Dayton uses budget hammer to send a message

Gov. Mark Dayton presents his budget proposal.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton answers questions after he presented his two-year budget proposal which tops $40 billion, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015, in St. Paul, Minn.
Jim Mone / AP

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system will have to wait before learning if it receives more state money.

Gov. Mark Dayton is making children a top priority in this year's budget, spending more on early childhood education, K-12 school and higher education. His $42 billion budget increases funding for education, human services and other areas.

But the governor said he will withhold any increase in MnSCU funding until the chancellor and faculty resolve their differences over a plan for the future of the system.

"We need a united MnSCU that brings administrators and faculty and all of the other support staff together in a common quest for a better future for MnSCU and for the students it serves," Dayton said. "The continuation of this divide will be very detrimental to MnSCU, to its campuses, to its reputation."

MnSCU's administration and faculty issued a statement pledging cooperation. The two sides have been sparring for months over Chancellor Steven Rosenstone's plan to overhaul the system. After a legislative committee hearing, Rosenstone declined to comment beyond the statement.

However, Dayton said he is keeping $35 million in reserve in case the dispute is resolved soon.

MnSCU isn't the only group Dayton is targeting. He zeroed out state money for the Minneapolis Park Board. Dayton said he's not willing to commit nearly $3.8 million in state funds to the Park Board after the board hired consultants to look into different options regarding the Southwest light rail line between Eden Prairie and Minneapolis. Dayton said the Park Board is obstructing the process when other local governments have agreed on the Metropolitan Council's plan for the line.

"If they have all of this additional money to throw around for consultants, then they don't need all of the state money that's being allocated," the governor said.

Minneapolis Park Board Chair Liz Wielinski said she's disappointed with Dayton's action but isn't willing to back off the board's plan to hire consultants to study an alternative to the current plan.

"The Met Council should have been doing this work, and we're having to take general fund money to do it," Wielinski said. "It's out of our system which could have been put to better use but since we were elected to protect the park system, that's what we're doing."

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said Dayton's approach to the Park Board is "an interesting way to negotiate."

Both the House and Senate plan to release budget plans after the next budget forecast arrives in February.

Republicans criticized Dayton for spending too much but didn't offer a budget plan of their own. Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt hinted that, unlike Dayton, House Republicans are likely to support more spending for nursing homes.

"We know that Greater Minnesota really needs some solutions that are going to help them maintain the nursing homes in a way that really show their loved ones and our aging population the respect they deserve," said Daudt, R-Crown.

Dayton's budget also keeps funding flat for cities and counties. The governor said local governments saw huge increases in the last budget cycle.

State Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, agrees. But he suggested the Senate may dedicate some money to give nursing home workers a raise.

As for local government aid, Bakk said there's some concern that cities didn't hold the line on property tax hikes after getting an increase two years ago.

"Clearly their job is made harder now," he said. "They're going to have to work pretty hard to get money out of the Legislature when the governor didn't have it in his budget."

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