Governor Says Legislative Session ‘In Shambles’
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota lawmakers rushed on their final 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. 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. Lawmakers on Sunday were sprinting to resend a tax bill in order to avert a complicated 2019 tax season for Minnesotans, while trying to appease Dayton's demand.
Republican legislators backed away from negotiations with Dayton late Saturday and tried to thread the needle for a productive session, folding in some money for schools in a budget crunch and removing dozens of provisions in a mammoth budget bill that Dayton had deemed unacceptable. Republicans in the House and Senate were working Sunday morning to attach some of the money for emergency funding 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.
Dayton and his administration said that funding fell far short. Much of the $225 million figure Republicans proposed came from allowing school 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."
The Minnesota House and Senate were expected to take up the bill later Sunday, following the early morning passage of a nearly 1,000-page bill stuffed full of both budgetary and policy changes. Among them were efforts to curb opioid abuse and stronger oversight of senior care facilities.
Dayton has indicated that he plans to veto the budget bill. Speaking on KSTP-TV Sunday morning, the governor said the budget bill has "all sorts of trash in it" that he's objected to. He's left signing the tax bill up in the air.
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.