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Dayton’s school-payback veto spurs familiar partisan political sparring

House Speaker Kurt Zellers acted hurt by the governor’s suggestion that smart politics, not good policy, was behind the idea of the payback.

Gov. Mark Dayton, seen here discussing Medicaid expansion last year, did not mince words in today's veto message.

Gov. Mark Dayton’s veto of a Republican bill that would have taken money from the state’s reserves to pay back a portion of last year’s school shift was not a surprise.

Nonetheless, Republican House leaders this morning tried to act offended that in a long letter to leaders, Dayton questioned the motive of Republicans in passing the payback bill in the first place.

In his veto, Dayton suggested that the idea of using $430 million in newly restored reserves was merely a political ploy by the GOP.

“Media reports about this legislation uniformly report on its political brilliance in rescuing those who voted for last year’s school shift from the wrath of voters,’’ Dayton wrote in the letter to GOP leaders. “That, not fiscal responsibility, was reportedly the motive of this legislation.’’

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House Speaker Kurt Zellers acted as if he was hurt by the governor’s suggestion that smart politics, not good policy, was behind the idea of the payback.

On the House floor, Zellers said, “I don’t allow others to question motives” of legislators.

(That’s true. In both the House and Senate, there are rules that prohibit members from questioning a legislator’s motivation for a piece of legislation. It is considered a violation of civility — and rules — to suggest that a legislator has some political reason for presenting a bill.

(For example, on the Senate floor Tuesday, when DFLers suggested the real intent of the so-called Photo ID bill was to suppress voting in the DFL base, some GOP senators expressed grave concern about how DFLers were in violation of rules regarding questioning motivation.)

Anyhow, there’s no question that Dayton’s veto of the school payback did question motives.

Had Republicans been serious about how reserves should be used, he said, they would have called for hearings and discussions on just how big the state’s reserves should be  and what the ultimate impact of using nearly half of the reserves to pay back shifts would be on the state’s credit rating.

It has been the contention of the Dayton administration that using the reserves would actually hurt the state’s ability to borrow at low rates.

“That tactic,” wrote Dayton of the partial school shift payback, “is superficially appealing. However the same people must pay off either the school debt or the state debt: The people of Minnesota.”

Republican leaders contended the payback would have been good policy, something very popular among Minnesotans.

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“We’ve got a surplus, they [DFLers] still think we need to raise taxes,” Zellers said. “Raise taxes, raise taxes …”

The House speaker said that the upward trends in the Minnesota economy could signal even “more surplus in November,’’ when the next economic forecast will be released.

It’s hard not to smell just a little campaigning motive in all of this. When the campaign season officially begins, GOP legislators obviously will go door-to-door telling voters they had a plan to pay back a portion of the school shift, but that Dayton vetoed it.

DFLers will have a more complex message.

Wrote Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk of the veto: “If Republicans were serious about paying back what they took from schools they would have joined DFL lawmakers in supporting a responsible plan to pay back our kids by closing loopholes on multi-national corporations doing business overseas.”

Mostly, what the veto showed is that this is a session going nowhere — slowly.

Remember all that talk of how the session might end by the Easter/Passover break?  The break is here. Legislators will be out of session through all of next week, although leaders say they are ready and willing to meet with Dayton at any point.

Now the talk is that this session could stumble into May. Much remains to be done, particularly with House and Senate Republicans having substantial differences in things ranging from a tax bill to a bonding bill.

Senate Republicans are still pushing their tax bill, calling it a jobs bill because, they say, it would begin the process of phasing out business property taxes, thus allowing businesses to expand. Dayton has indicated he would veto such a bill.

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The differences between the House and Senate bonding bills are huge, raising the question of whether there’ll be a bonding bill at all.

Republicans still are talking about education reform bills, that would center around giving school districts more flexibility on which teachers could be replaced in case of district cutbacks. (Republicans want to dump the “last in, first out” policy regarding teacher cutbacks.)

And, of course, the Vikings’ stadium bill still is alive, if not well.