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House Speaker Kurt Daudt describes GOP legislative leaders’ budgetary counteroffer for reporters Tuesday outside the governor’s Capitol Cabinet Room. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)
House Speaker Kurt Daudt describes GOP legislative leaders’ budgetary counteroffer for reporters Tuesday outside the governor’s Capitol Cabinet Room. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

Dayton and GOP inching closer on budget

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Vernon Center (right), confers Monday with Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, on the Senate floor a few hours before a floor passage of the public safety-judiciary conference committee report. The bill was later vetoed. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Vernon Center (right), confers Monday with Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, on the Senate floor a few hours before a floor passage of the public safety-judiciary conference committee report. The bill was later vetoed. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

After last week’s dramatic breakdown, budget negotiations at the Capitol restarted Tuesday. By late afternoon, both Gov. Mark Dayton and GOP legislative leaders had submitted compromise offers, inching the two sides closer together.

Yet they remained far apart at press time, with negotiations expected to continue for at several more days.

Gov. Mark Dayton’s offer Tuesday included $624.2 million less in spending overall than the $1.367 billion spending plan he issued after February’s revised budget forecast. It also included a bigger tax cut — $400 million compared to his original $191.7 million tax-relief package.

Overall, Dayton’s Tuesday offer represented a shift of $832.4 million from his original position by administration calculations.

Tuesday’s GOP counteroffer represented a $776 million shift away from the somewhat thriftier spending bills approved on the House and Senate floors over the past several days. Their offer included a number of spending increases and $875 million in tax cuts, down from the $1.1 billion cut approved by the House and Senate.

For public safety and the judiciary, Dayton’s proposal reduces his offer by $41.6 million from his previous plan. His offer Tuesday called for a $220.6 million increase for the division, rather than his previous $262.2 million proposal.

Legislators boosted their spending offer for cops and courts Tuesday by a net $115 million. The GOP’s omnibus bill that passed in both chambers Monday included an $85 million spending target.

Despite his willingness to scale back on public safety spending, Dayton refused Tuesday to sacrifice Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea’s proposed $51.4 million budget request. Her plan includes almost $4 million in pay raises for court employees and judges.

“Every one of those dollars to support [the judicial] system is in my judgment essential,” Dayton said. “So we kept it as requested, and I will insist upon that.”

Dayton also reduced his Health and Human Services request from a $304.1 million increase to a $73.1 million increase. The GOP responded by cutting a little less deeply into HHS, slashing a net $400 million from its budget compared to $505 million in net HHS reductions passed by the House and Senate.

Both sides were guardedly optimistic Tuesday that they would resolve the budget impasse. The offers represent “significant movement on both our sides,” Dayton said.

“But we’re still a significant ways apart and we’ll have to take that up next,” he said.

“We are certainly appreciative of the steps that the governor has taken and I think he appreciates the steps that we have taken,” Daudt said in a separate appearance before reporters.

“I think there is enough movement, if everybody is serious, to get this done within the regular legislative session,” the speaker said.

Capitol rituals

Renewed negotiations follow an almost ritualistic round of bill passages and vetoes over the previous several days. Among the 10 finance bills nixed by Dayton was the public safety omnibus bill.  Critics contended that, by declining to fulfill negotiated and signed employee contracts that include compensation increases, the GOP bill could force numerous layoffs.

Speaking on the House floor Monday, bill author Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, was skeptical about that critique.

“On every committee that I’ve been on now in 15 years, we’ve gotten threats for layoffs,” Cornish said Monday. “The world isn’t going to end. Don’t retreat into your caves with your bottled water and dehydrated food.”

In Dayton’s four-page veto letter, he rejected the bill as “seriously inadequate” and laden with policy provisions that, he contends, should have been considered separately. He slammed it as a failure for public safety.

For example, Dayton said, it fails to fully fund his $564 million Department of Public Safety budget request, exposing the agency to more than 180 layoffs.

By only partly funding his $1.2 billion Department of Corrections request, Dayton wrote, up to 250 corrections employees could be laid off. An additional 200 DOC workers could also lose jobs, he added, if employee caps included in the vetoed state government operations omnibus bill became law.

Dayton rejected the bill’s requirement that DOC perform a property-value appraisal of the Appleton prison facility if its commissioner determines Minnesota needs more prison beds. Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy recently called that language “palatable.” It represents a compromise from the original bill, which required Roy to enter negotiations for purchase or lease of the formerly private prison if bed space falls short.

Yet Dayton said even that language is not needed: “Commissioner Roy has put forward realistic strategies to address the state’s prison population that are fiscally responsible.”

Finally, the governor rejected a last-minute addition that would freeze into statute an existing Department of Public Safety administrative rulemaking ban on drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants. That provision was ported over from the Real ID debate.

One of government’s core roles is to ensure public safety, the governor concluded. “This bill fails to do so.”

What’s in, what’s out

Despite the governor’s bad review, the bill was a product of substantial compromise by its conference committee. That was particularly true on the part of the House, which despite Dayton’s objections, packed the bill with policy provisions. (The Senate version avoided policy.)

Deleted policies from the bill passed Monday include:

  • A requirement for legislative approval for any modifications to sentencing guidelines.
  • Increased penalties and required registration for some predatory offenses.
  • Enhanced penalties for multiple driving-after-revocation offenses.
  • A plan to reform prison segregation unit guidelines.
  • A new state terrorism criminal statute.

Other key policy and finance provisions were retained in the bill that passed the House and Senate Monday. Those included:

  • $13 million in 2018-19 for police training; funding for that program would continue through 2021.
  • Two new judges, one each for the 7th and 9th judicial districts.
  • An $8.6 million reduction in civil filing fees. A personal priority of Senate author Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), this reform was dropped from the bill at one time, but was reinstated in conference committee.
  • A “seat-belt gag rule” repeal, which would allow juries to consider whether seat belts were in use during traffic accidents as they determine fault.
  • A reduction in civil-judgment interest rates for both pre- and post-judgment awards.
  • Enhanced criminal penalties—boosting charges from misdemeanors to gross misdemeanors—for protesters caught blocking freeways and airport entrances.

The House passed the bill Monday 75-54. In the Senate, it passed 34-32.

Mission possible

Dayton and legislative leaders reached accord on just a single budget bill—agriculture—on Tuesday. But Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said the two sides likely would move toward agreement on several smaller bills—higher education, economic development and environment—as early as Wednesday.

“That would make the possibility of us finishing on time more likely,” he said. A public safety budget agreement likely would take a little longer, he said.

Roy, who attended the Tuesday afternoon press conference at which GOP leaders released their offer, said he was encouraged.

“I would be cautiously optimistic,” Roy said. “It certainly seems that leadership is interested in getting this package done.”

However, Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, the Taxes Committee chair, was less than impressed when shown Dayton’s latest tax-cut pitch Tuesday. “It’s a little short,” he said.

Negotiations were scheduled to pick up after this newspaper’s deadline on Wednesday morning, according to Sam Fettig, Dayton’s press secretary.

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