By Pat Kessler

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO/AP) — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton Tuesday unveiled a record $42 billion dollar state budget.

The Governor is proposing aggressive spending on children and schools, using half of the state’s $1 billion surplus and almost half of the entire budget for education, from cradle to college.

That’s including a special focus on very young, at risk children.

“By the time they are 3, 4, 5 years old, they are already evidencing signs of serious emotional distress,” Gov. Dayton said. “That’s reflected in behavior in their classrooms and our street corners.”

The budget eliminates the Head Start waiting list for 2,500 children. It pays for free breakfast for 83,000 students from Pre-Kindergarten to third grade and voluntary, statewide all day Pre-Kindergarten for 31,000 4-year olds.

“Not only does Pre-K help our kids, it helps families too,” Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said. “By saving upwards of $10,000 a year on average.”

Dayton also proposes beefed up tax credits for child care, an average of $481 in direct refunds to families.

“Over half of this surplus goes into our future,” Dayton said. “Into our young people, who comprise the future of Minnesota.”

Republican leaders are interested in bigger child care credits, but called the budget “disappointing” and without enough reform. Especially the effectiveness of heavy spending on early education and, they said, too little on the state’s school achievement gap between white students and minorities.

“But that’s exactly what this budget does,” GOP Senate Minority Leader David Hann said.  “Spends more money doing the same things we’ve done for the last 15 or 20 years, and we have not seen any results so far and somehow we are expected to believe that’s going to make it excellent for people of this state?  It’s just not true.

To make room, Dayton set aside relatively few new dollars to boost reimbursements to nursing homes or aid to local governments — two areas that were big winners in the previous two-year state budget of $39.4 billion. And his centerpiece tax cut is a child-care credit that will go to 92,000 more families at a cost of $100 million.

His spending proposal also contains $30 million to expand broadband Internet availability, puts $45 million from a proposed levy on railroads into local programs that could ease property taxes in those communities and allocates $11 million for the Senate to pay new rent in its lease-to-own office building under construction.

Advocates for programs that serve Minnesota’s growing elderly population said they will keep pressing their case as Dayton’s budget undergoes scrutiny by the Legislature. They are seeking a $200 million investment and changes to care rate structures and quality measurements.

“Any way you look at it there is going to be 60,000 new seniors every year for the next 15 years,” said Gayle Kvenvold, president and chief executive of LeadingAge Minnesota. “We have a lot just to do to get ready.”

Also left out of Dayton’s plan for now was new money for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System. The governor said he wants MnSCU’s administration, faculty and student groups to resolve a dispute first over Chancellor Steven Rosenstone’s plan to revamp the 31-campus system to minimize duplication in offerings at its schools. The parties issued a joint statement assuring they take Dayton’s concern “very seriously” and are working to resolve disagreement over the “Charting the Future” proposal.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, has needled Republicans about devising an alternative approach, saying they’ll have a tough time delivering a budget smaller than the current one based on proposals from GOP members already bubbling up.

“Republican members are tripping over themselves to spend and spend and spend money,” Thissen said during a floor debate Monday. “The budget you’re going to pass off this floor is going to be the biggest budget in state history.”

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Pat Kessler

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