Governor Mark Dayton signed the Agricultural budget bill Friday. The bill spends $80 million over the next two years on food inspection and other ag programs. It's the first portion of the state's budget that Gov. Dayton and Republican legislative leaders have agreed to. Republican Senator Doug Magnus of Slayton says he hopes negotiations on other budget items go as well.
"It's fitting that the lead horse out of the gate is agriculture," Magnus said, "and you want to have the horse headed in the right direction so the ones that are following them know how to do this."
The Agriculture bill is less than 1 percent of the state's total budget for the next two years and the agreement does little to erase the projected $5 billion deficit. And the governor and the Legislature are having a much harder time agreeing on what to do next.
Lawmakers are taking most of next week off for an Easter Passover break, so we thought it would be a good time to check in with capitol reporter Tom Scheck talk about the budget debate and what happens next at the State Capitol.....
Tom Crann: Before we get to the budget, can you give us an idea of what bills have been signed into law?
Tom Scheck: There are a few significant items. The Ag bill, which you just mentioned. There is a bill that allows for alternative pathways for people to become teachers. That has been an issue for several years. And Governor Dayton also signed a bill that loosens the length of time required for a business to get a permit.
Crann: The state is facing a $5 billion budget deficit. Can you describe how far apart Governor Dayton and Republican legislative leaders are on fixing this?
Scheck: Far apart -- still disagree over the size of the pie. Disagree over policy. Disagree over the cost of certain savings like tax analytics and health care waiver.
Crann: When do you expect budget talks to get more serious?
Scheck: May. The constitutional deadline to adjourn is May 23rd so the governor and lawmakers typically wait until the end to start the serious negotiations. That's because the pressure of a special session could make one side blink and give up on an idea.
Crann: Vikings owner Zygi Wilf was at the State Capitol [Thursday] to talk with lawmakers about financing a new Vikings stadium. Does this have a chance this year?
Scheck: It depends on who you speak with. Governor Dayton, Vikings lobbyists and the bill authors say it does. But the problem is that no local community has been identified. That means lawmakers don't know where the stadium will be built and whether the local city or county can finance it. The other problem is that lawmakers are so focused on the budget mess right now that they don't want to look like they're negotiating a stadium package for the Vikings that could include taxes while they make significant spending cuts to balance the budget.