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Dayton lays out veto threats

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Gov. Mark Dayton has been a longtime opponent of efforts to allow public money to follow students to private schools. 

But the governor said he was asked to publicly repeat his position, so that's what he did Wednesday: "I will veto any bill that has vouchers attached to it."

That's not all, though.

Dayton clarified that his opposition extends beyond the traditional concept of private school vouchers. He opposes provisions in the House and Senate tax bills that would give breaks to people who donate to organizations that deliver private school scholarships, saying too many charities would want similar status.

But Dayton's threatened veto would take down more than tax credits for scholarship donations. It could take down the much larger tax bill that House and Senate negotiators are working on. New tax breaks for businesses, farmers, senior citizens and students are on the line.

Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, the chair of the Senate tax committee, said the state already subsidizes private preschool scholarships, which Dayton supports. He also noted that state grants benefit private colleges. 

"These are not vouchers," he said. "We're not sending them a check and saying 'take it where you want.' It's a credit just like we already have established in law for higher ed, for pre-K and for many other things that we do already."

Republican leaders have been criticizing Dayton for refusing to join in budget bill negotiations until the House and Senate work out their differences. 

"For the governor to come out this early and start talking vetoes, when he hasn't even negotiated a target yet, I think is a bit premature," said Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, who chairs the House taxes committee. 

Meanwhile, Dayton is holding firm on previous veto threats. Those include a lack of funding for public school prekindergarten programs, which he said is "totally unacceptable." He will reject any bills that restrict abortion rights. 

And an acceptable transportation bill must have money for transit, Dayton said.

The governor also doubled down on an earlier threat to veto any attempt to delay or weaken the state's new buffer-strip requirement around farm fields. Dayton said the 2015 law is needed to address a water quality crisis.

"You've got rivers and streams and small lakes in southwestern Minnesota where there's no aquatic wildlife," Dayton said. "Fish can't survive. I'm not making this up. I'm just dealing with it, and the Legislature needs to deal with it."

Dayton said he won't accept any buffer changes this session.  But he might be open to some tweaking next session after the law has gone into effect.

But Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, the chair of the House environment and natural resources committee, said there is strong opposition to the current buffer law. Fabian said he hears often from farmers, local government officials and others who want changes. 

"To turn our backs on the concerns of rural Minnesota in this case I think would be doing a disservice and quite frankly be disrespectful to those folks," he said.