Legislative overtime session may be full

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton announces he vetoed the education funding bill Tuesday, May 19, 2015. He said he will review other budget bills this week. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton announces he vetoed the education funding bill Tuesday, May 19, 2015. He said he will review other budget bills this week. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Note: A problem with the blog service used by Capitol Chatter prevented some stories from being posted earlier this week. Here is one.

Minnesota lawmakers could debate issues ranging from education to private accountants in a special session this spring or summer.

It has been apparent for days that legislators will be summoned back to pass an education funding bill more to Gov. Mark Dayton’s liking, but on Tuesday the governor said he would demand changes in at least one other bill and would like to see work on a range of other legislation.

Dayton planned to veto an education bill that passed in the final day of the regular session Monday sans his top priority of the year: $171 million to begin classes for 4 year olds in any school district that wishes it. The governor had a veto letter written Tuesday, well before it arrived in his office.

He said that the $17 billion, two-year education budget lawmakers passed is too small, considering a nearly $2 billion expected budget surplus.

Dayton detailed final-day negotiations with Republicans who control the House that failed to reach an education funding deal.

Throughout the day, Dayton said, he kept lowering his request and by day’s end even gave up on voluntary pre-kindergarten for 4 year olds.

“We were trying to spare taxpayers a special session,” he said. “I was going to do what I could to finish the session on time.”

Republicans rejected the offer, he said, which was just $25 million richer than what the GOP proposed.

“I think they have a lot to learn about how to compromise,” Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said.

Dayton said he will remove his last funding offer, but did not know where negotiations will begin for a special session.

Legislative Republicans and most Senate Democrats supported the bill that passed. It would have increased school funding but did not include money for pre-kindergarten.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said that he will examine Dayton’s education veto letter and would like to solve the dispute without a special session. He did not say how a special session could be avoided.

“Over the last five months, we have worked together with Senate Democrats to pass a bipartisan budget investing $400 million in new money into Minnesota classrooms including 1.5 percent and 2 percent on the general education formula and more than $60 million for early learning initiatives,” Daudt said.

One provision in a bill that passed Monday that Dayton said that he will insist be changed before he calls a special session would allow private auditors to examine counties’ finances. The bill passed by the House and Senate would allow counties to either let State Auditor Rebecca Otto do their audits or to hire a private accountant.

Dayton, a former state auditor, said the bill would allow counties to pick auditors who would be most favorable to the counties.

Otto has opposed the bill and sought Dayton’s veto, but on Tuesday Dayton said that instead of vetoing an entire bill he will insist that the just-passed bill be changed to eliminate the option of hiring private auditors.

The governor said he has not had a chance to examine other bills, but said he could consider using the same tactic for any provision he does not like. He also could veto bills, but said he will not know that until he has had a chance to examine them.

Some bills that did not pass both the House and Senate in the rushed final minutes before the Monday night adjournment also could be considered in a special session.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, and Dayton said they would like to see a public works funding bill on the agenda. It could fund Capitol renovation needs that recently arose and recovery costs for last year’s flooding.

A special session also could take up the “legacy bill,” which uses a sales tax increase voters approved in 2008 to fund outdoors and arts projects. The $540 million bill passed the House not long before midnight Monday, but never made to the Senate.

Less likely, but still on Dayton’s list, is trying to increase transportation funding.

House Transportation Chairman Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said that he expects discussions on a transportation funding package to continue over the interim.

Democrats and Republicans agreed this year that billions of dollars in new money is needed for road and bridge construction, but it did not pass this year after Democrats called for it to be funded with a new gasoline tax while Republicans wanted the money to come from other state programs.

Interest groups on Tuesday began lobbying for their causes to be part of a special session. For instance, the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities said it would be a good time to revive a dead tax bill that could increase state aid to cities.

An online lottery ban probably will not be part of a special session. Dayton announced Tuesday that he is allowing a bill to become law without his signature that orders the Minnesota State Lottery to end its use of games on the Internet and at fuel pumps.

The Minnesota Capitol press corps surrounds Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook early Tuesday, May 19, 2015, just after the Legislature adjourned for the year. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

The Minnesota Capitol press corps surrounds Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook early Tuesday, May 19, 2015, just after the Legislature adjourned for the year. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Packed boxes sit atop Minnesota representatives' desks early Tuesday, May 19, 2015, as workers prepare to move everything out of the state House chambers before construction crews move in as part of a multi-year Capitol building restoration projects. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Packed boxes sit atop Minnesota representatives’ desks early Tuesday, May 19, 2015, as workers prepare to move everything out of the state House chambers before construction crews move in as part of a multi-year Capitol building restoration projects. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Bob Meyerson, chief Minnesota House sergeant at arms, wheels chairs out of the state House chamber early Tuesday, May 19, 2015, before workers move in as part of a Capitol building renovation project. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Bob Meyerson, chief Minnesota House sergeant at arms, wheels chairs out of the state House chamber early Tuesday, May 19, 2015, before workers move in as part of a Capitol building renovation project. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

House Chief Clerk Pat Murphy leans over to talk to Rep. Tim Kelly of Red Wing early Tuesday, May 19,2015, after the Minnesota Legislature adjourned for the year. Boxes on represenatives' desks are packed as workers prepare to clear the chamber as part of a Capitol building restoration effort. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

House Chief Clerk Pat Murphy leans over to talk to Rep. Tim Kelly of Red Wing early Tuesday, May 19,2015, after the Minnesota Legislature adjourned for the year. Boxes on represenatives’ desks are packed as workers prepare to clear the chamber as part of a Capitol building restoration effort. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Shouts, confusion end Minnesota legislative session

Minnesota Reps. Steve Green of Fosston (front) and Dave Hancock of Bemidji look at one of three computers on their desks in the House on Monday, May 18, 2015. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota Reps. Steve Green of Fosston (front) and Dave Hancock of Bemidji look at one of three computers on their desks in the House on Monday, May 18, 2015. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

The Minnesota Legislature ended early today amid shouts of “crooks’ and “shameful,” with plenty of confusion mixed in, as lawmakers failed to finish everything they wanted to do in 2015.

A special legislative session is expected after Gov. Mark Dayton’s promised veto of an education funding bill.

Lawmakers passed all the must-do spending bills for a $42 billion, two-year budget, but did not complete a public works funding bill or legislation to fund outdoors and arts projects.

Legislative leaders declared the session, which began Jan. 6, successful, although top Republican and Democratic priorities went undone.

House Republicans, who wanted to cut taxes $2 billion, lost that debate. Senate Democrats failed to get a new gasoline tax to finance transportation work. And Democrat Dayton did not get money for starting pre-kindergarten classes.

The House was in an uproar and the Senate slogging through a last-minute bill as the midnight constitutional adjournment deadline arrived.

“This is no way to make public policy,” Sen. Barb Goodwin, D-Columbia Heights, said at eight minutes before midnight after senators received a 94-page jobs, economic development and energy bill.

Senators passed the measure at two minutes before midnight, and a Senate worker ran it to the House.

The House approved it with many representatives not voting at a minute before midnight as the House speaker avoided eye contact with everyone and called for an immediate vote, refusing to acknowledge anyone wanting to speak.

Democrats shouted protests at House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.

A minute after midnight, the Senate passed a public works funding bill, but the House already had adjourned and the measure will need to wait for a special session or next year.

The Senate adjourned at 12:02 a.m. today.

Right after the Legislature adjourned, workers began tearing up the House chamber as part of a three-year Capitol renovation project, making holding a special session difficult. Dayton suggested a session be held in a tent on the Capitol front lawn, an idea most lawmakers rejected.

There was no immediate Dayton comment about the future of the education bill and other budget legislation. But in the past few days he increased his rhetoric about vetoing the education bill and promising a special session.

Generally governors only call special sessions after they have signed agreements with legislative about what will be debated. However, once a governor calls a special session, lawmakers may discuss whatever they want.

Despite the rough ending, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said it was the most bipartisan session he has seen.

“Tonight the Legislature passed the final components of a two-year budget to keep Minnesota moving forward,” Bakk said. “Protecting MinnesotaCare from elimination, $138 million for nursing homes, and important new investments in education were significant accomplishments for the DFL Senate.”

Daudt also talked about being bipartisan.

“Republicans delivered for our students and our aging adults, and enacted dozens of innovative reforms to improve of the lives of Minnesota families,” the speaker said. “We proved we can work together, Republicans and Democrats, to do what’s right for Minnesotans. With broad bipartisan support behind this budget, House Republicans look forward to the governor signing our budget into law.”

Dayton has not given his feelings on most budget bills, although he has expressed discontent with specific provisions. However, Dayton has promised to veto the education bill because legislative leaders rejected his desire to educate 4 year olds.

Dayton wants $171 million added to launch his pre-school provision. Legislative leaders negotiated a bill that adds money to per-pupil funding, but does not include enough for Dayton’s pre-school plan.

“I’m fighting for the kids of Minnesota,” Dayton said Sunday, when he promised to veto any education bill that did not fund his pre-kindergarten plan. “I’m fighting for the parents of Minnesota.”

With less than a half day left in the session, senators voted 51-14 to approve the legislative leaders’ education plan. A mixture of Democrats and Republicans voted against the bill.

The House earlier approved the bill 71-59, with all Republicans in favor and Democrats against.

Dayton blamed House Republicans for the lack of pre-kindergarten funding.

“They are responsible, not me,” Dayton said about a likely special session. “Their attitude is they will pass this bill and walk away.”

A provision that would help greater Minnesota, Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer said, would allow schools to get state money to help make repairs.

Stumpf told of one school district that had to make roof repairs over a numbers of years because it could not afford to make all the needed repairs at once, adding that the provision would have helped.

 

Special session, failures face Minnesota lawmakers

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton says on Sunday, May 17, 2015, that he absolutely will veto the education funding bill lawmakers appear ready to send to him. That likely would lead to a special legislative session. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton says on Sunday, May 17, 2015, that he absolutely will veto the education funding bill lawmakers appear ready to send to him. That likely would lead to a special legislative session. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

A special session over education funding and the failure of the three main legislative forces’ priorities face Minnesota lawmakers when midnight arrives Monday.

Lawmakers made good progress on most of the eight major spending bills Sunday as they worked to write a $41.5 billion budget for the two years beginning July 1. They face a Monday midnight constitutional deadline to adjourn, and legislative leaders have agreed on pretty much everything, but Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton repeated demands, more forcibly than ever, that they give him a half-day education program for 4-year-olds.

Dayton wants $171 million to allow 40,000 4 year olds go to school. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Dayton will not get his way.

“Shame on them,” Dayton said of House Republicans who would not back his plan.

Neither the Republican-controlled House nor the Democratic-controlled Senate passed an education funding bill that included the pre-kindergarten funding. Bakk said he and other Democrats support the Dayton provision, but Republicans do not, so it needs to wait if an education bill is to pass.

“The bill is closed and that’s the bill we intend to send to the governor,” Bakk said late Sunday.

House lawmakers were behind closed doors Sunday night discussing the bill, and it was possible it could come up for a vote later in the night or early Monday.

Republicans were adamant against the provision.

“It’s the governor’s responsibility to build a groundswell of support for his issues in the Legislature,” Daudt said. “And the fact that this particular issue didn’t make it into the conference committee, it didn’t pass the House or the Senate, makes it a difficult position for him to maintain.”

Daudt, who met with Dayton on the issue late Sunday afternoon, added: “I certainly ask the governor to reconsider and not veto our bipartisan education bill that puts more dollars on the per pupil formula than his own budget, makes significant investments in early education and helps address teacher shortage issues in greater Minnesota.”

Bakk also met with Dayton, but the governor swayed neither leader.

While Dayton’s priority pre-kindergarten program appeared about to sink, Senate Democrats also have failed to get a transportation program funding by a new gasoline tax and House Republicans were unsuccessful in providing $2 billion in tax breaks.

The tax cuts and transportation funding could pass next year, but Dayton said he does not want to wait until 2016 for an education funding boost.

Work already done on the transportation and tax proposals still will be on the books when legislators return March 8 for their 2016 session.

Daudt and Bakk worked out the education funding plan Friday afternoon in a private session at the governor’s residence. After the governor looked it over, he rejected the plan and each day has spoken more vigorously against it.

If education funding is not approved by the midnight deadline, Dayton would need to call a special session if one was to pass.

The Dayton administration says that while some funding could continue to reach schools if no education bill passes, much would not. And, the administration says, the 400-employee state Education Department would close.

However, House Education Policy Chairwoman Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, said that a 2011 state government shutdown set a precedence that state check-writers and others should continue to work even without a budget appropriation. She said education would continue as is without a bill.

Special sessions have been fairly common, but this year it would be difficult. Hours after the Legislature adjourns, construction workers are due to tear up House and Senate chambers as part of a three-year, $300 million Capitol building renovation.

Dayton on Saturday said that a special session could cost the state millions of dollars, but Sunday he said — and his aides said he was serious — that he would be in favor of holding a special session in a tent on the Capitol lawn.

“They are responsible, not me,” Dayton said as he blamed the GOP for a special session. “Their attitude is they will pass this bill and walk away.”

Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said he has heard from a couple of people in his district who favor the pre-kindergarten plan. Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said he also has not heard from many in support.

Both said they, and many school leaders, would prefer to add money to the per-pupil state payments to schools instead of sending 4-year-olds to class.

Assistant House Minority Leader Paul Marquart, D-Dilworth, said he thought that about 80 percent of House Democrats favor the Dayton proposal.

The Legislature’s preschool-to-12th-grade school funding bill puts school spending at $17 billion over the next two years, about $400 million more than the current budget.

Legislators’ plans put most of the new money, roughly $287 million, into the per pupil funding formula for school operations. Districts would receive a 1.5 percent and 2 percent increase over the next two years, $87 per student in the first year and $110 per student in the second.

It also includes $32 million to help rural districts maintain school facilities. Now, just 25 mostly metro districts can raise property taxes for maintenance without voter backing.

Preschool does get $60 million in new money, but it is evenly split between public schools favored by DFLers and scholarships favored by Republicans.

The measure does not include controversial policy provisions proposed by Republicans, including changes to teacher seniority rules for layoffs and requiring transgender students to use bathrooms based on their sex at birth.

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

 

Updated: Dayton, leaders clash over school funding

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton tells reporters Saturday, May 16, 2015, that he will veto an education fudning bill because it does not spend enough money. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton tells reporters Saturday, May 16, 2015, that he will veto an education fudning bill because it does not spend enough money. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota legislative leaders and the governor are on a collision course over education funding as time runs out for the 2015 legislative session.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton promises to veto education spending legislation that is not rich enough to fund universal pre-kindergarten programs. House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said they don’t want to waiver from a budget deal they drew up that falls short of Dayton’s wishes.

The governor wants enough money to fund half-day pre-kindergarten programs statewide, as well as increasing per-pupil spending in schools. While Bakk and Daudt are leaving details up to education conference committee negotiators, Dayton said Saturday that $150 million more than is in the Bakk-Daudt plan is needed to fund his projects and avoid a veto.

A veto probably would force a special legislative session.

The education money in dispute pales in comparison to the overall budget, which under the Bakk-Daudt plan would spend $41.5 billion in the two years beginning July 1. Current spending is expected to be $39.3 billion in the two years ending June 30.

Negotiations among Dayton, Daudt and Bakk throughout the past week did not reach an overall budget agreement. While meeting with Dayton at his official home, Bakk and Daudt retired to a closed-door meeting Friday afternoon, met two hours and left after giving Dayton their budget plan. After looking it over, Dayton had several criticisms, but nothing rising to a veto threat like what he considers inadequate education funding.

Legislators have until midnight Monday to finish their session.

If they cannot finish on time, holding a special session will be difficult because on Tuesday construction workers begin expanding their Capitol renovation work by ripping up the House and Senate chambers. Dayton said that if a special session is needed, it could cost millions of dollars.

In the rush to finish on time, House and Senate negotiators pushed to finish writing their eight spending bills so the full House and Senate can vote on them before adjournment. Lawmakers were expected to work Sunday afternoon and night and all day Monday.

Saturday’s focus was on education funding for early childhood through high school.

Democrat Dayton met with reporters, but first greeted a Duluth brother and sister, ages 8 and 11.

“The situation is all about their future,” Dayton said, nodding to Stella and Charley Schutz, whose grandmother works for the House Public Information Office.

More than 50 House Democrats signed a letter supporting the Dayton spending level.

“In a time of surplus, we should not be shortchanging our kids,” the Democrats wrote to Dayton. “Democrats in the Minnesota House will stand with you and with families across our state as these budget negotiations move forward.”

Bakk said that he and Daudt are firm on passing their own plan, not increasing spending to please Dayton. “We are out of time here.”

The senator warned that Dayton’s veto threat “is very risky.” He said if the bill is vetoed, Republicans could return to a special session with an even lower spending target. “He may get a smaller education bill if he goes into special session.”

The Dayton administration disputed Bakk’s claim that lack of an education bill would allow schools to keep their funding. He said a veto would only result in the state Education Department closing.

While some funding would continue, the administration released a memorandum saying that not only would the 400-worker state department close without an education bill, but considerable school funding also would dry up. Teachers also could lose jobs, the memo said.

Indian-inspired autopsy bill passes

Minnesota state senators who arrived on time pause for a moment of prayer Saturday, May 16, 2015, before starting work for the day. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota state senators who arrived on time pause for a moment of prayer Saturday, May 16, 2015, before starting work for the day. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Families should be allowed to cite religious beliefs when objecting to autopsies, the Minnesota House decided Saturday.

Two American Indian families’ efforts to prevent loved ones’ bodies from undergoing autopsies earlier this year prompted the bill, which passed the House 128-3. Senators approved it earlier.

The bill’s fate rests with Gov. Mark Dayton.

The legislation was one of several policy items considered Saturday by lawmakers, even as the spotlight fell on budget items.

The bill by Rep. Steve Green, R-Fosston, “has gone into great depth” to solve a problem of current law that gives most authority to medical examiners and coroners, he said.

Under the bill, coroners and medical examiners who intend to perform an autopsy would first have to inform the deceased person’s family, who could object.

Coroners and medical examiners could still proceed, if they determine there is a compelling state interest in conducting an autopsy.

In cases not meeting those conditions, coroners and medical examiners would be able to ask a judge for authority to perform an autopsy. Family members would be party to the proceeding and could submit evidence.

Green emphasized his bill doesn’t change existing law concerning mandatory autopsies. “It deals only with discretionary autopsies.”

One thing House and Senate negotiators struggled to solve was how to deal with Dayton’s desire to require vegetative buffers to keep pollution from entering Minnesota water.

“I think there is a lot of agreement,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said about buffers, but no specific wording had been released.

Dayton said he thought 1,000 hours were spent on drawing up a buffer compromise in the last two weeks.

Farmers objected to the governor’s original proposal to require a 50-foot strip around water. One of the final hang-ups was whether buffers would be required around private waterways.

House members approved 129-2 funding local governments hit by floods last summer.

The bill would appropriate $23.5 million for repairs and improvements.

It is the second disaster bill related to those summer storms the House has passed this session. Dayton signed a previous disaster relief bill into law in January that provided $17 million in relief for communities impacted by the flooding.

Also, more than $46 million would be available to fund projects meant to protect, conserve, preserve and enhance the state’s natural resources after the House passed legislation by a 100-30 vote.

The bill would appropriate money based on recommendations made by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources for expenditures from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. Money comes from the Minnesota State Lottery.

The largest appropriation is $14.19 million to acquire land for habitat and recreation, followed by $12.93 million to collect information about the state’s natural resources.

A compromise appears to have ended one of the session’s most controversial issues, what to do with automatic license plate reader data. The data would have to be destroyed after 60 days unless part of an ongoing investigation.

Some lawmakers held out hope that a transportation funding bill could pass this year, but Bakk and Dayton gave little hope.

“It seems very unlikely,” Bakk said.

Dayton said he was “very disappointed” that transportation hopes were fading. Money to improve roads, bridges and transit was his second highest priority behind education.

In light of the apparent transportation funding failure, if any rail safety legislation is to pass, it would have to be part of a public works funding bill, Bakk said.

Legislators were working Saturday night on legislation to sell state bonds so the state could fund projects such as rail safety, flood recovery and unexpected Capitol building renovation needs.

However, there were questions whether House Democrats would provide their needed votes to back a so-called bonding bill because they were not involved in negotiations. Republicans have said they do not need a bonding bill.

Representatives voted 125-6 to ban four flame-retardant chemicals in consumer products such as furniture that firefighters say causes cancer. Senators still needed to vote on the measure.

Contributing to this story were Minnesota House Session Daily and the St. Paul Pioneer Press, a Forum News Service media partner.

 

Dayton, leaders clash over school funding

Stella Schutz, 11, and Charley Schutz, 8, pose with Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith Saturday, May 16, 2015, before the governor told reporters he was ready to veto an education funding bill that would help youths like the two from Duluth, Minn. They are the grandchildren of Lee Ann Schutz of the House Public Information Office. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Stella Schutz, 11, and Charley Schutz, 8, pose with Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith Saturday, May 16, 2015, before the governor told reporters he was ready to veto an education funding bill that would help youths like the two from Duluth, Minn. They are the grandchildren of Lee Ann Schutz of the House Public Information Office. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

051715 n mcb xgrsession chart

Minnesota legislative leaders and the governor are on a collision course over education funding as time runs out for the 2015 legislative session.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton promises to veto education spending legislation that is not rich enough to fund universal pre-kindergarten programs. House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said they don’t want to waiver from a budget deal they drew up that falls short of Dayton’s wishes.

The governor wants enough money to fund half-day pre-kindergarten programs statewide, as well as increasing per-pupil spending in schools. While Bakk and Daudt are leaving details up to education conference committee negotiators, Dayton said Saturday that $150 million more than is in the Bakk-Daudt plan is needed to fund his projects and avoid a veto.

A veto probably would force a special legislative session.

The education money in dispute pales in comparison to the overall budget, which under the Bakk-Daudt plan would spend $41.5 billion in the two years beginning July 1. Current spending is expected to be $39.3 billion in the two years ending June 30.

Negotiations among Dayton, Daudt and Bakk throughout the past week did not reach an overall budget agreement. While meeting with Dayton at his official home, Bakk and Daudt retired to a closed-door meeting Friday afternoon, met two hours and left after giving Dayton their budget plan. After looking it over, Dayton had several criticisms, but nothing rising to a veto threat like what he considers inadequate education funding.

Legislators have until midnight Monday to finish their session.

If they cannot finish on time, holding a special session will be difficult because on Tuesday construction workers begin expanding their Capitol renovation work by ripping up the House and Senate chambers. Dayton said that if a special session is needed, it could cost millions of dollars.

In the rush to finish on time, House and Senate negotiators pushed to finish writing their eight spending bills so the full House and Senate can vote on them before adjournment. Lawmakers were expected to work Sunday afternoon and night and all day Monday.

Saturday’s focus was on education funding for early childhood through high school.

Democrat Dayton met with reporters, but first greeted a Duluth brother and sister, ages 8 and 11.

“The situation is all about their future,” Dayton said, nodding to Stella and Charley Schutz, whose grandmother works for the House Public Information Office.

More than 50 House Democrats signed a letter supporting the Dayton spending level.

“In a time of surplus, we should not be shortchanging our kids,” the Democrats wrote to Dayton. “Democrats in the Minnesota House will stand with you and with families across our state as these budget negotiations move forward.”

Bakk said that he and Daudt are firm on passing their own plan, not increasing spending to please Dayton. “We are out of time here.”

The senator warned that Dayton’s veto threat “is very risky.” He said if the bill is vetoed, Republicans could return to a special session with an even lower spending target. “He may get a smaller education bill if he goes into special session.”

The Dayton administration disputed Bakk’s claim that lack of an education bill would allow schools to keep their funding. He said a veto would only result in the state Education Department closing.

While some funding would continue, the administration released a memorandum saying that not only would the 400-worker state department close without an education bill, but considerable school funding also would dry up. Teachers also could lose jobs, the memo said.

 

Update: Dayton wants education money added to legislative budget deal

Minneota House Speaker Kurt Daudt of Crown, with Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook, announces Friday night, May 15, 2015, the two legislative leaders reached a deal on state spending for the next two years. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minneota House Speaker Kurt Daudt of Crown, with Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook, announces Friday night, May 15, 2015, the two legislative leaders reached a deal on state spending for the next two years. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota legislative leaders announced a budget agreement Friday night, after five days of negotiating with Gov. Mark Dayton, but the governor said he wants more education funding.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, emerged from the governor’s residence to tell reporters they had an overall budget agreement, but would not release specifics until early Saturday. They said that with the agreement, and fast work, they could meet their constitutional deadline to adjourn for the year.

“We’re going home before midnight Monday,” Bakk promised.

Added Daudt: “We feel like we are there.”

However, after looking over the “deal” Bakk and Daudt gave him, Democrat Dayton delivered a counter offer. Dayton wants more money in education.

He proposes adding $150 million to education beyond what the Daudt-Bakk plan contains, including funding half-day universal pre-kindergarten. He also wants to increase the per-pupil school funding formula 1.5 percent a year.

Legislative leaders said there was not enough money for universal kindergarten. Bakk told reporters that he expects lawmakers to pass the education funding bill as he and Daudt propose.

Dayton told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that he was not part of the agreement Bakk and Daudt announced.

“We proceeded, all of us apace, in that room, House, Senate and myself with our staffs working it out until about 4 o’clock this afternoon, and then they said they wanted to go in and just have the legislators discuss it, which I took to mean that they were going to talk about some of the logistical considerations,” Dayton said Friday night. “All of a sudden … two hours later, they have this deal the two of them had agreed to… without my participation. I haven’t had a chance to pursue with them why they felt the need to do that.”

Dayton said that what he sees as lack of education funding is the only thing he knows about that “could stand in the way of the overall agreement.”

The governor said he would hold off on complete agreement on any of the budget plan until he sees budget spreadsheets.

“The devil’s in the details, but we’ll see how it proceeds,” he said.

Bakk had a one-word answer to what could derail the agreement: “math.” If spreadsheets House and Senate staff draw up match what was negotiated, Bakk and Daudt said they have a deal.

Negotiations have gone on for days to write a $40 billion-plus, two-year budget.

Daudt and Bakk said the likelihood was slim of passing bills funding more transportation projects or cutting taxes. Bakk said negotiators focused on eight must-pass spending bills, but transportation and taxes are not mandatory this year.

“We are still talking about that,” Daudt said about tax and transportation issues. “If we don’t get to those issues this year, there will be significant money on the bottom line” and lawmakers may consider them next year.

The leaders said they do not know how much the state would spend under their agreement.

While details were scarce, here are a few items Daudt and Bakk mentioned:

— State-run colleges and universities probably will not get enough money to freeze tuitions for the next two years.

— MinnesotaCare, which Republicans wanted to fold to save money, will survive as a state-subsidized insurance program for the poor, and a working group will study its future.

— Nursing homes will get more funds.

— No public works financing legislation, known as the bonding bill, is likely other than a small one funding flood recovery.

— Discussions continue on a Dayton proposal to require vegetative buffers around all of the state water as a way to reduce water pollution.

Bakk and Daudt said that while they think their agreement will pass, all lawmakers might not be happy.

“Everyone walks away from the table grumbling a little bit,” Bakk said.

With a Monday adjournment deadline, lawmakers may be forced to work around-the-clock until then.

House-Senate conference committees were expected to begin negotiating final spending bills late Friday. In general, Bakk and Daudt are giving the committees general spending targets, with committee members left with the job of making specific decisions.

Even as legislative leaders struggled to end the current legislative session, they set March 8 as the beginning of next year’s session.

Also Friday, senators approved, and sent to the governor, a bill allowing Minnesota drivers to use smartphones as proof of vehicle insurance.

The governor signed a bill to create a working group to develop a system to provide the public information about missing elderly people with dementia.

 

Dayton wants education money added to legislative budget deal

Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook smiles as House Speaker Kurt Daudt of Crown answers a reporter's question Friday night, May 15, 2015, as they announce they reached a budget deal. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook smiles as House Speaker Kurt Daudt of Crown answers a reporter’s question Friday night, May 15, 2015, as they announce they reached a budget deal. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota legislative leaders announced a budget agreement Friday night, after five days of negotiating with Gov. Mark Dayton, but the governor said he wants more education funding.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, emerged from the governor’s residence to tell reporters they had an overall budget agreement, but would not release specifics until early Saturday. They said that with the agreement, and fast work, they could meet their constitutional deadline to adjourn for the year.

“We’re going home before midnight Monday,” Bakk promised.

Added Daudt: “We feel like we are there.”

However, after looking over the “deal” Bakk and Daudt gave him, Democrat Dayton delivered what his spokesman called a counter offer. Dayton wants more money in education, Dayton spokesman Matt Swanson said.

He proposes adding $150 million to education beyond what the Daudt-Bakk plan contains, including funding half-day universal pre-kindergarten. He also wants to increase the per-pupil school funding formula 1.5 percent a year.

Bakk told reporters that he expects lawmakers to pass the education funding bill as he and Daudt propose.

Dayton’s staff said the governor indicated he would accept “nothing less” than his proposal, but stopped short of saying he would veto a bill smaller than he wants.

Legislative leaders had said there was not enough money for universal kindergarten.

Dayton’s office Friday night did not comment on other aspects of the legislative budget plan.

The governor was not with legislative leaders when they addressed the media even though he was one of the three main negotiators and they were standing outside of his official home.

Bakk had a one-word answer to what could derail the agreement: “math.” If spreadsheets House and Senate staff draw up match what was negotiated, Bakk and Daudt said they have a deal.

Neither legislative leader hinted that Dayton would oppose their plan.

Negotiations have gone on for days to write a $40 billion-plus, two-year budget.

Daudt and Bakk said the likelihood was slim of passing bills funding more transportation projects or cutting taxes. Bakk said negotiators focused on eight must-pass spending bills, but transportation and taxes are not mandatory this year.

“We are still talking about that,” Daudt said about tax and transportation issues. “If we don’t get to those issues this year, there will be significant money on the bottom line” and lawmakers may consider them next year.

The leaders said they do not know how much the state would spend under their agreement.

While details were scarce, here are a few items Daudt and Bakk mentioned:

— State-run colleges and universities probably will not get enough money to freeze tuitions for the next two years.

— MinnesotaCare, which Republicans wanted to fold to save money, will survive as a state-subsidized insurance program for the poor, and a working group will study its future.

— Nursing homes will get more funds.

— No public works financing legislation, known as the bonding bill, is likely other than a small one funding flood recovery.

— Discussions continue on a Dayton proposal to require vegetative buffers around all of the state water as a way to reduce water pollution.

Bakk and Daudt said that while they think their agreement will pass, all lawmakers might not be happy.

“Everyone walks away from the table grumbling a little bit,” Bakk said.

With a Monday adjournment deadline, lawmakers may be forced to work around-the-clock until then.

House-Senate conference committees were expected to begin negotiating final spending bills late Friday. In general, Bakk and Daudt are giving the committees general spending targets, with committee members left with the job of making specific decisions.

Even as legislative leaders struggled to end the current legislative session, they set March 8 as the beginning of next year’s session.

Also Friday, senators approved, and sent to the governor, a bill allowing Minnesota drivers to use smartphones as proof of vehicle insurance.

The governor signed a bill to create a working group to develop a system to provide the public information about missing elderly people with dementia.

 

Hints of progress emerge in budget talks

Reporters greet Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk Thursday morning, May 14, 2015, as he walks through the front gate of the governor's residence en route to budget talks. (Forum News Service photo by Robb Jeffries)

Reporters greet Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk Thursday morning, May 14, 2015, as he walks through the front gate of the governor’s residence en route to budget talks. (Forum News Service photo by Robb Jeffries)

This is the day many Capitol insiders say a state budget deal must be cut if the 2015 legislative session is to end smoothly Monday, and there were hints progress is being made.

Negotiators working on a $40 billion-plus, two-year budget were not telling Minnesotans how things were going. There were indications that high-level negotiators were reaching agreements on some spending targets.

“We have our target and we are ready to go,” Senate Judiciary Budget Chairman Ron Latz, D-St. Louis Park, said this morning.

Latz said as soon as the Senate adjourned at midday he would prepare an offer to his House counterparts about how to spend $2.1 billion, the target he has received from Senate leaders.

“We are close to getting a target,” Senate Higher Education Chairwoman Terri Bonoff, D-Minnetonka, said.

Sen. Tom Saxhaug, D-Grand Rapids, said his committee in charge of funding a variety of state government programs expected targets later today or early Friday.

However, other Senate chairmen did not sound as optimistic. For instance, Sen. Tony Lourey, D-Kerrick, said the health and human services conference committee has met several times, but he made no mention that he was about to receive a spending target.

When Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, entered the governor’s residence for negotiations this morning, he greeted waiting reporters with: “Hello, everybody,” refusing to give even a hint about how close officials are to a deal. House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, was no more helpful with his “good morning.”

Bakk, Daudt and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton are key negotiators working on the budget as time runs out. They were accompanied by a few others, and throughout talks this week they invite in commissioners and committee chairmen as needed when specific issues arise.

Late Wednesday, Daudt told some reporters that transportation and tax issues have not been discussed lately, with a priority being placed on other spending issues. Bakk has said the Legislature does not need to pass transportation and tax bills, although all parties say that increasing transportation funding is a priority.

Robb Jeffries contributed to this story.

 

Bird flu infects budget talks

Minnesota poultry farmers found themselves in the midst of political bickering Wednesday as high-level negotiators pushed time limits for resolving Democrat-Republican state budget differences.

Rep. David Bly, D-Northfield, asked the House to debate a bill providing state agencies money to respond to avian flu issues.

“Time is running out,” Bly said during his unsuccessful attempt. “I am very worried.”

But House Agriculture Finance Chairman Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, assured Bly and other representatives about flu and other budget issues that “we are absolutely committed to getting done on time.”

The House debate came while Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders talked about state spending levels for the next two years, but they refused to make any public comments about how those negotiations are going.

Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and others involved in the high-level closed-door talks placed a “cone of silence” on themselves, although there were vague reports of “progress.”

“We’re all still at the table, and we’re all still speaking friendly, so that’s good,” Daudt said Wednesday night as negotiators began a dinner break.

When he left for lunch, Daudt said that “we’re making progress (in) all areas.”

Dayton did not appear in public and Bakk at one point said “I hope” a deal could be reached Wednesday.

However, that appeared less likely as talks stretched well into the night.

Even with the self-imposed gag order, bits and pieces came out. For instance, Senate Tax Chairman Rod Skoe, D-Clearbrook, said that major transportation funding increases likely will not happen this year.

“It seems to me that the transportation conversation for the year is over for the issue and not going anywhere,” Skoe said. “It appears transportation is a next-year issue.”

Increasing transportation funding has been a high priority for Dayton and many in the Legislature, but Democrats want to add a new tax to gasoline, which Republicans strongly oppose. And Republicans want to take money from other programs to fund road and bridge improvements, an approach Democrats fight.

The overall budget talks revolved around how to divide state revenue among programs included in a $40 billion-plus, two-year state budget.

The state Constitution requires the 2015 Legislature to adjourn Monday, and most long-time Capitol observers appear to think the governor and leaders must agree on how much will be spent in various budget areas Thursday at the latest.

“I am very worried that things will fall apart and it will not move forward,” Bly said about avian flu program funding.

Ironically, the poultry industry got good news elsewhere on Wednesday. No new flocks were found to be infected which is appearing to be the new normal. That leaves nearly 5.8 million birds dead among 85 flocks in 21 counties.

Funds are provided in an overall agriculture bill for state workers responding to the emergency as well as increasing bird flu research funding. A provision also is being considered to provide low-interest loans to farmers whose flocks were infected.

There also is discussion about negotiators adding direct aid to farmers with infected flocks.

The House voted 72-50 against Bly’s request to immediately debate the avian flu funding measure.

In the Senate, meanwhile, Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, failed in his attempt to prepare a bill that would allow state government to continue to function even if lawmakers could not settle on a new budget. It is similar to bills discussed, but rejected, four years ago when the state eventually underwent a three-week government shutdown after Democrat Dayton and legislative Republicans could not agree on a budget.

Many lawmakers expressed pessimism about getting done on time.

“I am not sure as I stand here today that we can get everything done by the appointed deadline,” Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, said. “I would not bet $10 on it, quite frankly.”

Also Wednesday:

— The House unanimously passed a bill to extend voting rights to National Guard members overseas.

Rights that other members of the military and civilians living overseas enjoy had not been granted to guard members. Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury, said the legislation would continue a state tradition of allowing military personnel out of the country to vote.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

— Senators unanimously approved a Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, bill to establish a program to help track down suspects in the death or severe injury of law enforcement officers.

Known as a “blue alert” system, it would be similar to the amber alert program of alerting the public to child abductions. A blue alert would be issued statewide when an officer is killed or badly hurt.

Ingebrigtsen said a blue alert might be issued once or twice a year.

— Negotiators are considering how to spend revenue from a sales tax increase voters approved in 2008, known as the Legacy Fund, but remain a few million apart on some issues.

In general, negotiators are close. They propose giving clean water programs $225 million to $226 million, arts and culture programs about $100 million and parks and trails programs nearly $90 million.

Forum News Service reporter Robb Jeffries contributed to this report.

What’s the deal with lack of a deal?

Minnesota state Sen. Kent Eken of Twin Valley, left, and Rep. Dan Fabian of Roseau talk Tuesday, May 12, 2015, about a meeting Eken was about to attend with the governor dealing with water pollution and treatment. (Forum News Service by Don Davis)

Minnesota state Sen. Kent Eken of Twin Valley, left, and Rep. Dan Fabian of Roseau talk Tuesday, May 12, 2015, about a meeting Eken was about to attend with the governor dealing with water pollution and treatment. (Forum News Service by Don Davis)

Minnesota legislators are getting antsy.

Their leaders have spent hours this week negotiating a $40 billion-plus, two-year state budget with Gov. Mark Dayton, but most legislators know little about what is going on at the governor’s residence and are getting worried about finishing work by Monday’s constitutional deadline.

“You begin to wonder how they are going to put this together,” Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, said Tuesday.

Even key budget negotiators are beginning to wonder.

“I’m getting a little bit leery about it,” said Sen. David Tomassoni, D-Chisholm, who will be involved in resolving some of the major budget issues. “I know with computers we are able to do things we were not able to do in the past. But at the same time, staff needs time to actually put everything together and get the numbers in the right places and get the commas and the periods in the right places. That does take some time.”

Tomassoni said an overall budget deal needs to come by Thursday, at the latest. “Progress needs to move much more quickly than it is right now.”

On Tuesday, Dayton hosted Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and other legislative leaders to discuss health care, education and higher education, among other issues.

At issue is the two-year budget that begins July 1. With a Republican-controlled House, Democrat-run Senate and Democrat governor, there is not the agreement going into end-of-session talks that there was two years ago when Democrats controlled all three.

Daudt walked into Tuesday’s talks saying that he needed to see progress.

“Originally … the end of today was kind of our drop-dead deadline,” Daudt said. “If we have to go into tomorrow, that’s fine. But let’s get some of these budget targets wrapped up so we can get bills into conference committee.”

Bakk was reportedly upset with Republicans who want to eliminate MinnesotaCare, a subsidized health insurance program for the poor. He said that Democrats will not accept killing a program that serves more than  90,000 poor Minnesotans.

High-level negotiators at the governor’s residence were dealing with high-level budget figures to hand down to conference committee members, who would figure out how to spend the money. At the same time, the governor and legislative leaders were expected to provide guidance, or orders, about how to deal with some hot-button topics.

The governor made it clear that water pollution is important to him by interrupting budget talks for a meeting on the subject.

Dayton summoned Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, and leaders of five greater Minnesota cities to discuss issues such as phosphorus and nitrates that pollute water. State rules require cities such as Moorhead and Breckenridge to pay millions of dollars to upgrade facilities to reduce the pollution.

Besides being expensive to cities, Eken said, the Minnesota pollution rules are not fair. For instance, he said, North Dakota allows three times the phosphorus in water than does Minnesota.

“That is like building half a dam,” Eken said about just one state requiring low phosphorus water content. “We need to do this on a basinwide basis.”

Another issue was getting more attention. The House Republican public relations department was churning out news releases from its members critical of Democrats’ proposal to add a new tax on gasoline, which would start at 16 cents a gallon and rise as prices go up.

“Democrats are holding up the state budget negotiations over their desire to increase the gas tax on Minnesota families,” Assistant House Majority leader Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, said in one of the news releases.

In interviews, Republicans also said they are frustrated.

“The Democrats are slow rolling us,” Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, said. “They are trying to grind the process to a halt.”

A gasoline tax hike is not what Minnesotans want, she added.

Tomassoni and Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said leaders apparently have approved an agriculture and environment spending plan and they are working behind the scenes to be ready when they can begin to negotiate their bills.

“We will end on time,” Hamilton said, adding that he is an eternal optimist.

Some legislators who have been around awhile know that traditionally there are problems in high-level talks before a breakthrough.

“It’s got to go downhill a little more,” Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said.

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

 

Tax bill passage sets up final negotiations

The Democrat-controlled Minnesota Senate voted Monday for tax cuts a fraction of the size that Republicans in the House want, sending negotiators into what could be a contentious final two weeks of the legislative session.

The Senate tax bill and a House agriculture funding bill that also passed Monday are the final parts of the two chambers’ money plans. Now, conference committees take the spotlight as differences between the chambers, in some cases massive differences, need to be worked out by May 18 to avoid a government shutdown.

No serious negotiations had begun by Monday, but several Wednesday House-Senate conference committees meetings were scheduled. No high-level talks among the governor and legislative leaders were planned.

The tax bill passed 42-25. Sens. Paul Gazelka of Nisswa, Dave Senjem of Rochester and Carla Nelson of Rochester were the only three Republicans to vote for the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, has said the tax bill is not mandatory to pass this session, but it contains provisions his party likes, such as aid increases the state would send local governments.

Sen. Rod Skoe, D-Clearbrook, said his tax bill “sets Minnesota up for success (with) targeted tax relief.”

The Senate tax chairman said the legislation would give property tax relief to all categories other than railroads, which are slated to pay more under a Senate Democratic transportation plan.

Tax relief would come through several actions, Skoe said, including “significant commitments to partnerships” with local governments. Increased state aid to cities, counties and townships, worth $54 million, are in the bill with the idea that more state money means they could cut local property taxes.

His bill would bring Local Government Aid to cities back to what they got in 2002, a year that was followed by years of cuts or static funding.

The Senate bill also would increase tax breaks for parents of students, businesses that do research and development and provides help for investors looking to build apartments in areas with jobs but not enough housing.

Another provision would increase taxes on seasonal recreational property valued more than $300,000. Skoe said properties at that value are homes, not cabins, and should be taxed more.

The state helps homeowners whose property taxes rise more than 12 percent in a year; the bill would cut that eligible percentage to 10 percent. It also would provide state money to farmers whose property taxes rise at least 8 percent, which is not in current law.

Also in the legislation is a provision that the state would withhold aid to southwestern Minnesota cities and counties if they do not fulfill a requirement to pay their portion of Lewis and Clark water system construction funds.

Republicans criticized Skoe for presenting a tax bill with relatively few tax breaks when the state is projected to have a nearly $2 billion surplus.

When combined with a gasoline tax included in the Senate Democrats’ transportation plan, the overall DFL budget proposal “has huge tax increases, while this bill has a paltry $170 million in tax relief,” Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said. Skoe considers tax cuts to be more than $200 million.

Republicans tried and tried again to change the Senate Democratic-Farmer-Labor tax legislation more to their liking, but mostly failed.

For instance, Gazelka could not convince Democrats to go along with his proposal to eliminate state taxes on veteran pensions. And Senjem failed to win when he moved to eliminate taxes on Social Security payments.

In the House, Republicans said the centerpiece of their bill would provide a family of four $500 over two years. The Dayton administration, however, said it would be more like $130 per household.

One of the most controversial parts of the Republican measure is the elimination of Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth Local Government Aid payments.

“In the remaining two weeks of the session, mayors and city leaders from across greater Minnesota will work tirelessly to see that the House changes direction and recommits to meeting the needs of communities by adopting the Senate’s proposal to increase funding for LGA,” said Le Sueur Mayor Bob Broeder, Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities vice president.