An irritated Gov. Mark Dayton lashed out at Republican lawmakers on Tuesday, saying he would veto a bill that funds education without providing money for his top priority of universal pre-kindergarten.
For the past week, Dayton had intensely lobbied House Republicans and Senate Democrats to add spending for his pre-K plan for 4-year-olds.
In the final hours of the legislative session, Dayton said he offered to sign all of the other budget bills and even to drop the pre-K plan. In exchange, he wanted Republicans to agree to spend $125 million more on other education items. He said Republicans rejected both offers.
Dayton said he was told there is no support for universal pre-K among Republican legislators.
"They hate the public schools, some of the Republican legislators," the governor said. "They're loathe to provide any additional money for public schools and for public school teachers because all of the good programs I've seen around this state for pre-K and all-day kindergarten. All of those programs contradict what they say, which is public schools do things badly."
At an afternoon press conference Dayton held to announce the veto even before he received the bill, the governor said he will call lawmakers back into a special session. Because of his veto, he'll have to engage in another round of negotiating to try to reach a deal he wasn't able to get for the past five months.
Dayton said he's upset the Republican-controlled House would not agree to spend between $125 and $150 million more on education — especially when they left $1 billion unspent for possible tax cuts and transportation spending next year.
"It's astonishing that with a $1.9 billion projected surplus and more than $1 billion on the bottom line for future tax cuts, there would not be more invested in our schools this year."
The bill passed by the Legislature increased spending for education by $400 million over the next two years, with most of it going to per-pupil funding. It also included $60 million for early education, although not for universal preschool.
Dayton said his previous budget offers are now off the table and he intends to push for even more school funding. But he wouldn't say if he'll insist universal pre-K be a part of the final deal.
As to other budget bills passed by the Legislature, Dayton isn't committing to signing them. He plans to spend the rest of the week reading them before deciding. At that point, Dayton said, he will be willing to sit down with legislative leaders to discuss a framework for a special session.
But those negotiations could prove difficult.
Legislative leaders and the governor have failed to compromise on a budget plan for over five months and now have just six weeks before the new fiscal year begins. Dayton said he hopes the pressure of a shutdown of the Department of Education and some state-funded schools will force everyone to compromise.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt said Dayton needs to find more support among legislators and the public for his program.
"I think it really is incumbent on the governor to work with legislators and to reach out to them and sell his plan if he thinks we need to do something differently than what we passed," said Daudt, R-Crown.
Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk were encouraging Dayton to sign the budget bill because of the money it provided for schools. Daudt characterized it as a bipartisan agreement between his caucus and Senate Democrats. Dayton, however, said he wasn't a part of that deal.
Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he's not going to be involved in the negotiations with House Republicans for the special session. Bakk said he'll deliver the votes for Dayton's plan unless Dayton agrees to a Republican demand for a massive tax cut.
"I just spent two weeks negotiating with them and they will not vote for 4-year-olds in a regimented school setting," Bakk said. "My experience with them is that they're just not going to do it, so I wish the governor luck in finding some kind of compromise there that delivers money for early childhood spending."
Dayton said he won't call a special session until he reaches a deal with legislative leaders. But one complicating factor involves the location.
Tuesday morning, work crews were removing the desks, seats and art work from the House chamber as they began the next phase of the Capitol renovation.
The work means the House and Senate chambers will not be available for a special session. Although Dayton said his commissioners are looking at alternative sites, the governor again suggested that lawmakers rent a tent and hold the session on the Capitol lawn.
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