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MN Legislature moves on budget, without governor deal

Protesters stand near microphones awaiting legislative leaders coming out of budget negoiatons with the Minnesota governor Tuesday, May 9, 2017. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 4
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said on Tuesday, May 9, 2017, that Republican legislators need to understand that the budget they propose will hurt Minnesotans. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 4
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton briefs the media Tuesday, May 9, 2017, about budget negotiations with Republicans who control the Legislature. Don Davis / Forum News Service3 / 4
Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka talks to reporters Tuesday, May 9, 2017, with House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin watching. They had just emerged from budget talks with the governor. Don Davis / Forum News Service4 / 4

ST. PAUL—Republicans who control the Minnesota Legislature are moving their budget plan over Democratic claims that their actions are illegal.

And the governor said he would veto each of the 10 bills making up the GOP's $46 billion, two-year spending proposal.

Budget talks among legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton began late last week, and continued early Tuesday afternoon, May 9, but leaders put their budget legislation in front of lawmakers late afternoon with little notice.

Republicans gave no hint they would take that action when they emerged from negotiations with Dayton and then met with reporters at mid-afternoon. It appeared they did not tell the governor, either.

"They should know that I will veto every one of those bills, which will leave us with the same differences several days from now that we face today," Dayton said after debate began on the spending bills. "Their actions will make it much more difficult for them to fulfill their constitutional responsibility to send me budget bills, which I can sign, by May 22. I urge the Republican legislative leaders to send me their bills very quickly and then return to our negotiations."

The state constitution requires lawmakers to adjourn May 22, but if no budget passes by then legislators have until June 30 before a partial government shutdown would begin.

Democrats said Republicans skipped a legal step in putting the bills up for a vote. House-Senate conference committees never passed the compromise bills, said Sen. Ron Latz, D-St. Louis Park.

"Let's just pass this out of here and stop the charade," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk.

Republicans said that Dayton refused to negotiate spending limits for all 10 budget bills, so they needed to proceed with their work without him. They planned to finish debate on half of the spending bills Tuesday night and finish them Wednesday, May 10.

"We are extremely disappointed and frustrated that negotiations have stalled after some early positive signs," said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa. "Unfortunately, budget negotiations have not moved quickly enough to finish the session in a timely manner."

Before lawmakers passed their education funding legislation, northwestern Minnesota teachers warned that the plan does not do enough. The bill does not increase funding dedicated to launching more pre-kindergarten classes around the state.

"Universal pre-K would remove discriminating tuition costs and free up district resources for more staff," Barnesville kindergarten teacher Chris Messer said. "The benefits of a quality pre-K experience need to be made available to all Minnesota students."

Rural residents, especially, need the help, said Kimberly Antonsen, a preschool teacher in the Waubun-Ogema-White Earth school district. "In our rural area, it's necessary to have all-day pre-K because most families do not work nearby. I invite anyone to visit Ogema Elementary and see all the good that state pre-K funding is creating."

Republicans say their education bill would provide school districts with the flexibility to use preschool money on classes for 4-year-olds, but would not require schools to offer the new classes.

Classes for 4-year-olds is among Dayton's top priorities.

Dayton was critical of Republican plans that call for more than $1 billion in tax cuts, but less than desired spending for many programs.

It was not clear if budget negotiations can continue or if they will be suspended until Dayton vetoes the 10 bills.

"The Legislature will get our work done on time, and we hope the governor intends to do the same," said House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.