Dayton, GOP still at odds as Legislature presses ahead

The Minnesota Legislature careened Saturday toward a messy and potentially inconclusive ending, as Republican leaders cut away from negotiations and planned to work overnight to send Gov. Mark Dayton a package of government spending measures and a tax bill  that the Democratic governor indicated he wouldn't sign.

Top state officials are racing toward a midnight Sunday deadline to finish their work, and the two sides have struggled to find compromise. Conforming Minnesota's taxes sweeping federal changes was at the top of the to-do list, as was Dayton's push for $138 million to help nearly 60 public school districts solve budget shortfalls.   

With time evaporating at the Capitol and no promise of a deal, Republican lawmakers said late Saturday they would move on but try their best to satisfy Dayton. Top Republicans pointed to some additional money for schools -- forcing the state to repay schools for borrowed land and repurposing some existing school funding -- tucked into a tax bill that's otherwise unchanged from the legislation Dayton vetoed earlier this week. And they said they removed more than half of the 117 objections Dayton outlined in a mammoth spending package. 

But even Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt conceded it was unlikely to win approval. 

"We hope he takes a serious look at it but right now, he's indicated he likely would not accept that bill," Daudt said of the spending package. 

Dayton was more blunt with his feelings. 

"The chances of a budget bill are extremely slim," he said. "I won't sign it." 

The pressure on lawmakers to finish their work is lower than last year, when they were constitutionally required to pass a new two-year budget. But the stakes are still high.

The federal tax overhaul could raise taxes on hundreds of thousands of families and make tax filing in 2019 a complex task if the Legislature doesn't match the two tax codes up. Lawmakers also hoped to help schools fund security improvements in the wake of several fatal school shootings nationwide, improve oversight of senior care facilities, address opioid addiction and more. 

Dayton and Republicans already clashed once on taxes, with the Democratic governor vetoing the Legislature's proposal earlier this week. That bill would have modestly cut income tax rates for most Minnesotans, by .1 percent and .2 percent in the lowest two income tax brackets, but Dayton said the GOP proposal didn't capture enough in taxes from businesses with foreign income and insisted it be paired with school funding. 

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said Republicans would send Dayton a similar tax bill but includes $50 million that the Department of Natural Resources owes schools for borrowing their land. Separately, the Legislature planned to allow schools with budget deficits to repurpose existing funding earmarked for community programming and teacher training to ease budget woes. 

"I'm not sure we're going to get there. We're going to send him a bill," Gazelka said. 

Meanwhile, a nearly 1,000-page package of government spending was headed for a final vote. It's a budgetary grab bag, with $28 million earmarked for schools to improve security measures, $15 million to expand broadband internet in rural Minnesota and much more. 

Dayton lamented the disorderly end to the legislative session and said lawmakers hadn't done enough to win his approval. Just over 24 hours from the end of session, he said it was unlikely he would sign either a tax or spending package this year. 

"The next year's Legislature and a new governor are going to have to deal with some leftovers," he said. 

The final verdict on the session may not come for weeks. Dayton could take as long as 14 days to sign any bills that hit his desk. 

But the governor sealed other legislation's fate with a veto Saturday night. He struck down bills that would have increased penalties on protesters who block highways, reimbursed deputy registrars who struggled with the state's troubled new computer system for driver registration and circumvented environmental regulatory approval for a pipeline across Minnesota.