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.

Session spotlight bill on hold

Minnesota senators at midday today delayed public debate on a bill funding environment and agriculture programs, the most controversial part of a historic special legislative session.

Senate Republicans wanted time to discuss the bill in private, so the Senate recessed for that and to allow members to get lunch.

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 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.”

While the location was historic, the reason legislators gathered is not. At 11 p.m. Thursday, Gov. Mark Dayton called them into today’s session to finish passing the state’s $42 billion, two-year budget. Four times since 2000 they have returned to St. Paul to finish passing budget bills.

The House went into session promptly at 10 a.m., but it took senators 15 more minutes to get to work.

Legislators used theater-type seats in cramped quarters in the committee rooms-turned-legislative chambers.

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 on 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.

Jobs bill passes

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

It 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, 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 $10 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

The House approved 115-10 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.

It was expected to pass the Senate later in the day.

The bill adds $550 million to what schools had expected to receive, boosting the per-pupil funding $236 per student. 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.

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

Legislators begin historic special session

The Minnesota Legislature went into a historic special session this morning, 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.”

While the location was historic, the reason legislators gathered is not. At 11 p.m. Thursday, Gov. Mark Dayton called them into today’s session to finish passing the state’s $42 billion, two-year budget. Four times since 2000 they have returned to St. Paul to finish passing budget bills.

The scene outside the temporary House and Senate chambers was chaotic this morning, with the public competing for a handful of tickets to let them in the cramped chambers. Lawmakers wondered how the day would go, with three budget bills that were vetoed and then rewritten at the top of the agenda. Also to be debated were a public works finance bill, a measure funding outdoors and arts projects and legislation to make corrections in bills passed during the regular session that ended May 18.

In the spotlight was a bill funding agriculture and environment programs, which Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said may not have enough votes to pass. If it doesn’t, more negotiations and a second special session would be needed.

Many Senate Democrats say the environmental provisions are too weak and some Republicans oppose it for policy and spending.

The House went into session promptly at 10 a.m., but it took senators 15 more minutes to get to work.

Legislators used theater-type seats in cramped quarters in the committee rooms-turned-legislative chambers.

Daudt predicted the House would be done by mid-afternoon, but few others appeared that optimistic. One reason for other predictions was that it took the House seven and a half minutes to call the names of each House member for every vote, when in the regular session votes can come quickly via electronic voting board, which was not available today.

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.

Session success or flop for greater Minnesota?

A bipartian group of state leaders works together to serve turkey burgers in May 2015 in front of the Minnesota state Capitol. From left are Sen. David Tomassoni, D-Chisholm, Rep. Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

A bipartian group of state leaders works together to serve turkey burgers in May 2015 in front of the Minnesota state Capitol. From left are Sen. David Tomassoni, D-Chisholm, Rep. Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Republicans took control of the Minnesota House this year by ousting 10 greater Minnesota Democrats in last November’s election, and immediately promised to make 2015 the greater Minnesota legislative session.

The session has ended and rural Republicans think things went well.

“I’m happy,” Republican Mary Franson of Alexandria said.

Do Democrats agree? Not so much.

“When you look at those high expectations, I thought it was a big flop,” Assistant House Minority Leader Paul Marquart of Dilworth said.

As Franson and Marquart show, the session received mixed reviews from those outside the Twin Cities.

Figuring out how greater Minnesota did during the legislative session is inexact given the fact that the Legislature will be back in special session to pass an education funding bill and deal with some unfinished business. While in St. Paul, lawmakers may be asked to make other changes, which could affect greater Minnesota.

Greater Minnesota Republicans and even Democrats like Marquart say that the biggest victory for those living outside the Twin Cities came in the health-care bill, which added $138 million to nursing home aid, allowing the facilities to raise wages and keep nurses and other staff that more and more have used rural nursing homes as training grounds before moving on to better-paying jobs.

The same legislation would require all nursing homes to receive the same state aid level as those in the Twin Cities. Current law provides less money for rural homes.

“That’s incredible,” said Rep. Joe Schomacker, R-Luverne, a third-term lawmaker in charge of increasing nursing home aid.

Greater Minnesota residents should be happy, he said. “They will see the doors staying open on their local facilities.”

Many nursing home operators were waiting to see what legislators did this session before deciding whether the homes would be open or closed. The added money is expected to keep most open.

The issue that best illustrates difference between Republicans and Democrats this year may have been transportation, perennially a prime greater Minnesota issue. Lawmakers only could pass a basic transportation funding package instead of one that would have spent billions of dollars over the next decade.

Most Democrats wanted to tack a new tax onto fuel sales to fund the work. It would have added 16 cents a gallon to gasoline at first, then gone up as fuel prices rose.

“It is going to take more revenue,” Senate Tax Chairman Rod Skoe, D-Clearbrook, said.

But many Republicans said their biggest accomplishment was killing the gas tax plan.

“Minnesotans won by not having more money taken out of their wallet by gas tax,” Franson said.

Added suburban Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury: “Minnesotans do not want a gas tax.”

House Transportation Chairman Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said the issue will be awaiting lawmakers when they return March 8 for the 2016 session. Some legislators want it to be debated during the special session, but it appears the general feeling is that it will wait until next year.

Even without the multi-year, multi-billion dollar transportation funding bill sought by Democrats and Republicans alike, some new road and bridge money came out of the Legislature.

Cities of 5,000 or fewer population will split $12.5 million in road aid. They have not received such state aid before.

Marquart said his community, Dilworth, likely only will receive about $50,000, not enough to put a seal coat topping on many streets.

The bill also spends $5 million on greater Minnesota transit, $5 million for railroad safety and nearly $1 million to put emergency response teams in Duluth and St. Cloud.

Democrats sharply criticized rail safety funding, saying they support Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposal to build railroad crossings with overpasses in Moorhead, Willmar, Coon Rapids and the Prairie Island Indian Community to reduce the chance of car-train collisions and to reduce congestion caused by long oil trains. Some hope those crossings will be part of a special session public works funding bill.

The parties worked together to get $19 million to help fight the bird flu that has resulted in 8 million turkey and chicken deaths in the state. The help includes a low-interest loan program for farmers to repopulate their flocks and mental health help for farmers whose flocks were affected by the outbreak.

One little-noticed provision in the vetoed education bill, which likely will be part of new legislation in a special session, would allow school boards in all sizes of districts to approve a levy for money to maintain and repair school facilities. Only about the half-dozen largest ones have that power now.

Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, said that is a major way to keep big and small districts on equal footing. Small districts have been able to take the levy request to voters, but have a tough time passing them, Kresha said.

The vetoed legislation would have provided $32 million for school facilities.

One of the issues that failed was farm property tax relief.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, had proposed lowering farm taxes on school construction projects, but it disappeared for the year along with the GOP’s hope to cut taxes $2 billion when the tax bill failed to advance.

“There is no doubt the biggest issue was the rural property taxes in Minnesota,” Marquart said.

“Property taxes are going to go up, there is no doubt about that,” Marquart said, because of the failure of the Drazkowski bill as well as lawmakers not increasing state aid to cities and counties.

While House Democrats opposed many of the eight budget bills, and say greater Minnesota got few wins, Senate Democrats and Republicans in both chambers generally voted for the bills.

“With divided government, neither party will get everything they want,” Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, said. “It’s about negotiating a reasonable balance between differing values.”

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said the session was the most bipartisan he has seen and generally was happy with the outcome after he said before the session that he, like House Republicans, would look after greater Minnesota.

Rep. Ben Lien, D-Moorhead, was an example of Democrats who say they are disappointed with what the Republican majority delivered, or did not deliver, for his area.

“They did not deliver on this message and missed many opportunities to invest in broadband development, rail safety and infrastructure, Local Government Aid and direct residential and agricultural property tax cuts,” Lien wrote in a newsletter.

“As this session has progressed, one disappointment after another is setting back the progress we made over the last two years,” Rep. John Persell, D-Bemidji, said. “We could have used the $2 billion surplus to invest in families and kids and improve the economic climate in northern Minnesota, and fund the 5 percent increase for care providers.”

The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities urges lawmakers to return to the drawing board before a special session.

“In failing to pass a tax bill during the regular session, legislators and the governor missed a rare opportunity to address crucial needs in greater Minnesota,” said Heidi Omerza, president of the coalition and an Ely City Council member. “Now with the special session, they have a second chance to pass a tax bill that includes an LGA (Local Government Aid) increase, workforce housing tax credits and meaningful property tax relief in Greater Minnesota. They shouldn’t let this opportunity pass them by.”

Issues important to greater Minnesota often passed with too little money, Omerza, such as for broadband and workforce housing grants.

Supporters of more funds for care of the elderly and disabled were disappointed that only nursing homes got a funding boost this year.

“The workforce crisis has already had a significant impact on services for people with disabilities and older adults,” said Jon Nelson, executive director of Residential Services Inc. in Duluth. “I know people with disabilities who had to leave their homes because providers could not recruit and retain caregivers. Existing employees have to work long hours of overtime to fill vacant shifts. It compromises the care when employees are overworked.”

—-

Here is a look at how some issues of special interest to greater Minnesota residents fared in the Minnesota Legislature after lawmakers passed a two-year, $42 billion budget:

— Nursing homes received a $138 million boost, which especially helps rural facilities that have been threatened with closing because of difficulty paying enough to retain staff. However, no new money was approved for other long-term care needs, such as workers who take care of people at home.

— MinnesotaCare will remain as a state-subsidized health insurance program, although costs will go up. It is heavily used in greater Minnesota.

— State payments to local governments will remain the same. Republicans wanted to cut aid to some big cities and the Senate Democrats sought to increase aid by nearly $46 million.

— Tax credits to help housing be built in areas with workforce shortages got no money because no tax bill passed.

— Grants to build housing will be $2 million a year, for all of the state, a fraction of what was requested.

— High-speed Internet expansion, known as broadband, ended up at $11 million, well below the $100 million advocates wanted.

— Job training programs, which rural lawmakers say are important in their areas, would get $900,000 each of the next two years, while supporters wanted $15 million for the two years.

— The only new money for transportation programs was $12.5 million for streets in small cities; transportation advocates wanted to commit billions of dollars over 10 years.

— $5 million will be spent on greater Minnesota transit.

— $5 million will go to make railroad crossings safer.

— Nearly $1 million will be used to establish emergency response teams in St. Cloud and Duluth. Among other incidents, they could respond to oil train accidents.

— No farm property tax relief passed. A plan would have eased property tax burdens by exempting farmland from school construction levies.

— Two-year state technical colleges will freeze tuitions, but tuitions will go up elsewhere.

— All school boards could be given permission to levy a tax to repair or maintain facilities. Large schools could do that in the past, but small districts needed to have the public vote.

— $19 million was approved for bird flu response, mostly for low-interest loans and mental health aid for farmers whose flocks were affected.

— With the tax bill collapse, no funds were approved for Moorhead, East Grand Forks, Dilworth, Ortonville and Breckenridge to provide tax breaks to companies that located there instead of North Dakota or South Dakota.

— Schools could start classes on Sept. 1 this year. Schools normally must start after Labor Day, but lawmakers approved the Sept. 1 provision since the holiday is late this year.

— Dentists will receive 5 percent more for taking care of poor patients, a far smaller increase than supporters wanted.

— Buffer strips around Minnesota water will need to be at least 16.5 feet except along private ditches. However, money to enforce the law did not pass during the regular session.

— Researchers may grow industrial hemp, but it will not be open for general farming.

— Firearm silencers, or suppressors, will be allowed.

— Money to reroute U.S. 53 in northern Minnesota was not approved since there was no major transportation bill. The highway needs to move because a taconite mine is expanding over the highway’s right of way.

— Six school districts on four-day weeks received permission to continue the schedule until 2020.

Note: This list includes some vetoed provisions, but they are expected to be approved during a special legislative session.

 

Political chatter: State Senate changing as times change

Minnesota senators took an abrupt about-face moments after the legislative session ended with shouting and confusion.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk did not want his colleagues to leave, even though the midnight hour had passed.

“It’s a pretty emotional time,” Bakk said before delivering quiet recitation that centered on the Senate preparing to meet away from the Capitol for the first time since it opened more than a century ago.

“You will be the very last senators to have an office in the Capitol,” the subdued Bakk said, then said that their desks would be moved across the street to a new office building in time to meet there when lawmakers return for their 2016 regular session.

The Senate will meet in a room that after 2016 will be a large committee room. Senators for the first time in years also all will have offices in the same building.

“The state Senate no longer is going to be officed in the Capitol,” Bakk lamented.

It is part of progress.

“For over 4 decades, this Legislature and the Senate and the House have been trying to figure out how we can renovate this Capitol for the public,” Bakk said. “It was never built for the public.”

In the early days of the Capitol, the public was not welcome in committee and other meetings. The building was a legislator-only club, with staff members allowed in out of necessity.

Fewer than 50 years ago that began to change. Legislative meetings were deemed public and the public began to crowd into the Capitol.

A three-year, $300 million renovation the Capitol is undergoing will result in much of the space senators vacate becoming public areas. There will be a library, meetings rooms and exhibition areas.

Some Senate meeting rooms are to remain, although the new building will have some, too.

“In 2017, they are going to move our desks back here,” Bakk said, looking around the ornate Senate chamber. “The carpet is going to be new, but it is going to be the same.”

Minutes after the 2015 legislative session adjourned, crews began emptying the House chamber, with the Senate coming soon.

The Capitol is closed to everyone but construction workers and people using the tunnel system beneath the building.

The House plans to uses its chamber during the three-month legislative session next year, while senators meet across the street. Work continues on finding a place for a special session this year.

The state Constitution requires the Legislature to meet in St. Paul, but not necessarily in the Capitol.

Trafficking law passes

A sex trafficking provision pushed by two members of the Minnesota congressional delegation is headed to President Barack Obama’s desk and his signature.

The measure makes it clear that minors sold for sex must be treated as victims, not suspects in the crime.

It is modeled after a Minnesota law and was shepherded by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen and is part of a broader human trafficking bill.

The House passed the bill in the past week, the Senate earlier.

“Critical help for victims of sex trafficking is now one step closer to being etched into law,” Paulsen said. “The cumulative action taken by Congress … stands as a landmark in the fight against this awful crime.”

“In Minnesota, we’ve already recognized that kids sold for sex need to be treated as the victims they are, not locked up in jail,” Klobuchar said. “By encouraging other states to adopt Minnesota’s Safe Harbor model and giving prosecutors the tools they need to address this crime, this law will tackle sex trafficking head-on while ensuring that victims receive the support they need and deserve.”

Strange ending

The shouting and confusion that ended the legislative session is normal, but there were some unusual things at the end.

Senators, not usually known as stand-up comedians, provided one.

Earlier in the session, senators decided to retain a rule that requires them to look at the Senate president, and no one else, while talking on the floor. It received national ridicule.

Near the end of the session, the president, Sandy Pappas of St. Paul, had gone down from her rostrum to discuss a bill like any other senator when Sen. Warren Limmer of Maple Grove rose.

Limmer complained that she was not watching the fill-in president.

“I confess my eyes had wandered,” Pappas responded, resulting in colleagues filling the chamber with laughter.

Then there was Gov. Mark Dayton, talking about reporters’ news sources, when he wrapped up: “or wherever you get information, twix.”

A reporter corrected him: “Twitter.”

Winkler leaves

A liberal lawmaker who grew up in rural Minnesota is leaving the Legislature to accompany his wife to her new job in Belgium.

It is not going to be home for the rest of their lives, Winkler said, and he could consider public office when he returns.

“For Jenny, this is an incredible professional opportunity to advance her talent and dedication into a leadership role in a global hotel company with Minnesota roots…” he said. “And I will continue my current role with Biothera, a Minnesota company with international operations, splitting time between Minnesota and Belgium.”

Winkler lives in Golden Valley, in the northwestern Twin Cities suburbs. He grew up in Bemidji.

“The Legislature will miss Ryan’s wit and intelligence, but most of all we will miss his impatience with injustice,” House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said.

It’s that time

Sen. Rod Skoe heads the Senate Taxes Committee and is involved in a lot of issues, but he had just one thing on his mind a half hour after the Legislature adjourned this year.

“I’m going to go home and farm,” the Clearbrook Democrat said.

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.