ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota lawmakers rushed on their last workday Sunday to pass the final pieces of their budget and tax plans. However, with indications that Gov. Mark Dayton wouldn’t sign any of it, the session could end the same way it started: in a stalemate.
With hours to go until a midnight Sunday deadline to pass bills, Dayton and Republican legislative leaders struggled to find common ground on several key issues. After backing away from negotiations with the Democratic governor late Saturday, Republican lawmakers were trying to thread the needle for a productive session, sending Dayton bills that may not get his signature.
Speaker Kurt Daudt On The Governor’s Vetoes
Republicans in the House and Senate attached some of the money for emergency funding for schools to a tax bill, an effort to get Dayton to sign a bill that’s otherwise unchanged from the legislation he vetoed last week. The tax changes would avert a complicated 2019 tax filing season while modestly cutting income tax rates on the state’s two lowest income brackets.
The House passed that combined tax and school funding measure on an 85-40 vote Sunday afternoon, less than eight hours before a midnight deadline to finish passing bills. The Senate was expected to follow suit.
Conforming Minnesota’s tax code to sweeping federal changes has been atop the to-do list since the Legislature convened in February.
But Dayton has remained steadfast that he will not sign a tax bill unless the Legislature sets aside $138 million for schools facing budget shortfalls —making good on that promise last week after rejecting a GOP-backed tax bill.
Dayton and his administration said school funding has fallen far short. Much of the $225 million that Republicans have proposed to help schools came from allowing districts to shift existing funding for community programming and teacher training to solve their budget woes. Another $50 million would come from forcing the Department of Natural Resources to repay for using schools’ land.
“This is merely a shell game or a transfer of money,” said Sen. Chuck Wiger, a Democrat from Maplewood. “It’s a gimmick.”
Sen. Eric Pratt, a Republican from Prior Lake, defended the proposal, saying it gives schools the flexibility and options for weathering financial turbulence. He and other Republicans say their proposal meets the governor more than halfway and that he never indicated exactly how lawmakers should fund schools.
“This is a serious proposal that focuses the ability for those districts that have the most urgent budget problems a way to help fix them,” Pratt said. “Let’s not worry about if it’s new money or existing money.”
Lawmakers already sent Dayton a nearly 1,000-page bill stuffed full of both budgetary and policy changes early Sunday morning, spending much of the state’s projected $329 million budget surplus. Among them were efforts to curb opioid abuse, impose stronger oversight of senior care facilities and fund security improvements at Minnesota schools. GOP leaders said they had removed more than half of the 117 items Dayton had singled out as objectionable.
Still, Dayton has indicated that he plans to veto the budget bill.
Dayton On A Chance For A Special Session
But a decision may not come quickly. The governor has two weeks to act on bills passed late in the session and has been adamant he will not call a special session.
Democratic House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman said Republicans were to blame for a potentially inconclusive session.
“This Republican majority keeps taking the approach: ‘We’re going to shove it at you, governor, and see how much you’ll take,'” she said.
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