Let’s try this again.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton made it clear Tuesday afternoon that he planned to veto an education budget with a $400 million spending increase passed by legislators over the weekend, which he warned doesn’t spend enough on his top priorities, including universal preschool. As soon as he can reach an agreement to break the impasse with Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, Dayton said he will call a special session to re-pass the education bill.
To remove any doubt that he planned to do so, Dayton released his veto letter to the media before lawmakers had even delivered the education bill to his office. And he railed against House Republicans for leaving $1 billion of a nearly $2 billion budget surplus to deal with transportation and tax cut priorities later, but refused to put more money into education, his top priority. “It is astonishing that with a $1.9 billion surplus and still more than $1 billion left on the bottom line for future tax cuts that there would not be more invested in our schools this year,” Dayton said.
The governor’s objections to the legislative deal have been known since Friday, when Daudt and Bakk announced they had reached a tentative budget deal. Dayton quickly made it known he wasn’t satisfied with their agreement: He wanted an additional $150 million spent on education over the next two years, some of that on his signature priority: universal, half-day preschool education.
Over the weekend, he promised to veto the education bill if it came to his desk without those provisions, and in the final moments of session Monday night, Dayton’s staff and legislative leaders were trying to scrap together a compromise.
Dayton said he offered to lower his total request to $125 million more in education spending and drop his insistence on universal preschool. Instead, he wanted some of that money to go toward Head Start programs, promise school neighborhoods and school readiness. Republicans offered to add another $100 million to their plan to boost spending on the per-pupil spending formula, but no deal was reached in time.
Dayton wouldn’t say whether the pieces of that proposal will be in play in an upcoming special session, or if he would insist on his universal preschool program in negotiations. “I haven’t decided that yet, but I don’t call a special session until my concerns are satisfied,” he said. “I’m willing to compromise here.”
Daudt isn’t convinced the governor can make the case for his plan in a special session.
“[Dayton] had five months to build the support and gain the votes in the Legislature for his number one priority, and unfortunately it didn’t pass either body. That’s not my problem; the governor didn’t do the work to building the support for his priority,” Daudt said after session adjourned Monday night. “It doesn’t mean that it can’t, and it doesn’t mean that it’s not important, it just means that it didn’t happen in time. I don’t know what difference a special session is going to make to change that.”
Several other bills could also come into play in a special session, including a public works construction package and a Legacy funding bill. Both failed to pass in the final hours of the session, and both proposals contain funding pieces of a compromise reached on creating buffer strips between farmland and the state’s waterways, another top priority for Dayton. “Both of those are essential,” Dayton said, noting that he would have to reach a pre-special session agreement with both legislative leaders on what could be taken up.
Dayton plans to review and either veto or sign all the budget bills by Friday and then open the door to set terms of the special session.
Holding the special session will prove difficult this year: The 109-year-old Capitol is under construction for a multiyear restoration project, and there’s nowhere for lawmakers to return to take votes.
Dayton has proposed holding the session on the Capitol lawn under a tent, and he reiterated Tuesday that he still thinks that plan could work. But his Department of Administration is looking into other options within St. Paul, where — according to the state constitution — any special session must be held.