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Minnesota GOP plans to send new round of budget bills to governor

Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt explains a new Republican budget plan Friday, May 19, 2017. With him is Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 2
Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka briefs reporters on the state budget Friday, May 19, 2017. Behind him is House Speaker Kurt Daudt. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 2
  1. PAUL -- Minnesota's Republican-controlled Legislature plans to pass a second round of budget legislation, but they may not become law.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, who must sign off before a budget is approved, does not appear optimistic that he and the GOP can wrap up a $46 billion, two-year budget by a midnight Monday, May 22, deadline. He said on public television's "Almanac" Friday night, May 19, the potential for avoiding a special session is on "knife's edge."

Republican leaders said they can get their work done on time, but they offered no promises that they will give Dayton bills he will sign.

Republicans unveiled their plan to send new budget bills to Dayton Friday afternoon as the governor attended a family member's funeral. He said that even after meeting legislative leaders earlier in the day, he did not expect the new GOP plan. He said he planned to get together with legislative leaders after their television appearances.

"I am disappointed," Dayton said of the surprise Republican action.

It appears there will be no more budget negotiations until Saturday morning, May 20.

The Republican plan is to launch new House-Senate conference committees on the 10 budget areas Saturday morning to prepare bills that can pass before the deadline.

While the bills will get full House and Senate votes even without Dayton's approval, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said he hopes the Dayton administration will remain involved in budget talks so compromises can be reached.

"The exact same thing happened two years ago,"  Daudt said.

But two years ago, three major budget bills were not settled during the regular session and a special session was needed to complete the budget. Many in the Capitol predict a repeat this year.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said the two sides are close on many parts of the budget, and have reached agreement about how much to spend for agriculture and environmental programs, although details remain to be worked out.

"There are so many we are close on, but we are not quite there with the governor," Gazelka said.

Republicans said they gave up the most on their tax bill proposal, which they set at $660 million Friday, half what they wanted. That still is more than Dayton sought. The tax bill will include a combination of tax cuts and funding for programs such as state aid to local governments.

Gazelka said transportation funding is another area where Republicans cut from their earlier hopes. Dayton wants a higher motor vehicle license fee, but Republicans will not go there.

The senator said transportation funding is a "must do" issue.

The lower tax bill size allowed Republicans to raise the amount they propose spending in most areas. For health and human services funding, such programs as insurance for the poor, would lose $258 million from current law under the GOP plan, but that is less than the party planned earlier.

Among unsettled issues is public works funding. The House this week failed to pass an $800 million program, to be funded by the state selling bonds, but Daudt said he hopes it can come back.

Gazelka said the new budget will include pay raises for legislators, something Daudt said he did not want.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, an old hand at budget talks, said it is becoming logistically difficult to finish bills on time.

Bakk said on "Almanac" that he has no doubt the GOP-run Legislature can pass its budget by the deadline, but questioned whether Dayton would sign the bills. He said Republican leaders "should have met with the governor one more time" before producing bills on their own.

House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, accused Republicans of "walking away from the table" and then inappropriately releasing a budget plan when the governor was at a funeral.

Dayton said he was happy to see the GOP plan move closer to his budget proposal, which was released in January. But without details, he did not know how much he can support.

The GOP-controlled Legislature has passed 10 budget bills, which Dayton vetoed. The new bills being prepared will not be the same as the first batch, but they aren’t expected to match Dayton's budget plan, either.

At stake is funding for nearly all state government programs. If lawmakers and Dayton do not agree to a budget by the constitutionally required deadline, they will need to go into a special session because without a budget state government could shut down on July 1.

If a state budget is not in place, state employees will receive notices on June 1 saying they will be laid off July 1, Dayton said. State park reservations, such as for camping, would be canceled starting a few days later.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.