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Dayton would spend most of surplus on education

Facing a divided Legislature, Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed a $42 billion two year budget that includes new spending for child care tax credits, child protection and education.

Dayton said the vast majority of new spending in his budget proposal is focused on education and child health.

"Minnesota's future success - the health of our families, the vitality of our communities, and the prosperity of our state - will depend upon our making excellent educations available to all Minnesotans," Dayton said.

To that end, Dayton's budget includes $17 million for K-12 education with $373 million in new money, and an additional $93 million for higher education. It also includes an expansion of a child care tax credit that will cost the state $100 million. Another $44 million will go to child protection and mental health services.

His proposal also includes $109 million to provide 31,000 four-year-olds with preschool.

Altogether Dayton said the new spending on education accounts for more than half of the state's projected $1 billion budget surplus.

"We've righted the ship," said Education Department Commissioner Brenda Cassellius of education policy in the first four years of Dayton's tenure.

She said that Dayton's budget builds on those improvements.

"This budget directly supports kids and teachers who need it most," Cassellius said.

• More: School officials say Dayton's education budget falls short

Dayton's proposal met with swift opposition from Republicans, who said Dayton was throwing too much money at education - a tactic that isn't a proven remedy for the state's achievement gap between white students and students of color.

"I guess if you spend more money, by virtue of that, you have improved education," said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R- Eden Prairie. "You have a whole group of kids in school today... who are not going to graduate because we don't have any way to make sure that system works for those kids."

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R- Crown, said he hasn't picked a date to release the Republican budget, but hinted that it would follow the next budget forecast released at the end of February. Nonetheless, he was critical of Dayt0n's plan.

"It was a little bit uninspiring to see that Gov. Dayton didn’t have any major reforms in the budget, no big efforts to modernize our state services," Daudt said. "Frankly, I think he’s missing some opportunities there. Hopefully we can work with him on those things in the course of the next couple of months."

Dayton also said that his transportation funding bill would include more than $100 million from the general fund for transit projects.

Health and Human Services is also getting new funding. Some of that money would reduce the waiting list for child care assistance, child mental health services and public health initiatives in greater Minnesota.

Dayton's budget includes a $62.6 million increase for the University of Minnesota, but the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities isn't getting new funding until a until a dispute between management and faculty is settled, Dayton said.

"We take the governor’s decision not to recommend new funding for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) at this time very seriously," school administrators and faculty said in a joint statement. "We understand and share the governor’s concerns and are taking positive steps and having substantive dialogue to resolve our disagreements regarding [the school's strategic plan]."

And he is eliminating state funding for the Minneapolis Park Board over its objections to the Southwest Light Rail project. The funding comes through the Metropolitan Council and amounts to $3.77 million.

Dayton’s budget also includes more than $70 million for new bonding to make railroads safer and annual railroad assessments to make rail crossings safer.

Noticeably absent from Dayton’s budget is new funding for nursing homes because the industry got a funding increase during the last legislative session. But nursing homes said it didn’t go far enough and are looking for what amounts to $200 million more in this session. Their proposal has the backing of some key House Republicans.

A coalition of nursing home industry groups said they will continue to push the issue.

"As 60,000 Minnesotans will turn 65 this year, and next year, and until at least 2031, the demand for care will continue to grow. We need to start the conversation immediately about how we are going to address the care of aging Minnesotans," the groups said in a statement.

There's already been a lot of competition for the surplus, both among legislators and interest groups.

For instance, school counselors want more funding, and some lawmakers are proposing the state pay for two-year college tuition.

Dayton's proposals had immediate support from the DFL-controlled Minnesota Senate.

But the spending plan may face tougher sledding in the Republican-controlled Minnesota House, where many say they don't want to spend too much of the surplus on programs and instead would prefer cutting taxes.

Nevertheless, House Republicans aren't entirely opposed to using some of the surplus for specific projects, including a small transportation funding bill.