Deals move Minn. budget toward finish line, but no one's thrilled

Last official day of session
Lawmakers ended their session on May 18. Gov. Mark Dayton and House Republicans have been sparring ever since over a series of proposals that have stalled the beginning of a special session to finalize the state budget.
Glen Stubbe | StarTribune via AP

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Minnesota's top legislative leaders have resolved their remaining budget disagreements and are now poised to hold a special session as soon as Friday.

Euphoria, however, is in short supply.

Dayton and House Republicans came to terms late Tuesday on a jobs and energy bill, agreeing to include $5 million to assist disabled Minnesotans. They also added a provision to help steel and paper companies with energy costs and a tax clarification provision for the Destination Medical Center project in Rochester.

The governor said Wednesday he'll call lawmakers back to St. Paul once he and leaders have reviewed and signed the tentative agreement. Action on the bills is needed before July 1 to avoid a partial government shutdown.

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Dayton did not talk to reporters about the deal but said in a statement that resolving the vetoed bills was "extremely difficult." He said "the sign of a true compromise is that no one is happy with it."

House Speaker Kurt Daudt agreed. He said a lot of give-and-take went into the final agreement.

"I'm pleased with the way things resolved, and I think what we're doing is putting forward a budget that's really is going to be good for Minnesota," said Daudt, R-Crown. "Maybe it doesn't make me a winner or the governor a winner. I think there are areas that we all won in this agreement."

Even with a deal among legislative leaders, however, passage of the bills is not certain. The environment bill, for example, needed Republican help to pass the first time in the Senate when 29 Democrats voted against it.

DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said he's unsure of the outcome.

"I have told the speaker that I still have a number of caucus members with problems with it," said Bakk, DFL-Cook. "I cannot guarantee it's going to pass and I don't plan to break arms to pass it."

Bakk said he's asked the governor to attend a private caucus meeting before the special session to explain the difficulty in reaching the compromise bill.

"I do think he's going to tell them this is the best we could do," Bakk added. "Now we have to move on, that it's just not worth putting at risk the economic security of 9,500 or more state employees."

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said he thinks there will be fewer votes from his caucus during the special session. He said nobody has asked for his help to pass the bills.

"I'm assuming that whatever deal has been reached it's not going to be a problem for the majority in the House or the Senate to put up the votes to pass the bills," Hann said. "We're not pressuring anyone in our caucus to vote any particular way."

Some lawmakers are raising concerns about the reworked bills and the process used to write them.

Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, said he objects to the environment bill tapping more than $8 million from a landfill cleanup account.

He said the past three weeks have been frustrating, with decisions being made behind closed doors by a few people.

"After all this, I think we have to read every word, every page and every word, to make sure there aren't some more surprises in there," Hansen said. "I think Minnesotans are sick and tired of being surprised, and they expect more of their government."

Dayton did secure $125 million more for schools and removed a few controversial provisions from an environment and agriculture bill.

But he was forced to drop his push for universal pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds. He also backed away from a threat not to call a special session if lawmakers didn't back off changes to some of the state auditor's responsibilities.

Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, took aim at Bakk for bowing out of budget negotiations after Dayton vetoed three of the budget bills Bakk crafted with Daudt.

She said Bakk should have stayed by Dayton's side. "Bakk "did seem like he checked out a little bit. He just said 'Leave it to the governor to negotiate with Daudt and I'm going fishing.'"

Pappas said she probably won't vote for the environment bill, adding that once the special session is over Democrats need to figure out what went wrong.

Bakk said House Republicans weren't willing to budge.

"The governor can see now how hard it was for us," he said. "He can't get some of his priorities addressed even in a special session negotiation, even bumping up against a government shutdown. They're just that dug in on not spending money."

Daudt dismissed DFL talk of Republican intransigence, noting Republicans agreed to spend more on education.

He also praised his caucus for keeping spending in check and leaving roughly $800 million unspent — money Daudt says they will look to use next year as they head into a re-election campaign.

"We've left almost $1 billion on the bottom line," he said. "We can address some tax relief that can help out Minnesota families further next session and invest some money into our road and bridge infrastructure."

If this year's negotiations are any indication, however, it may not be a good idea to bet on anything the Legislature will get done next year.