Minnesota governor on budget bills: 'I'd veto them all'

The GOP led House and Senate on Tuesday night abruptly ended its budget negotiations with Governor Mark Dayton and gaveled into session to pass its budget bills.

Dayton promised to use his veto pen. 

"They should know that I will veto every one of those bills, which will leave us with the same differences several days from now that we face today,” said Dayton in a statement.

The swift change in legislative strategy came after days of futile attempts by both GOP leaders and the DFL governor to agree on spending targets for the $46 billion biannual state budget. 

On Monday, Dayton offered to come down $74 million from his initial requests for the budget bills on agriculture, higher education, economic development and public safety.  But the offer still left a gap of nearly $259 million between Dayton and the legislature. 

On Tuesday afternoon the governor offered to trim another $48 million. For its share on the global targets of all the budget bills, GOP leaders agreed to reduce their tax cuts by $105 million and increase spending by $250 million.

None of it was enough to break the logjam. Both chambers gaveled in during dinner hour and began passing omnibus bills knowing that it would set up a constitutional confrontation with the governor.

As the House was on the verge of passing the omnibus environment bill, House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman pleaded with colleagues to change their minds. 

“This is sort of our moment of truth here in the Minnesota House whether we can choose the path of collaboration or confrontation” said Hortman.

But House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin pinned the confrontation on Dayton saying the legislature was fulfilling its job to pass a budget by the end of the session on May 22.

“We need to pass these bills and get our work done,” said Peppin. “And that’s what we are going to do today.”

The new GOP strategy was telegraphed by legislative leaders late Monday night when conference committees were instructed to pass their final spending bills without any more input from the governor on reaching compromises on the spending amounts.

Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said he felt the process was going too slow with the governor’s office and they were all running out of time.

"I'm very disappointed,” said Gazelka. “I'm very frustrated, because we can do this better and Minnesota benefits when we do it better."

But as Republicans laid out their likely strategy change, Dayton wouldn’t bend. 

"The fact is we have major differences,” said Dayton. “And again I want to know the details of how they justify the kind of cuts for E-12 for State governments and environment.”

The impasse means that the legislature will have to negotiate again with Dayton once he vetoes the spending bills as promised.  

It puts in jeopardy the deadline of wrapping up the new state budget in two weeks and could very well signal the need for a special session to prevent a government shutdown starting July 1 when a new budget is supposed to take effect.

Dayton statement:

"For the past six days, I have met with Legislative Leaders in an attempt to negotiate a compromise budget that would best serve the needs of Minnesotans. As we agreed on Saturday, I presented them yesterday with budget concessions on four bills. Today I made second reductions on those four bills, with total budget cuts of $122 million.

"Now the Republican Legislative Leaders have abandoned those negotiations and are bringing their unbalanced Conference Reports, with extreme budget cuts and 609 policy positions, to the House and Senate floors.

"Their bills sacrifice funding for early childhood education, for our public schools, for the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State campuses, for student scholarships, and so much more, for the sake of their bloated tax giveaway to wealthy individuals, large corporations, and moneyed special interests. They even inserted into the tax bill overnight an additional tobacco tax cut of $3.3 million for premium cigars. So much for their professed transparency!

"They should know that I will veto every one of those bills, which will leave us with the same differences several days from now that we face today. Their actions will make it much more difficult for them to fulfill their Constitutional responsibility to send me budget bills, which I can sign, by May 22nd. I urge the Republican Legislative Leaders to send me their bills very quickly and then return to our negotiations."