Legislature special session: Where it stands

Republican senators listened to debate.
Republican senators listened to members speak for and against the agriculture and environment bill during Friday's special session.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

The fate of an already fragile budget deal is in further question Friday afternoon, after the Minnesota Senate failed to pass a controversial agricultural and environmental budget bill.

Sen. Scott Dibble
Sen. Scott Dibble spoke during a debate over the agriculture and environment bill Friday.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

The bill needed 34 votes to pass, but was voted down on a 33-32 final tally. That vote puts a budget deal between Gov. Mark Dayton and House Republicans in jeopardy — and revives the possibility of a partial state government shutdown on July 1.

"I think it's a historic step backwards on what we've been able to build in the Minnesota over the course of many generations now," state Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said.

Dibble opposed the agriculture and environment bill. MPR News reporters Tom Scheck, Tim Pugmire and Tim Nelson have been covering the special session and the budget stalemate leading up to it.

What happened in today's special session?

A majority of Senate Democrats voted against the agriculture and environment bill because they said it rolled back environmental protections.

Gov. Dayton personally pleaded with Senate Democrats to pass the bill — to avoid a July 1 shutdown and the potential layoffs of thousands of state workers — but still, the bill failed.

Many Democrats are upset with their own leadership — Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and Gov. Dayton — for not removing some controversial provisions in the bill. And they said that, with today's vote, they're sending a message that they don't like it.

What happens next?

The House and Senate went into recess just before 4:30 p.m., and are scheduled to reconvene at 5:30 p.m.

Senate leaders could twist some arms and make a motion to reconsider the bill. If they don't do that, they'll have to go back into negotiations over the budget.

Some Senate Democrats say the best thing would be to cut some policy provisions from the bill, but it isn't that simple. House Republicans have already balked at ditching some of the other measures that they liked in their negotiations with Dayton.

What about the education funding bill?

Today's special session had more to do with Gov. Dayton's veto of the education funding bill than anything else, though the agriculture and environment bill was also a factor.

The education bill easily passed both chambers. It spends $125 million more for schools and early childhood education than the bill that was vetoed in May. That's an increase of $525 million more than current spending. Some Democrats complained that it wasn't enough — especially since the government had a nearly $2 billion surplus and still have roughly $800 million on the bottom line.

Documents were stacked on the floor.
Documents were stacked on the floor of the State Office Building room where the House met during the special session Friday.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News

The education bill does not include Gov. Dayton's plan for universal pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds. Dayton vetoed the bill, in part, because he wanted universal pre-K — but Republicans in the House objected. Instead, they allocated about $90 million more for early childhood education for disadvantaged students, Head Start and other programs.

Democrats call it a missed opportunity. Republicans say it's a major boost in school funding and holds the line on out of control spending.

What are House leaders and the governor saying about this session?

Dayton and his office are touting the increase in education spending and a plan for buffer zones to help improve water quality.

Senate Democrats, however, aren't happy with the deal Dayton came back with. They also aren't happy with their own majority leader, Tom Bakk, who they say traded away controversial policy provisions in some of these budget bills for an increase in state spending.

Both Dayton and Bakk say they did the best they could have done, and that House Republicans were just unwilling to spend money.

Republicans are looking at this budget as a big success because they defeated Gov. Dayton's universal pre-K measure and held firm on his insistence to change a law that reduces the state auditor's responsibilities.

But Republicans also didn't get a few items they'd wanted. They pushed for a $2 billion tax cut, which didn't happen. And there also isn't a major transportation bill. House Republicans wanted to use existing sales tax money and borrowing to pay for roads and bridge projects. Gov. Dayton and Senate Democrats pushed for a gas tax hike. They scrapped both plans when they couldn't compromise.

What's next for the Legislature?

If lawmakers don't pass the environment and agriculture bill, they have to go back into negotiations.

If they do pass the bill, they'll eventually go home.

Rep. Tony Albright stretched during break.
Rep. Tony Albright found some relief during a recess from the cramped quarters in the Senate Office Building room where House members were holding a special session Friday.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News

No one thought — with a nearly $2 billion surplus — that they'd be in St. Paul in mid-June, trying to pass a budget in order to avert a shutdown.

They're also gearing up for next year, when every seat in the House and Senate is on the ballot. Republicans say they want to use some of the unspent money, nearly $1 billion, for tax cuts. Democrats say they hope to pass a transportation bill.

Legislators' next session begins on March 8, 2016.

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