Dayton signs bills avoiding shutdown

Published 11:50 am Saturday, June 13, 2015

ST. PAUL — Despite some misgivings, Gov. Mark Dayton on Saturday signed all the bills approved by Minnesota lawmakers during a special session and avoided a state government shutdown.

Dayton signed all six bills, including the agriculture and environment bill, even though he called it “still a bad bill” and many DFL lawmakers opposed it.

The Democratic governor said he regrets that the bill included the House Republican provision to eliminate the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens’ Board. Dayton says he will push to restore the board in 2017.

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Minnesota lawmakers passed the final pieces of the state’s budget early Saturday morning. The clock was ticking to finish the $42 billion, two-year budget: A July 1 deadline threatened to bring on a partial government shutdown and almost 9,500 state employee layoffs.

In signing the bills, Dayton noted as he has before that “a sign of true compromise is that no one is happy with it.”

“Last fall, Minnesota voters chose divided political leadership for our state. This legislative session ended in the same way: with legislators sharply divided over key issues,” Dayton said in a statement.

A beefed-up education budget was the marquee item in a special session that started Friday but bled into Saturday morning, providing an additional $525 million for public schools that will pad a per-pupil funding formula and provide extra money for early learning programs and scholarships.

The Legislature also adopted a public construction package to fund unforeseen costs for long-running Capitol renovation and reroute a highway on the Iron Range, among other projects.

Dayton said lawmakers achieved “significant progress in providing better care and education for our youngest and most vulnerable citizens: children.” Elderly Minnesotans also will benefit from increased funding for nursing homes, personal care attendants and other services, Dayton said.

In a statement Saturday, House Speaker Kurt Daudt said the House GOP’s goal was to bring “government spending more in line with family budgets.”

“I’m proud to say, upon enactment, our budget will have the third lowest percent increase in general fund spending in over 50 years. We are targeting tax dollars toward our state’s priorities — E-12 students, roads and bridges, aging adults — and we are doing so without increasing the tax burden on hardworking Minnesotans,” Daudt said.

Thanks to the state’s remaining surplus, combined with the budgeted reserve and cash flow account, Dayton said Minnesota will have a positive balance of almost $2.5 billion, which he said “stands in welcome contrast to the financial uncertainties of recent years.”

It was a budget for agricultural and environmental programs — and a revolt by environmentally-minded Democrats to remove provisions they deemed as toxic — that dashed hopes for a quick resolution of the special session that began Friday.

After a back-and-forth between the Democratic-controlled Senate and the GOP-majority House over whether to remove the decades-old MPCA oversight board and a provision exempting copper and nickel mines from solid waste regulations, the Senate eventually acquiesced, passing the bill as-is on a 38-29 vote and sending it on to the governor’s desk with mostly Republican votes.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann said he won assurances from Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk that Democrats would pass “significant tax reductions” in 2016 for getting the bill through. Dayton said he was not involved in that deal.

“I don’t know what was said. I don’t know the context of what was said, I have not made any promises to anybody to secure the passage of these bills,” Dayton said. But he added it’s assumed there will be a tax cut bill next session, especially if Minnesota’s budget surplus continues to grow.

The overtime session was sparked by Dayton’s veto of three budget bills, primarily the education bill that he said didn’t do enough to invest in schools.

At Dayton’s insistence, the reworked public school budget added in an addition $125 million to the $400 million originally passed by the Legislature, though the governor dropped his call for a statewide preschool program.

The special session also had a twist of history: For the first time in 110 years, House and Senate lawmakers met outside their usual Capitol chambers. Instead, they met in makeshift chambers in an adjacent office building, using old-fashioned voice roll-call votes on bills.