A budget deal begins to take shape … and not much else

MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk: “Right now, it appears to me like there is a path to get all of the budget bills passed and sent to the governor by midnight on the 18th.”

For DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, there is a path to pass a $40 billion-plus state budget on time this session — and little else.

Bakk, along with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt, signaled the first signs of progress toward a budget deal Thursday, jotting their signatures on a final spending target for higher education, and releasing a target for public safety and the courts. The three leaders, their staffers and commissioners from Dayton’s administration have spent all week holed up in the governor’s residence in St. Paul, trying to close a deal with enough time to pass all budget bills before the constitutional requirement to adjourn Monday.

The spending targets were the first signs of progress in days, and a relief for many of the 199 other legislators back at the state Capitol, who have been waiting for word on some kind of a deal to end session on time. “Right now, it appears to me like there is a path to get all of the budget bills passed and sent to the governor by midnight on the 18th,” said Bakk, who broke a days-long “cone of silence” around leadership to talk about the details of negotiations.

But the delay in setting budget targets leaves little time left to do anything else, he said, noting that two top priorities — a long-term transportation plan and gas tax hike for Democrats, and $2 billion in tax cuts for Republicans — hadn’t been discussed in days in order to focus on the budget. Budget bills are required to be balanced by law, but tax and transportation systems will continue to operate under current law if nothing changes.

The big hurdle is one of logistics: It takes time to process the paperwork and print off bills before they can get a vote, Bakk said, and the legislative staff are going to have their hands full around-the-clock for the next few days just trying to finish the budget.

“Is there time to get a tax or transportation bill in the mix? Every hour that ticks by it gets that much harder,” Bakk said. “The revisor can mechanically only handle so much.”

He opened the door to a possible special session to deal with the two issues, noting it wouldn’t be unusual for a governor to call lawmakers back to break a tax-related gridlock, but there’s a big caveat: The Capitol restoration project. “Special session is going to be very difficult to accomplish, because with the construction schedule, it has the contractors starting to take the desks out of the [House] chamber on May 19,” Bakk said.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt
MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach
House Speaker Kurt Daudt

Daudt and other House Republican leaders repeatedly refused to comment on the budget negotiations throughout the day, except to say that progress was being made. Dayton didn’t make an appearance outside of a public event earlier in the day.

The higher ed and public safety budgets can now head into committee to work out final differences between the House and Senate before getting a floor vote. Senators want to keep policy provisions out of the discussions and just talk numbers, and here are the deals heading to legislative committees for final approval: 

  • Dayton and the two legislative leaders agreed to spend about $3.05 billion on higher education over the next two years, or $166 million more than was spent over the last biennium. That’s less than the Democrats wanted, but far more than Republicans originally proposed in their budget bills. Under the terms of the agreement, Dayton wins a push to pump $30 million into creating specialized research teams at the University of Minnesota medical school. But there’s not enough money to freeze tuition at the U, or on campuses across the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system. “There will be tuition increases,” Bakk said. “There’s just not enough money to avoid them.”
  • Earlier in the day on the Senate floor, DFL Sen. Ron Latz said he was given a $2.1 billion target to spend on the judicial branch and public safety. That’s a $111 million increase from current spending, and comes with a stipulation that the judicial branch gets a 4 percent increase for judges and court staff each of the next two years, among other things.
  • The leaders said they were nearly finishing with budget targets in a few other areas, too, including agriculture and the energy and environment.

Leaders planned to pick up talks early Friday morning and focus on health and human services, where there’s still a big divide on whether to trim spending in the growing budget area, or spend more. The 450-plus page health and human services bill will also take the longest to process.

In typical Bakk fashion, the former union carpenter from the Iron Range compared the current status of a budget negotiations to fishing. “You get to a point up north where you either fish or cut bait,” he said. “But you gotta do something here.” 


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Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/15/2015 - 11:03 am.

    The question is…

    Will House republicans vote for whatever these guys come up with if it doesn’t have a $2 billion tax cut?

    Also, I just have to say, going back to the republican bloviating earlier in the week; the House spent weeks passing one cockamamie bill after another and didn’t get round to doing a budget until only two weeks were left in the session… and then accused Dayton and Bakk of trying to run out the clock.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 05/17/2015 - 12:34 pm.

      Coo Coo Chachoo

      “one cockamamie bill after another” seems to have led to the giant bouquet of full-bloom incoherence now on display in St. Paul.

      And you mentioned Kurt Daubt getting schooled by Dayton and Bakk (about telling the press the Governor was being stupid). I caught a little of the “post agreement” HHS Finance conference committee meeting yesterday and I kept thinking it looked like Matt Dean had not only been schooled by somebody, but taken out behind a DoT shed and pummeled with gunny sacks full of oatmeal just before they gave him a lobotomy and led him back to his Co-Chair seat.

      Tony Lourey did ALL the talking and gavel banging after looking at at him and saying, “Representative Dean moves the amendment, all in favor,” bang! “Moving on…”

      I suppose he’s just exhausted, like everyone else, but he just sat there looking like a depressed rag doll, not saying anything but “Aye,” never smiling or coming anywhere near a smile or laugh when everyone else in the room was having the usual chuckle or two when somebody would crack a little joke.

      No idea what happened, but I felt kind of sorry for him. He was so different than his usual self.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/15/2015 - 11:35 am.

    I know it’s in the state constitution

    …but I continue to wonder why, well into the 21st century, we continue to have a 19th century, part-time legislature. In my 5+ years here, it seems that every legislative session has been crowned, if you will, by either absolute gridlock or a mad rush to finish what ought to have been carefully considered and either passed or voted down long before the end of the session. The Governor doesn’t go on vacation in May, the state’s department heads don’t just work from January to May, and the rest of the state’s employees and population, those who are not legislators, don’t get to take 7 months off.

    I’m sometimes skeptical – or worse – of constitutional amendments, but I could get behind one that makes legislating a full-time job. Pay ’em enough so that they’re not living in poverty under a bridge somewhere, and perhaps somewhat less subject to bribery, and put them to work all year. We’re spending hundreds of millions to renovate the capitol building and build a new senate office building that will basically see only part time use by what are – or ought to be – temporary elected employees of Minnesota’s citizens. I’d like to see my tax dollars put to full-time use in return. Give the legislature a month off in the summer so Mr. Bakk can go fishing. Otherwise, maybe tie the legislative schedule loosely to the school schedule, with spring, midwinter and fall holidays. The details are less important to me at the moment than the idea of elected officials working full-time at the jobs they were elected to do.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 05/15/2015 - 11:51 am.

      I like your idea, but…

      …waiting until the session’s last-minute hysterical rush has hit the legislative body to insert your STINKER into some worthy bill or other – so it can get a free ride into law – is a time-honored legislative strategy frequently used in our state and national legislatures.

      I’m not sure making these jobs full-time will solve THAT problem.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 05/17/2015 - 11:41 am.

      1000% Correct

      It would be tough to point to a better example of the need for what you suggest than what’s happening in St. Paul right now, and what will be happening over the next 36 hours. It is a complete mess. A mad headlong rush through incomprehensible “omnibus” bills that are hundreds of pages long with attached spreadsheets (“fiscal notes”) consisting of thousands of lines that “legislative staff” is spending hours droning through – line by stultifying line – while conference committee members check their smart phones and try to pretend they: A) comprehend what they’re hearing (“Line 1,237 is the two million, four hundred and eighty-seven thousand that was subtracted from the helium refinement study and moved to the glackfall requisition account to balance the expenditures reflected on line 844 which is related to the agreed upon action taken in the amendment to section two, lines 133.7 through 142.2”); and B) like they’re minds didn’t glaze-over totally, three or four hours ago, after being up most of the night before while they were waiting around the coffee pot to see if there had been any “movement on the targets” at the Governor’s mansion so they could “get to it” in their respective “conference committees” so they could get through the torture (above) and get those “new and improved” whopper ominbus bills loaded onto the two-wheel dollies and out to the House and Senate floors for the “final debates” and votes that would (FINALLY!) allow them to get the H out of Dodge and get some SLEEP!

      If you get a chance, tune in sometime this afternoon, evening, or, if you’re a night owl, probably anytime between midnight and dawn, to catch a little bit of the show. It probably won’t take long to get an idea of how much sense what Ray (and someone else, a week of so ago) had to say makes.

  3. Submitted by Mike Worcester on 05/15/2015 - 01:33 pm.

    So much for transperency….

    All the televised committee hearings and live floor sessions and yet here we are waiting for the conclusion of a closed-door (though presumably not smoke-filled room) meeting where nobody except those in attendance knows what is being said and discussed.

    With Ray’s comment, the legislators sure get paid like it’s a full-time year-round position, especially with committee meetings and hearings that take place well outside the constitutionally-proscribed sessions.

    (The snide side of me thinks of Greek dancing every time I watch the legislature gets past May 1. Starting slowly with almost slo-mo movements, then continual acceleration until we reach the end when there is a flurry of kicking and arm-flailing and everyone collapses in a heap of exhaustion, with the audience — us taxpayers — left to wonder wth just happened…..)

    • Submitted by Lora Jones on 05/15/2015 - 02:38 pm.


      Actually, they only get paid @$31,000 a year, and the “leaders” get another 12,000 or so. Minneapolis City Councilors get something over $80,000; while Hennepin County Commissioners’ get over $100,000. There’s no way they’re paid for full time work.

      • Submitted by Mike Worcester on 05/15/2015 - 03:26 pm.


        A base salary of $31,000 = $15/hr. (based on a standard 2080 hour work year.) I’d be curious how many folks out there would enjoy getting that hourly rate. Add to that the per-diem reimbursements and hey, it’s not a bad gig.

      • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 05/15/2015 - 05:57 pm.

        And yet

        Representative Kahn clutches to her seat like it is the last life ring on the Titanic…

  4. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 05/15/2015 - 06:00 pm.

    Don’t forget

    All the same people want to have a session next year to do—what exactly? They can’t agree to do something now when they have a legal obligation to do so.

    My dream? Once the three wise men (Dayton, Bakk, and Daudt) decide what everyone else has to vote for, every single Representative and Senator votes “No”. Perhaps it is time that ALL of our representatives get a say in governing, since they represent all of us.

  5. Submitted by Tom Karas on 05/15/2015 - 06:48 pm.

    Follow up on Garofolo, energy………??…

    This discussion has been able to stay under the radar the last week or so since MinnPost reported on it. This subject was another example of the two sides being polar opposites. Any news, leaks, tid-bits,,,, or rumor even,, on community energy’s future in MN?

  6. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 05/15/2015 - 08:43 pm.

    Not so fast

    Governor just released a counter proposal, there is no agreement yet, just theater. This is far from done

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