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Dayton firm on budget veto threat as deadline looms

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Mark Dayton
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton spoke to reporters about a budget bill at the Veterans Affairs building Sunday, May 17, 2015, in St. Paul.
Jeff Wheeler | Star Tribune via AP

Updated 10 a.m. | Posted 5 a.m.

As Minnesota lawmakers hustle to pass their remaining budget bills before a midnight Monday deadline, Gov. Mark Dayton is warning them that tonight won't be the end.

For a third day, Dayton vowed to veto the entire education funding bill that funds public schools and force a special session after two closed-door meetings Sunday failed to resolve the impasse over pre-kindergarten funding.

This time he put the blame squarely on House Republicans for blocking the additional $150 million he wants spent on public schools and the $173 million he's seeking for half-day universal preschool .

"If they think they can say we're going to finish on time, when they're going to send me something that they know I'm not going to sign, then they're responsible for the consequences, not me," Dayton told reporters.

Dayton said Republicans need to explain to the public why ending the session on time and leaving $1 billion in budget surplus money unspent is more important than the needs of Minnesota's four-year-olds.

He said a special session will help to highlight the issue.

Dayton met separately with House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, to try to resolve the matter.

Daudt said he asked the governor to sign the bill legislative leaders agreed to, which would provide $400 million in new money for schools.

The governor should have pushed harder earlier for his preschool proposal, Daudt added.

"He's had an opportunity with him and his staff to work on legislators and to build a groundswell of support for his number one policy provision. And the fact that it didn't pass the House and didn't pass the Senate, I think what that means is this provision probably needs some more time, and I think the governor is going to need to advocate for it more," Daudt said, adding, "We're not hearing from school districts that this is something they're wanting."

House and Senate leaders said they abandoned two priority issues — transportation funding and tax cuts — in order to reach an elusive overall budget agreement and finish the 2015 session on time.

Bakk said he cautioned the governor about the potential risk of vetoing the education bill and starting over. Still, Bakk is expecting a special session.

The House and Senate have been working around the clock to finalize and pass several spending bills. That work is expected to continue until tonight's midnight adjournment deadline.

The absence of a big transportation funding bill forced lawmakers to settle for a one page status quo bill to keep the Minnesota Department of Transportation running.

Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, used the minimal bill to ridicule House Republicans.

"You ran a campaign on nothing. You have accomplished nothing. You are delivering nothing," he said. "Your entire majority amounts to nothing. This legislative session is a big zero."

Republicans blamed Democrats for insisting on a gas tax increase to fund transportation projects, rather than the House GOP plan, which used existing money and borrowing.

Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, said his constituents won't stand for a gas tax increase.

"The American Legion, go in there and tell them you want to raise their gas tax," he said. "Those working stiffs, construction guys that come in from work, they'll think you're nuts. I don't want to pay any more gas tax."

It's unclear how soon legislators might return to St. Paul for a special session, or where they will meet.

Construction crews restoring the Capitol are scheduled to close down the House and Senate chambers this week and delays could be costly.

Dayton shrugged off those concerns. He suggested they pitch a tent and set up some chairs on the Capitol lawn.

Lawmakers have made progress on several other key issues.

Higher education

The House and Senate passed a higher education budget bill Sunday that falls short of requests from the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to freeze tuition for another two years.

The bill includes $30 million for the University of Minnesota medical school and $22 million to hold down tuition. University officials had requested $65 million to freeze tuition for the next two years.

MnSCU gets about $100 million in the bill to cover a tuition freeze for students at two-year schools. The money would also freeze tuition in 2017 for students at four year state universities. MnSCU officials had requested $148 million to freeze all tuition.

Buffer strips

Late changes to a plan seeking stricter rules on buffer zones separating farmland and public waterways speeds the timeline for compliance and carries possible fines of up to $500 for violators.

The modifications were made early Monday to suit Gov. Mark Dayton's objections to an earlier proposal he regarded as too lax.

He made the buffer strip push a session priority in hopes of slowing agricultural chemical runoff into lakes and streams.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.