill, which usually is among the easiest for legislators to pass, is especially important this year because it contains funds for state farmers who have lost 9 million turkeys to avian flu. The bill would provide loans to affected farmers and provide them with mental health assistance.

On the environmental side, state parks will stop taking camping reservations Monday if the bill does not pass.

All state programs funded in the bill would stop on July 1 if money is not approved by then.

Other bills are expected to do fine during the session that legislative leaders said will begin at 10 a.m.

At 11 p.m. Thursday, Gov. Mark Dayton signed a document scheduling the session.

A special session is needed because Dayton vetoed three of eight budget bills during the regular session that ended May 18. Negotiations since then have changed those bills, although House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said they look much like what passed earlier.

The three vetoed and reworked bills are those funding agriculture-environment, jobs-energy and education. Lawmakers also hope to pass bills funding public works projects, outdoors and arts projects.

Deputy Senate Majority Leader Jeff Hayden, D-Minneapolis, said he and his colleagues examined the environment bill “line by line.”

“Everybody is making their pitch,” he said, including the governor.

Some senators said stricter environmental protection language should be in the bill, but Dayton said Thursday that the bills ready for Friday votes are the best he could get from House Republicans.

The governor asked his fellow Democrats to support three budget bills he vetoed, as well as two more funding measures. Earlier Thursday, he said that if he was convinced they would pass the bills, he would schedule the session.

“We don’t have time to continue this process…” Dayton said, referring to a June 30 deadline for passing bills. “This is about stepping up to do what we must do.”

Bakk said that even though his Democrats hold a majority in the Senate, he does not think the bill will get the 34 votes it needs to pass. That leaves it to Republicans to furnish enough votes, and some in the GOP have said in recent days that even though they voted for it in the regular session they probably will not on Friday.

Bakk talked about the potential that a second special session could be needed to pass the ag-environment bill.

The Senate leader said that he did not think Dayton’s plea for support swayed many senators.

The four legislative leaders and Dayton met Thursday morning, and emerged saying they expected a Friday session, but were not sure.

“I really ask the 201 legislators to look beyond their particular political views…” Dayton said. “What is at stake now is the continuity of government in the state of Minnesota,” the governor said.

The session will be the first held in more than a century anywhere other than the state Capitol building. It is undergoing a multi-year $300 million renovation and is closed to all but construction workers.

Two large House hearing rooms in the State Office Building, across the street from the Capitol, have been turned into House and Senate chambers, but there will be very little room for the public.

 

Friday session agreement being signed

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton says on Thursday, June 11, 2015, that he will call a special legislative session once he is convinced all remaining budget bills will pass. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton says on Thursday, June 11, 2015, that he will call a special legislative session once he is convinced all remaining budget bills will pass. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

A Friday special legislative session is expected to finish writing the Minnesota state budget.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said he was the first legislative leader to sign an agreement with the governor Thursday night saying his caucus will support the budget bills. He said a governor’s office staff member said that Senator Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, also will sign.

With those two in agreement, most of the pieces are in place to wrap up the $42 billion, two-year budget.

Gov. Mark Dayton said after talking to Democratic legislators late Thursday that he remained optimistic a Friday session was possible, but he was not willing to commit to a special session until he heard back from all four legislative leaders.

Deputy Senate Majority Leader Jeff Hayden, D-Minneapolis, said he and his colleagues were going through the environment bill “line by line.”

“Everybody is making their pitch,” he said, including the governor.

Some senators said stricter environmental protection language should be in the bill, but Dayton said Thursday that the bills ready for Friday votes are the best he could get from House Republicans.

The governor asked his fellow Democrats to support three budget bills he vetoed, as well as two more funding measures. Earlier Thursday, he said that if he was convinced they would pass the bills, he would schedule the session.

“We don’t have time to continue this process…” Dayton said, referring to a June 30 deadline for passing bills. “This is about stepping up to do what we must do.”

Bakk said that he was not sure his members would pass the agriculture-environment bill. However, he added, the votes should be there once Dayton tells them that the bill is the best they will get.

The Democratic governor issued a threat: “If somebody is going to start to disrupt this whole process at this point by offering a self-serving amendment, I’m going to be very strongly opposed, and I’m going to be not bashful about going around to their respective districts and telling people in those districts that this kind of grandstanding is just not acceptable.”

Bakk said that may not go over well.

“The members feel they have a constitutional right to offer an amendment,” Bakk said.

The four legislative leaders and Dayton met Thursday morning, and emerged saying they expected a Friday session, but were not sure.

“I really ask the 201 legislators to look beyond their particular political views,” Dayton said.

Without the final three budget bills, a partial government shutdown would begin July 1. Before then, Minnesotans could feel the impact, such as state parks not accepting camping reservations beginning next week.

“What is at stake now is the continuity of government in the state of Minnesota,” the governor said.

Dayton and legislative leaders expect a one-day session, starting at 10 a.m..

A special session is needed because Dayton vetoed three of eight budget bills during the regular session. Negotiations since then have changed those bills, although Daudt said they look much like what passed earlier.

The three vetoed and reworked bills are those funding agriculture-environment, jobs-energy and education. Lawmakers also hope to pass bills funding public works projects, outdoors and arts projects.

The session will be the first held in more than a century anywhere other than the state Capitol building. It is undergoing a multi-year $300 million renovation and is closed to all but construction workers.

Two large House hearing rooms in the State Office Building, across the street from the Capitol, have been turned into House and Senate chambers, but there will be very little room for the public.

Special session almost set for Friday

Waiting to talk to the media on Thursday, June 11, 2015, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, left, and Senate Minority Leader David Hann collect their thoughts. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Waiting to talk to the media on Thursday, June 11, 2015, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, left, and Senate Minority Leader David Hann collect their thoughts. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota political leaders expect a special Friday legislative session Friday, but Gov. Mark Dayton will not schedule it until he is convinced none of the 201 legislators will mess up the plan.

Dayton plans to meet with Democratic lawmakers tonight to make sure they are willing to support three funding bills he vetoed, as well as a public works financing measure and legislation to fund outdoors and arts programs.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said he is not sure his members would pass an agriculture-environment bill, due to a multitude of environmental concerns. However, he added, the votes should be there once Dayton tells them that the bill is the best they will get.

Bakk and House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said Dayton will speak to their members tonight. Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said he could invite the governor to talk to his members, but House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said he does not see the need in his caucus.

Once Dayton receives assurances that the bills will pass, he said that he will schedule a Friday session.

“I really ask the 201 legislators to look beyond their particular political views,” Dayton said Thursday morning after meeting with the four legislative leaders.

Without the final three budget bills, a partial government shutdown would begin July 1. Before then, Minnesotans could feel the impact, such as state parks not accepting camping reservations beginning next week.

“What is at stake now is the continuity of government in the state of Minnesota,” the governor said.

Dayton and legislative leaders expect a one-day session. An activity near the Capitol would make it difficult to extend the session into Saturday, Bakk said.

Most of the concern about passing the environmental bill is from Bakk’s caucus.

“They members feel they have a constitutional right to offer an amendment,” he said, but leaders and Dayton oppose any changes to bills they have negotiated since the regular session ended on May 18.

“We don’t have time to continue this process…” Dayton said, referring to the June 30 deadline for passing bills. “This is about stepping up to do what we must do.”

“The game’s over,” he added. “Now you can get prepared for the next game.”

A special session is needed because Dayton vetoed three of eight budget bills during the regular session. Negotiations since then have changed those bills, although Daudt said they look much like what passed earlier.

Uncertainty still surrounds session

Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk says on Wednesday, June 10, 2015, that he is confident the Legislature can pass its remaining budget bills, but not so sure a special session will be on Friday as the governor wants. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk says on Wednesday, June 10, 2015, that he is confident the Legislature can pass its remaining budget bills, but not so sure a special session will be on Friday as the governor wants. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

The Minnesota Legislature appears set to finish passing the state budget Friday, but there is less certainty about what happens than in many past special sessions when outcomes were foregone conclusions.

“I cannot guarantee any of these bills will pass,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said Wednesday afternoon. “And if they don’t, we’re going to go back to work.”

He said that he is not even sure the session will come off on Friday, as Gov. Mark Dayton wants.

A bill funding agriculture and environmental programs is especially questionable. While the ag part of the bill faces little opposition, liberals and conservatives have problems with the environmental part of the legislation: the left saying provisions do not go far enough to protect the environment and the right saying they go too far.

Dayton and four legislative leaders plan to meet Thursday to officially set the agenda for a special session, allowing the governor to schedule it.

With it expected to be Friday, House and Senate finance committees scheduled a 4 p.m. Thursday meeting to look through the agriculture and jobs bill.

Bakk said he has heard from many senators who simply want to get the budget finished, but the success of the special session may depend on who shows up.

Four or five in the Senate Democratic caucus alone could be gone, Bakk said. The same will be true throughout the Legislature as members follow through with previously made summer plans. With some bills expected to have close votes, the outcome could depend on whether supporters or opponents are gone.

Bakk said he does not plan to strong-arm members into supporting any of the bills.

Details of three vetoed budget bills have been worked out and legislators are ready with two other spending measures, leaving only the formality of four legislative leaders and Dayton signing an agreement on the special legislative session’s agenda.

Deputy Chief of Staff Linden Zakula of Dayton’s office said that if the remaining budget bills fail to pass, the Dayton administration would continue making plans for a partial government shutdown on July 1, including going to court to keep essential employees on duty even without money. Camping spots could not be reserved beginning Monday.

“For those reasons, and to avoid unnecessary disruptions for Minnesotans, Gov. Dayton prefers holding a special session on Friday, and is focused on getting the final details resolved so that a global agreement can be signed by all four (legislative) caucus leaders,” Zakula said.

The current state budget ends June 30 and if three vetoed budget bills do not pass by then some government agencies will shut down.

Dayton vetoed three of eight bills financing the state’s two-year, $42 billion budget after the regular session ended. House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Dayton, a Democrat, have been negotiating those bills since the May 18 session end.

No one is happy with the final details, Dayton said, which is the “sign of a true compromise.”

The three vetoed spending bills fund education, agriculture-natural resources and economic development-energy programs. Lawmakers also will be asked to pass a public works funding bill and legislation paying for outdoors and arts projects.

The main issue that delayed calling a special session, whether to strip the state auditor of some of her duties, likely will remain front and center, even though leaders do not expect to deal with it during the special session.

Auditor Rebecca Otto Wednesday said on Minnesota Public Radio that she expects to take the state to court over a new law that gives counties the right to hire private accountants to examine their finances instead of paying her office. She encouraged lawmakers to use the special session to overturn the law Dayton signed last month.

School districts and most cities already can hire private firms to audit their books.


Special session bills

Here is a look at what Minnesota legislators are expected to consider during a special session to finish passing a two-year, $42 billion state budget:

Education

About $17 billion will be spent for early childhood-through-high school education. While Gov. Mark Dayton did not get his universal 4-year-old education plan enacted, the Legislature plans to provide more money for early childhood education.

Economic development-energy

The Department of Employment and Economic Development is to receive $228 million, Housing Finance Agency $102 million, Explore Minnesota Tourism $28 million, Labor and Industry Department $48 million, Mediation Services Bureau $2 million, Workers Compensation Appeals Court $3.5 million, Commerce Department $55 million and Public Utilities Commission $14 million. (These figures are tentative; the updated bill was not available when this list was compiled.)

Agriculture-environment

Agriculture Department would receive $87 million, Board of Animal Health $10.7 million, Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, $7.3 million. The avian influenza fight would get nearly $11 million, with another $10 million from the Rural Finance Authority to provide low-interest loans for farmers with flocks impacted by avian flu. The major environmental spending will be $187 million for the Pollution Control Agency and $526 million for the Department of Natural Resources.

Public works

A public works finance bill, with money raised by the state selling bonds, would provide $180 million in projects to be repaid by general state taxes. Overall, the legislation would spend $373 million with some bonds repaid by other taxes, such as the gasoline tax for transportation projects.

Legacy funding

Set to be spent is $98 million on outdoor, $228 million for clean water, $89 million for parks and trails and $125 million for arts and culture projects from a sales tax increase voters approved in 2008.

Revisor’s bill

Legislation that normally simply corrects spelling and other errors in already-passed bills, the revisor’s bill this year is expected to have a more interesting provision. House Speaker Kurt Daudt says a drafting error on a bill funding several state agencies would cause the state auditor to lose her auditing authority on July 1. He said that the revisor’s bill will restore the authority. The issue is separate from a dispute about whether the auditor should give up power to audit county books, a controversy that held up scheduling the special session.

Dayton wants Friday special session

The Minnesota Legislature appears set to finish passing the state budget on Friday.

Details of three vetoed budget bills have been worked out and legislators are ready with two other spending measures, leaving only the formality of four legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton signing an agreement on the special legislative session’s agenda.

Dayton Deputy Chief of Staff Linden Zakula said that in coming days, without all budget bills passing, the Dayton administration would need to continue making plans for a partial government shutdown, including going to court and stopping taking state park camping reservations. Camping spots could not be reserved beginning Monday, Dayton said earlier.

“For those reasons, and to avoid unnecessary disruptions for Minnesotans, Gov. Dayton prefers holding a special session on Friday, and is focused on getting the final details resolved so that a global agreement can be signed by all four (legislative) caucus leaders,” Zakula said. “We are working with the Legislature to determine if a Friday special session is possible, with the assumption that a final agreement is signed.”

The House and Senate have scheduled a 4 p.m. Thursday joint finance committee hearing to consider the final bill to be wrapped up, one funding economic development and energy programs.

Dayton, a Democrat, vetoed three of eight bills financing the state’s two-year, $42 billion budget after the regular session ended. House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Dayton have been negotiating those bills since the May 18 session end.

The governor got some of what he wanted in final negotiations this week.

“I am pleased that these agreements finally include $5 million to help Minnesotans with disabilities find and maintain employment, and to help prevent Minnesotans with mental illness from becoming homeless,” Dayton said. “They also add consumer protections to the Energy Intensive Trade Exposed rate provision that will help the taconite and forest products industries in northeastern Minnesota.”

“The House Republican majority’s aim from the beginning was bringing government spending more in line with family budgets,” Daudt said. “I’m proud to say, upon enactment, our budget will have the third lowest percent increase in general fund spending in over 50 years.”

He said new spending is going toward students, roads and bridges, older Minnesotans, the avian flu outbreak and steelworkers facing layoffs.

Dayton said state leaders faced difficulties in compromising on a budget.

“These resolutions to the bills I vetoed three weeks ago have been extremely difficult,” Dayton said. “Last fall, Minnesotans elected a divided state government, led by people with very different views about the role of government in our society; the optimal levels of state revenues and expenditures; and the policies and programs, which they should support.”

No one is happy with the final details, Dayton said, which is the “sign of a true compromise.”

Once a special session passes, the three vetoed bills, a public works finance bill and a measure funding outdoors and arts projects, the work of the 2015 session will be done.

The three vetoed spending bills fund: education, agriculture-natural resources and economic development-energy.

On Tuesday, Dayton said he wanted a special session Friday or Monday.

Those who must agree on what passes a special session are Dayton, Daudt, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook; House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis; and Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. Thissen is on a European trip promoting Minnesota as the site for a world’s fair, but said he would return when needed to finish passing the budget before a June 30 deadline.

 

Dayton has head start on 2016 to-do list

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has dropped priority after priority in his effort to get a state budget passed before the June 30 deadline.

Prime among the casualties was offering classes to 4-year-olds across the state. The final item Dayton gave up was his insistence on reversing a law he just signed that gave away some of the state auditor’s power.

Dayton said he gave up on some of his priorities in an effort to finish passing a $42 billion, two-year budget. A special legislative session will repass three bills he vetoed, a public works funding bill and a measure spending money on outdoors and arts projects.

But once that special session has come and gone, Dayton’s dreams will remain. They probably will form the basis of his 2016 legislative session to-do list.

The Democratic governor promises that he will return with the pre-kindergarten proposal. He has three years left in what he calls his final term to accomplish that.

Dayton also said he will continue fighting to overturn the auditor provision.

The governor complained that the special session likely will consider a public works bill, funded by the state selling bonds, that he says is too small. It would spend $180 million in borrowed money to be repaid by general taxes, with $373 million being borrowed for all projects, including those to be repaid by funds such as coming in from gasoline taxes.

The so-called bonding bill is less than a quarter of the size of one Dayton proposed earlier this year, leaving plenty of projects, ranging from fixing leaky roofs to buying land for parks, available to debate next year. Even-numbered years usually are when lawmakers approve big bonding bills.

Dayton wants pieces of legislation that failed in the regular session that ended May 18 taken up in special session. But when questioned, he said he would not demand that they be on the agenda before he calls a special session.

In a letter to House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, Dayton said he wants more money for rural high-speed Internet connections, known as broadband. “I am perplexed by your refusal to increase funding … after your repeated promises to provide additional help to greater Minnesota.”

Dayton recommended $30 million to expand broadband in the next two years, but the compromise approved this year includes $10.6 million.

Another bonding proposal that is not expected to be a major part of the special session was meant to prepare the state for a federal judge’s order on Minnesota sex offender treatment that is due in the next few days.

Dayton proposed $10.8 million to build two sex offender facilities, an amount reduced to $560,000 in the special session bonding bill.

A federal judge soon will hand down a ruling about whether the state sex offender program is constitutional, and he already has made it clear he does not think it is. He likely will order the state to make changes, which could include better facilities designed to lead toward releasing offenders from the state hospitals where they now are locked up.

After Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, and Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer, last week negotiated the special session bonding bill, criticism arose that it did not fund replacing three of the four railroad crossings Dayton calls the most dangerous.

The compromise bill funds crossings in Willmar, Rainy River and Plymouth. Torkelson said that legislative leaders did not give him enough money to pay for more expensive ones on the governor’s list in Moorhead, Coon Rapids and Prairie Island Indian Community.

The governor is expected to renew his request for the three crossing improvements he wanted, as well as increasing an assessment on railroads for other rail safety improvements.

It is a long time before the 2016 legislative session begins March 8, but Dayton already has a head start on his priority list. And considering the 201 legislative seats that are up for election next year, it is a safe bet that his list will be joined by at least that many more.

 

Special legislative session more likely as Dayton gives up auditor fight

Gov. Mark Dayton says on Monday, June 8, 2015, that in order to finish passing the Minnesota state budget that he will give up his requirement that a new law cutting the state's auditor's power be overturned. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Gov. Mark Dayton says on Monday, June 8, 2015, that in order to finish passing the Minnesota state budget that he will give up his requirement that a new law cutting the state’s auditor’s power be overturned. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Gov. Mark Dayton gave up his last major must-do item for a special Minnesota legislative session, setting up the possibility that lawmakers can pass the rest of the state budget later this week.

Ending his fight to retain the state auditor’s authority to audit county finances, at least for now, Dayton said Monday three less controversial issues remain to be solved. He said the work should not take long, but added that recent negotiations should teach him not to be optimistic.

The Democratic governor said he knows Republicans will not give up their demand that counties have the right to hire private audit firms instead of the state auditor reviewing their finances.

“I learned before that I can’t match the intransigence of Republicans,” Dayton said.

His announcement Monday comes a week after he said he would give up on his year’s top priority: establishing a program to send Minnesota 4-year-olds to school.

It came hours after House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, used his strongest language yet that he would not allow the auditor change to pass a special session.

“There will be no action taken on this issue in special session,” Daudt said. “Period.”

After the Dayton announcement, the speaker issued a statement that that said he looked forward to final negotiations to set up the special session.

Three issues remain unresolved in a jobs-economic development-energy bill, Dayton said.

The governor wants a provision rewritten or removed from the bill that expands taconite and wood products industries’ electric rate breaks to other large industries “at the expense of residential and small business ratepayers.”

Dayton also wants $5 million for programs to help the disabled and mentally ill and he seeks provisions to make sure Minnesotans get financial benefits for using wind or solar power in their homes and businesses.

Daudt said earlier in the day that four provisions remained unresolved, but did not specify them. He said that Republicans and the governor were close to finding solutions.

Dayton suggested that his staff and legislative staff work out the final details, then he would call in the four legislative leaders so the five could sign a document indicating what would pass in a special session. Only then, he said, would he call a session.

The governor said the overtime session could be late this week.

After the regular session ended May 18, the governor signed five spending bills, part of a $42 billion, two-year state budget.

He vetoed three bills, which if not passed by July 1 would result in a partial state government shutdown and layoff of thousands of state workers. The biggest bill he vetoed was the $17 billion education package.

A special session is needed to repass the three vetoed bills, approve public works funding legislation and pass a measure paying for outdoors and arts projects.

Dayton, a former state auditor, said he would resume his efforts to keep the auditor in charge of county audits, hinting it would be easier if Democrats win back control of the House in 2017.

Current Auditor Rebecca Otto, a Democrat, has been running a social media campaign to keep her powers as they are.

“I will continue to fight this unjust gutting of a constitutional office that belongs to the people of Minnesota, which happened in the middle of the night,” Otto wrote on Facebook after Dayton’s announcement. “I will pursue every avenue to restore oversight of Minnesotans hard-earned money.”

Dayton called the auditor provision a “massacre” of the office.

The state Constitution gives the Legislature power to decide the auditor’s duties.

Dayton signed the overall bill containing the auditor measure into law last month, and immediately said he wanted the Legislature to overturn the auditor portion.