Minnesota House and Senate committees will continue a push this week to complete major budget bills in order to meet earlier-than-usual deadlines.
Votes on those bills are expected before the legislature takes its annual Easter/Passover break in two weeks. Republican leaders have also allowed plenty of time after that to rework some of the bills if necessary.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said he’s pleased with the progress. He said the plan to send budget bills to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton more than a month ahead of the session adjournment date does not necessarily mean Republicans are expecting vetoes.
“My hope is that we don’t have to get to that,” Gazleka said. “We want to have open-door conversations with him. We’re going to invite him in. If you look at the beginning of session, the governor has participated as well. If that trend continues, there’s no reason we can’t get done in a timely fashion.”
There’s a lot to talk about. Republicans want to spend far less than Dayton and provide much more in tax cuts. There are big differences in nearly every budget area.
Dayton has been particularly critical of Republican proposals for education, health care, natural resources, taxes and transportation. But he said last week that he needs to see more details before considering potential vetoes.
“We’ll work with and see if we can find some common accord,” Dayton said. “But I’m not going say I’m going to veto or not veto anything until I know the final specifics.”
Dayton later took aim at House Republicans for eliminating funding for one of his budget priorities: voluntary prekindergarten. He said it was "appalling" that they are using the best interests of four-year-olds as a "political bargaining chip" in budget negotiations.
And his top fiscal adviser, Minnesota Management and Budget commissioner, Myron Frans, criticized Senate Republicans last week for proposing big cuts in the operating budgets of state agencies.
“If not amended to provide sufficient funding for the services that Minnesotans need and deserve in a fiscally responsible way, I will recommend to Gov. Dayton that he veto Senate File 605,” Frans said.
House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said the GOP budget bills show the wrong priorities for Minnesota. Hortman said there are big differences to resolve before May 22.
“I think it’s possible that Republicans are planning two rounds of budget bills, a set that is ideological and destined to be vetoed,” Hortman said. “I just hope that if that’s their plan that they’ve left enough time at the end of session pass a budget for Minnesotans, to make sure there’s no (state government) shutdown and there’s no special session.”
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Zimmerman, said there will be enough time to react to vetoes. But he’s hoping to avoid them by working out budget bill differences in conference committees. Daudt is also counting on the governor to be fully engaged in those negotiations.
“We know that we need a governor’s signature to put a state budget in place, and I hope the governor knows that he can’t sign a bill that we don’t send to him,” Daudt said. “So he needs to sell us on the provisions that he feels are important, and this is his opportunity to do it.”